Pam O’Connor sought to make Santa Monica more connected with the rest of Southern California during her 24 years on City Council.
The council honored O’Connor, who lost her seat in the Nov. 6 election, at its meeting Tuesday. Councilmembers remembered her for her commitment to transportation and sustainability, perhaps best exemplified by her championing the expansion of the Expo Line to Santa Monica while a member of LA Metro’s Board of Directors. The board initially intended the line to terminate in Venice, but O’Connor successfully argued it should run to Santa Monica.
O’Connor said her involvement in Metro, the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) and other regional organizations enabled her to bring needed change to Santa Monica and Southern California – something she thinks future councilmembers should remember as they try to create policy that will benefit the city.
“You help your city when you’re working regionally,” she said. “Somebody from another city may not have articulated their support for the Expo Line in the manner I did while I served on Metro’s board … but I took every opportunity I could to move that project forward.”
The 12-year term limits voters approved in November presents a challenge for councilmembers looking to get involved and move up the ranks of regional organizations, she said. O’Connor was in her seventh year on the council when she got a seat on Metro’s board after serving for a few years on SCAG’s transportation committee.
“Completion (of the Expo Line) took 10 years, not to mention the planning process before,” she said. “The thing about term limits is we’ve limited the ability of future councilmembers to take on leadership roles throughout the region. If they want to do it, they have to jump in early, be a little lucky and get in when a leadership position is open.”
Councilmembers said at Tuesday’s meeting that O’Connor, who also served as Mayor of Santa Monica in three different decades, was a pioneer of sustainable transportation at the local, regional and statewide level.
“We all know Pam as a powerful advocate on … sustainability before the idea had really gained maturity,” said Mayor Pro Tempore Terry O’Day.
Mayor Gleam Davis said the city and the region have O’Connor to thank for new and better mobility options, including bicycle lanes and improvements to the Big Blue Bus.
“She was the one who understood that if the LA region was going to be sustainable in 2050, we needed to start building toward that now,” Davis said.
O’Connor said she hopes the council will commit to sustainability and embrace the idea that Santa Monica must change over time. She believes sustainability and housing – which necessitates new development – are closely connected, but the council hasn’t always understood that.
For example, councilmembers decided to limit density in transit-rich corridors of the city while creating the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE), which she said has ramifications for both housing affordability and sustainability.
“Refusing to build more near public transportation is really impeding our ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” she said. “Councilmembers have been intimidated by those voices that don’t want more housing, but millennials are adults or becoming adults and need to be housed.”
O’Connor will continue promoting sustainability on Metrolink’s Board of Directors and the California Transportation Commission, and she hopes the council does the same.
“Will they be bold enough to do build more housing, to try something new, or be scared and intimidated by voices who bury their heads in the sand and think the world won’t change if they can stop things?” she said. “The reality is the world will change, and if the City isn’t willing to experiment and have a role in creating it, it will be forced upon them in unanticipated ways.”