Santa Monica City Council approved a plan to make Wilshire Boulevard safer, voted to extend a ban on recreational marijuana and postponed voting to allow restaurants not to disclose surcharges ahead of time at its Tuesday meeting, which lasted just one hour and 45 minutes.

Wilshire Boulevard

The council approved a set of safety improvements for Wilshire as part of the city’s Vision Zero initiative, which seeks to eliminate fatal and severe traffic collisions by 2026. The plan grew out of last year’s Wilshire Safety Study, which found that 89% of severe injuries to pedestrians and bicyclists occur at intersections without traffic lights and 20% of crashes involve a left turn from sidestreets, despite representing only 1% of overall traffic volume.

“After a full year of grant-funded community conversation about making Wilshire a better street while protecting its importance as a major travel corridor, we’re coming back with significant improvements that will make the boulevard safer for everyone, whether you’re walking, biking, busing, scooting or driving,” Mayor Kevin McKeown said in a statement.

The first phase of the proposal, which will cost $1 to $1.5 million and take one to two years, will make 13 cross streets without traffic signals right-turn-only, restrict U-turns at several intersections, add pedestrian warnings throughout the corridor and enhance north-to-south bicycle crossings. It will also relocate several bus stops and add queue jump lanes at Lincoln Boulevard and 14th Street.

The second phase of the proposal would add a traffic light at Wilshire and 16th Street, extend the curb at seven crosswalks to improve pedestrian visibility and reduce crossing distances, and add protected left turns at six intersections.

In the third phase, a traffic light would be added at Wilshire and Chelsea Avenue to facilitate bicycle connections and improve access to Douglas Park, additional curb extensions would be installed, all bus stops would be relocated to the far side of intersections and additional bus queue jump lanes would be added.

A curbside management plan, which could include dedicated short-term parking for deliveries and rideshare pick-up, would be put in place. Light poles may be upgraded or replaced.

The estimated cost for the design and construction of the plan is about $11.5 to $13.5 million, including $1 to $1.5 million for phase one, $4.5 to $5 million for phase two and $6 to $7 million for phase three.

The city currently has funding for the design and implementation of the phase one improvements and a small portion of the phase two improvements. For the remainder of phase two and phase three, staff would pursue grants from Caltrans and Measure M.

Medical marijuana

The council voted without discussion to extend Santa Monica’s current marijuana regulations to 2023, which allow two medical marijuana dispensaries and an unlimited number of medical marijuana manufacturers are allowed to do business in certain parts of the city. The council passed the original regulations in October 2017, a few months after recreational marijuana became legal in California.

In August 2018, the city announced that 21 applicants had been deemed qualified to be considered for one of the two medical marijuana permits. Officials ranked the top two applicants based on their business experience and the details of their proposed operations.

But the dispensaries that were not selected are appealing the decision and city staff asked the council to extend the regulations for another three years because the appeals will not be resolved until early next year. Santa Monica may not see a dispensary open until 2021 or 2022.

Restaurant surcharges

City staff pulled an item from Tuesday’s agenda that would have altered Santa Monica’s minimum wage ordinance.

The ordinance, which guarantees workers a $15 hourly wage by next July, currently requires that businesses distribute service charges, such as healthcare surcharges, to employees, and mandates that businesses explain any service charges to customers before a transaction.

The City Attorney’s Office proposed changing the ordinance to apply to all surcharges, including delivery, sustainability and catering fees, and remove the portion of the ordinance that requires businesses to disclose surcharges prior to purchase. The revisions would also prohibit false or misleading surcharges.

City spokesperson Constance Farrell said allowing businesses not to disclose surcharges before money changes hands would ensure Santa Monica’s law is consistent with existing federal law regarding commercial speech, part of which relates to a business’ ability to accurately convey pricing and cost recovery approaches to consumers.

She added that applying the ordinance to all surcharges would provide clarity to businesses and consumers, who had been confused about which charges were covered under the ordinance.

Farrell did not specify whether the proposed changes to the ordinance would return to for a council vote at a later date.

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