(Photo courtesy of Metro)

Apparently, City Hall staff is worried that many will not be aware of Metro’s Expo light rail service when it begins operation to Santa Monica, May 20. That’s as if you won’t be aware of a 270 foot long, 100 ton train when it passes down Colorado Avenue 24 times an hour during peak periods creating traffic gridlock.

You can bet that staff’s motivations aren’t just to build awareness of Expo but to also hype us on abandoning our personal cars and riding the commuter rails, instead. Staff proposed hiring a public relations/marketing firm (or “consultant” as the bureaucrats call it) for a maximum of $750,000 over two years to accomplish this task.

Having never seen a buck it wouldn’t spend, City Council approved a contract for PR services a few weeks ago. The deal is to “execute a professional service agreement with GOOD Worldwide Inc., in an amount not to exceed $500,000 for one year, with one-additional one-year renewal option in the amount of $250,000… for a total amount not to exceed $750,000 over a two-year period…” Future year funding is contingent on council budget approval.

Some of you are ahead of me, here. “Well, Mr. Bauer, why is the City hiring yet another marketing consultant when City Manager Rick Cole just established a whole new City Hall Department of Communications. Do we really need another consultant to set marketing and promotional goals for the City and work closely with Downtown stakeholders and business interests to insure constant, positive and consistent messaging?”

Yes, Virginia, we do. There are over 1,926 fulltime and 490 part time highly paid city employees, on the municipal payroll according to Cita-Data.com. Each full time employee serves about 48 residents – one of the highest employee-to-resident ratios of any municipality in the country.

And, that doesn’t include a whole raft of outside consultants and advisors also under contract to the city. The annual cost to taxpayers is close to $200 million smackers – not counting pensions, insurance and other benefits.

I was hoping that when Cole was hired he’d put our bloated City government on a diet. Instead, he established a new communications division with a half dozen more employees and a million dollar annual budget.

Staff’s report to council does note that, “the Office of Communications, with the assistance of a (newly-retained) marketing consultant, is developing marketing, outreach, and educational strategies for an overarching campaign focusing on the issue of mobility in Santa Monica…”

Promotional support would specifically address commuters and riders, arrival and departure circulation, first and last mile connections, maintenance, public safety and launch and opening events. Launch and opening events? Funny that should come up.

David Martin, director of Planning and Community Development, Karen Ginsberg, director of Community and Cultural Services and Beth Rolandson AICP of Principal Transportation Planner are “planning a series of community-oriented events to help welcome Expo to the City.” There you go, folks. Three, top staff members are really in the party-planning business. No wonder traffic is so screwed up.

Their “Welcome to Expo” event memo advises City Council that, “In addition to supporting Metro’s ribbon cutting ceremony by hosting activities at each of the new Santa Monica stations on opening day, (May 20) the City of Santa Monica is also planning a series of community-oriented events to help welcome Expo to the City.”

The City will also introduce a collection of commemorative Transit Access Pass (TAP) cards featuring local artists and host its own open streets celebration to mark Expo’s arrival. Of course, vehicular traffic will be restricted on sections of Wilshire Boulevard, Ocean Avenue, Colorado Avenue and Main Street “for walking and cycling” on Saturday, June 4 for an “Open Streets event” because they just can’t help inconveniencing most of us.

Say “goodbye” to this year’s Santa Monica Festival. Its resources and funding could be diverted to Expo-related activities.

“The event will focus on sustainable mobility, celebrate the arrival of Expo, capitalize on  the completion of the Colorado Esplanade, while weaving art, culture and environmental learning opportunities throughout, similar to the Santa Monica Festival.”  It just all sounds so “Santa Monica-like,” doesn’t it?

“The Open Streets event will serve as the City’s signature event this year with an even larger footprint than the traditional Santa Monica Festival… Members of the entire community with opportunities to experience the streets in a different and exciting way,” promises their memo. We’ll see.

Metro’s Open Streets Grant Program provided a $200,000 grant – a $50,000 in-lieu local match was previously approved by council – for the “one-day open streets event that will allow pedestrian and bicycle access to streets free of automobiles with activity hubs along the route.”

Staff from nearly all City departments will participate. The Ocean Park Association, Downtown Neighborhood Association, Downtown Santa Monica Inc., the Main Street Merchants Association, Santa Monica Travel and Tourism, the Chamber of Commerce, the Santa Monica Pier and Santa Monica Place will work together to ensure favorable and mutually beneficial outcomes from the event.

Final plans and a request for yet another outside supplier – a production contract for the open streets event – will be made at the March 22, council meeting.

Ohhh! I’m so excited! Not with the Expo activities, but with all the time and money that’s being hosed away in the name of propaganda and agenda.

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com