Big Blue Bus

A new department devoted to sustainable, multi-modal transportation will soon be formed in the City of Santa Monica.

The new department will take shape in December 2020 and will combine Big Blue Bus, Parking Operations and Mobility Division, which is currently part of the Community Development Department. Interim City Manager Lane Dilg said during Tuesday’s council meeting the effort will allow the city to continue leading the way in planning complete streets across mass transit, shared mobility, biking, and ultimately new modes of transportation.

“In this move, I want to be very clear that we’re looking at no layoffs and no demotions. Divisions will be moved in full,” Dilg said as she explained how Ed King will head the department and Francie Stefan will remain the city’s Chief Mobility Officer.

The idea to combine the departments is not a new proposal. In fact, many people have asked how the city could bring together its mobility, parking, taxi and big blue bus activities to elevate the work relating to mobility. “So, the question that’s been asked is, ‘Why do this now?’” Dilg said.

Internal and external conversations point to this being the right direction for the city because there is a need to be more nimble and more efficient if Santa Monica is to continue to deliver innovative programs and projects to the community, Dilg said, adding, “We believe that there is a large consensus that this will move us forward to achieve that goal — those goals — if we work together to find a solution.”

Councilmember Gleam Davis wondered how the city will merge the vital divisions in a way that would make sure the integration is beneficial and doesn’t shortchange either one.

“And I know, San Francisco and Oakland seem to have successfully done this,” Davis said, but it’s important to be sure that, at the end of the day, bus service and other initiatives relating to mobility aren’t getting shorted.

“I want to be clear that mobility work in this city cannot be swallowed, because you make it clear time and time again that it is one of your very top priorities,” Dilg said in response.

“I want to remind the council and the audience that we’ve also been innovative here,” Big Blue Bus Director Ed King added shortly after.

The prospective department would also be able to leverage the funding that the divisions already receive to seek additional funding, “whether it’s federal, state or local,” King said. “And we can apply a lot of the best practices that the team has done here in the city and extend those out beyond the city border to benefit our neighboring communities, whether it’s L.A. or L.A. County or Culver City.”

After approving the transfer of personnel, City Councilmembers also directed staff to explore the creation of a Mobility Commission as part of the coming discussions about City Boards and Commissions.