A possible amendment to municipal code could soon allow remote-controlled delivery devices in the Zero Emission Delivery Zone program to serve businesses in all parts of Santa Monica.

In late 2020, City Council took up discussion on imposing a year-long moratorium on autonomous delivery vehicles in Santa Monica shortly after city leaders began to see an increasing number of unpermitted devices on local streets. Citing safety and a need to be proactive rather than reactive, Council agreed to partner the vehicles with a separate Zero Emission Delivery zone project that covered the Downtown and Main Street areas.

In the months since, companies like “Coco” robot delivery service have completed thousands of deliveries and hired dozens of workers for their Santa Monica based operations all while allowing restaurants the ability to offer contactless delivery options at half the price of established delivery options.

In light of the success, Council asked staff during last week’s Council meeting to return with a revision to the rules that would allow companies to offer the remote vehicle service to any business in town. The discussion came at the request of Councilmembers Gleam Davis and Kristin McCowan.

“I have not heard any complaints,” Davis said. “It’s not been raised at the Ocean Park association meetings. I did check in with a couple of the businesses that use them. They say they have not gotten any complaints. And in fact they’ve only received praise because their delivery fee is so much less than some of the gig providers like DoorDash, the apps, you know, Postmates, that sort of thing. So I’ve always heard positive responses.”

Council eventually voted 4-2 to expand the program. Councilmembers Oscar de la Torre and Christine Parra were the only no-votes and both reasoned that expanding the use of the robotic delivery services before the pilot’s conclusion was premature.

“I’m all for everything in anything that is going to help our businesses recover, spend less money, you know, I understand this delivery service would be beneficial,” said Parra. “But by the same token, I’m a public safety professional and I feel it imperative that we let the pilot take its course to determine what if anything, has happened during that course, and then make a decision to expand it.”

Councilmember Kevin McKeown noted this week that Santa Monica initially approved robot deliveries as part of a limited pilot program in an effort to give city leaders more time to assess safety and public reaction.

“For that reason, I was skeptical when this expansion prior to the end of the test period was first suggested a couple of weeks ago,” McKeown said. But since the staff report lists no safety incidents so far, he added he is looking forward to hearing from the public on Tuesday.

If approved, companies will be held to the same standards for accountability and reporting as they were before the expansion; only now, they’d be allowed to offer service from more locations.

Brennon@smdp.com