The Department Of Common Sense
Every resident in Santa Monica has experienced frustration with some aspect or another of our policies. Our City must improve in many different ways. What is needed is a common-sense approach based on solving real-world problems. Some of these are physical and space-related issues. Others are related to the way projects are approved and built. Here are a few items we feel are essential.
Density, Traffic, and Services Issues:
• Santa Monica's daytime density is comparable to that of Athens or Barcelona. Planning policies are increasing the City's mass and will continue to erode our quality of life unless they are changed.
• Trains cross the three major north/south streets at 4 to 6-minute intervals in each direction, increasing traffic gridlock forever.
• Getting to the train stations is still a challenge: no apparent plans for a DASH system, and/or electric jitneys, to cover the first/last mile problem.
• Getting there by car is a problem: no parking at the 4th St and Bergamot Expo Stations, and only 77 spaces at the 17th St. Station. Pick up/drop off congestion at stations was constant before the pandemic. Now, we'll see how many commuters return to the Expo Line. Rampant crime, unsanitary conditions, and slow trains compound the ridership dilemma.
• There are still no guard gates at on-grade rail crossings. This lack of safety upgrades continues to be an invitation to have accidents.
• Light rail created more challenges to the delivery of timely emergency services because the system separated portions of our City.
• Provide an easy to use, a free and quick network of public transportation to get people to the train stations.
• Provide parking at the train stations for those who cannot use public transportation to get there.
• Install guard gates at on-grade crossings to help reduce accidents along the route.
• Fully staff the police and fire departments to provide timely service in all parts of town regardless of traffic conditions. Return the SMPD to eight beats to help accomplish this.
• Fully coordinate traffic light timing and train schedules to minimize disruption to pedestrians, bicycles, and motorized vehicles.
Development Decisions Issues:
• Community benefits provided by developers are insufficient to justify the burden imposed by excessive development. The City offers too much slack to developers in many development matters.
• In 2014, the ill-fated Hines project saved $35 million by eliminating 650 cars from their parking garage. It would have taken 60 years before proposed community benefits would have matched their savings! Today, we continue to give developers a free ride as they develop with insufficient parking in their projects. These deals burden our residents.
• The City has allowed downtown developers to build apartment buildings without individual water meters, contrary to the building code, to save developers money at the community's expense. Even with the new zero water ordinance, a developer can pay fines instead of complying with it. Our City lets developers control the process, and we are left with the result that harms residents.
• The City continues to allow large projects to proceed, even in the face of a forever drought. These approvals will vitiate the City's efforts to become water-independent and have increased water rates for residents and businesses, again and again. Residents are holding the bag for the City's negligence.
• The City needs to negotiate agreements where the benefits to the city match or exceed the savings to developers.
• The City must receive ironclad guarantees that "future promises" are kept, and promptly–not a decade or two away.
• The City must prevent indirect costs, such as infrastructure upgrades, from being passed onto residents.
• The City must enforce both the building and zoning codes, especially for the largest developers.
• The City must restrict the construction of large projects unless they can demonstrate an independent water supply that will not impact water availability elsewhere in Santa Monica.
Running the City Issues:
• Excessively burdensome building approval processes impose unreasonable delays. Example: although approval is required from several departments, no department can approve individually until all have completed their procedure. There are long waits until issues are addressed.
• City projects lack practical benefits to the public. Example: the bus shelter redesign provided uncomfortable bus stools, with little shade and insufficient bus information. The City Hall addition, at an astronomical cost, provided no benefit to the City's stakeholders. We have seen the residents receive short shrift, over and over again.
• City projects impose burdens on everyday tasks and are seldom practical. Example: parking at the Ken Edwards Center is difficult to navigate, especially for seniors. Another example: Parking structure signs at city-owned lots obstructs the view of oncoming traffic.
• City duplicates work done with expensive outside consultants. The Fifth/Arizona project, for example, had six planning staff helping develop the project proposal, in addition to staff employed by the developer.
• The City pays excessively high salaries in relation to its size and that of comparable cities. Our City employs over six dozen people earning over $300,000 a year, not including their 80% pension. Pasadena – with a larger population – has one person earning over that amount.
• Streamline the building approval process and impose consistent rules applicable to all, both in building and zoning. This will provide certainty to developers and assurance to citizens that regulations are followed as intended.
• Use a common-sense approach to city projects. It doesn't take a surgeon to understand that a bus stop needs seats with arms and backs.
• Make sure that everyday projects such as parking signs and gates work for people efficiently. Bring in members of the public to test prototypes and see if they function as intended.
• Control the use of outside consultants (who often promote their projects despite community concerns). Don't duplicate the work of developers. Do more work in-house without referring to expensive consultants wherever possible. The City already employs many talented, well-paid people who are qualified to perform most city functions. Yet, our staff pawns off their work to outside consultants, so they do not bear responsibility if the project fails.
• Control and limit the top salaries of city employees to align with the City's size and goals, and comparably with other cities of similar size and circumstance.
We want the City to start using common sense in its operations, expenditures, transportation policies, and finances. Santa Monica needs a Department of Common Sense.