Santa Monica City Hall (Daniel Archuleta daniela@www.smdp.com)

A local advocacy group is accusing City Hall of hypocrisy and failed leadership relating to the city’s sustainability efforts.

The Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) released a press release on Jan. 26 accusing the city of failing to take adequate steps to reduce single occupancy car trips by city employees. The email cites a 2015 memo that describes the increasing use of cars by City employees as evidence that City Hall is requiring more of its residents and businesses than it is of its own employees.

The memo outlines the City’s annual report to the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD). SCAQMD is a regional authority established by state law that has exclusive authority to regulate air pollution within its borders. The board requires all employers with more than 250 employees to submit an annual report that details the employer’s efforts to reduce emissions and measures their success.

The City is required to meet an average vehicle ridership (AVR) of 1.5 employees per vehicle commuting to the worksite and while the City is hitting that goal, its rating has declined over the last eight years. In 2008 the City’s AVR was 1.92 but that figure dropped to exactly 1.5 last year meaning more employees were driving single occupancy vehicles to work.

“This is at the very time that City Hall is waging a campaign to limit driving and parking for residents everywhere in the City, especially downtown,” said the press release.

According to the release, SMCLC isn’t blaming city employees.

“We understand why they want to drive and park in Santa Monica. But when the City tells us that ‘getting people out of their single occupancy vehicles is key;’ when they reduce driving lanes; refuse to provide parking at Expo stops; make street parking more expensive and difficult to find, then residents are being treated one way while the City treats itself differently,” said the release.

Officials at the SCAQMD said employers have two options for addressing the AVR. They can provide programs that encourage alternate transit and ridesharing or they can pay a fee per employee. Provided employers show they are making a good faith effort to reach the goal, SCAQMD might forgo fines or punishment but persistent failure to hit the goal would eventually create a problem.

Santa Monica already offers incentives for employees. The City provides guaranteed rides home for rideshare participants in case of emergency, helps match potential rideshare participants, compresses the work week, has a telecommuting option, offers financial incentives, a transit subsidy and a vanpool subsidy. However the memo acknowledges those efforts have not worked.

“It is anticipated that with the continuation of current program components, the City’s AVR will fall below 1.50 next year and require enhanced program components,” said the memo.

Those enhancements could include charging employees for parking or driving alone to work, restaffing a dedicated employee transportation coordinator position, increasing incentives or expanding telecommuting/compressed schedule options.

“It is anticipated that the increase in program incentives necessary to generate behavior change will have budget impacts,” said the memo.

Diana Gordon, SMCLC co-chair said problem was twofold: the hypocrisy of demanding sustainability while failing to stem the city’s own slide was unacceptable and by passively accepting rising rates of employees driving, the City is losing the moral authority to prompt change among other employers.

“City leadership over the past eight years had turned a blind eye to reducing city employee parking,” she said.

Current employee agreements with the City’s various unions require the City to provide free parking to employees but the agreements allow the City to charge for parking if positive incentives do not allow the City to meet its obligations.

Gordon said city leaders should have been alarmed at the declining trend and that there are regular opportunities to renegotiate union contracts.

“The city hasn’t tackled that though their collective bargaining with employees and for eight years the city has been touting the need for people to drive less while not requiring employees to drive less, and the city is the largest employer,” she said.

SMCLC’s statement demands the city develop a comprehensive transportation plan that addressed connectivity issues for residents and workers alike.

“We need to have fast, convenient, interconnected real alternatives available to driving around town geared to how and where residents actually go, a truly workable mobility plan-not just promises for years away,” said the statement.

editor@www.smdp.com