Santa Monica Dispatch

The Santa Monica Dispatch is an independent newspaper founded and edited by Peggy Clifford. Our objective is to give voice to the community.

Results for category "Environment"

Work on Urban Forest Master Plan Continues Tonight

Peggy Clifford 0 Comments

The review process for the City’s Urban Forest Master Plan continues. So far, it hasn’t gone well. Promises have not been kept. The City has failed to acknowledge, much less incorporate residents’ wishes, in the plan and the war on palm trees continues. But perhaps if residents persist, the City will finally listen.

The Urban Forest Master Plan Task Force will continue its deliberations on the draft plan tonight at 6:30 pm at the MLK Jr. Auditorium at the Santa Monica Main Public Library (601 Santa Monica Blvd). Public input welcome.

It will also be discussed October 10 by the Landmarks Commission, 7:00pm, Council Chambers, October 17, by the Task Force on the Environment, 7:00pm, Ken Edwards Center, Room 103, October 20, Recreation & Parks Commission 7:30pm Council Chambers, October 26, Urban Forest Master Plan Task Force, 6:30pm MLK Jr. Auditorium, Main Library, November 2, tentative, Planning Commission, 7 pm, Council Chambers, November TBA, Urban Forest Master Plan Task Force, 6:30pm, TBA.

The Draft Urban Forest Master Plan will be reviewed and acted upon by City Council on December 13.

Visit www.santamonicatrees.com for the draft document and details on any additional meetings. Copies of the draft plan are also available for review at any branch of the Santa Monica Public Library or at the Public Landscape Division Offices at Clover Park (2600 Ocean Park Blvd).

If you are not able to attend a meeting, please visit www.santamonicatrees.com to see what’s proposed for your street. 310-458-8974 I trees@smgov.net I www.santamonicatrees.com
1685 Main St. Rm 210 | Santa Monica, CA 90401 US

AIRPORT “VISIONING PROCESS” BIASED

Peggy Clifford 0 Comments

To: Mayor Bloom and Honorable City Council members
From: Board of Directors, Friends of Sunset Park (FOSP)
Re: City Council Special Meeting – October 4, 2011 – Agenda Item 4-A

It has become very apparent from the language of the Staff Report for 10/4/11 agenda item 4-A that the City staff is reluctant to pursue airport closure as an option. Not only are they reluctant, but the “Visioning Process” has been tainted with this bias from its inception.

Point C was directed to engage participants “in a conversation focused specifically on ideas to craft a new direction for the future of the airport as an airport and as a community asset.” Therefore, their conclusions from the interview process reflected that bias. FOSP previously expressed the opinion that the Point C interview process was biased, and the outcome has revealed that to be true.

The Staff Report mentions in broad terms some of the federal laws, as well as existing airport- related documents and agreements, that have led them to this conclusion. The FOSP Board would like to see a more in depth evaluation of the aforementioned, as well as any other items that may have a bearing on the closure option. We feel it would be beneficial to have an unbiased outside party do the evaluations.

So the question arises, if the airport is to continue to exist after the expiration of the 1984 Agreement, what will its character be?

FOSP was hoping that the RAND Corporation findings would offer some appealing options of a more community compatible airport. Unfortunately, the RAND findings revealed in the Staff Report do not address ANY of the major concerns of the community: aircraft emissions, noise, or safety.

Instead we are offered a menu of vanilla items that mostly address usage of the non-aviation land. Although we would welcome the suggested intersection improvement at Airport Avenue and Walgrove, many of the other items put forth would aggravate the most complained about topic in our neighborhood besides the airport: TRAFFIC. Development of the non-aviation land is not going to make the community view the airport as a “community asset.” We really expected better from an organization with the stature of RAND.

In addition, the economic impact analysis prepared by HR&A twists data to reflect a pro-airport bias. It fails to separate aviation-related employment from non-aviation employment at the airport. It compares the “Airport Campus” as a single employer when it is really a collection of small businesses, city services, SMC, and temporary event employment. Many of these employers are NOT dependent on the airport to exist and could flourish without it — but this is not explored in the report. The economic analysis also failed to study any economic benefit (perhaps more favorable) that might be possible if the airport were closed.

Finally, we have heard ad nauseum about the million dollars spent over eight years on the court case related to the City’s ban on C and D jets. Does this amount include salaries of airport staff, City Attorney, etc. which would have been paid out whether the staff was working on the airport court case or not? Why didn’t the Staff Report place the $1 million spent on trying to protect residents from airport impacts in the context of the City’s total expenditures of something like $4 billion over those same eight years? Again, the information in the Staff Report seems to be geared toward a particular outcome in the Airport Visioning process.

At least the $1 million was well spent in fighting the good fight. David would have been proud of the City, even though we did not prevail against the FAA’s Goliath in this battle.

What has been a waste is the money spent on these Phase I consultants’ studies. When we asked for studies to be done about future options for the Airport, we did not include bias in our request.

If the plan is to run the Phase III Focus Groups discussions with same bias reflected in this Staff Report, that is just plain UNACCEPTABLE.

As the Airport Visioning process continues, FOSP would like the City Council to direct staff to:

· Provide a more in depth analysis of laws, documents, court cases, etc. that would have bearing on options for the airport’s future. Make the analysis available to the public.

· Study options available at the expiration of the 1984 Agreement that could reduce the safety, noise, and environmental impacts. (For example, don’t renew or grant leases to businesses that have negative impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods.)

· Ensure that the Phase III focus groups are NOT conducted within a biased framework.

SPEAKING OF TREES…

Peggy Clifford 1 Comment

Here is my correspondence with the city tree coordinator about the trees proposed for in front of my house, which, according to the web, “smell like semen.” My inquiry was not taken seriously. If it does have the unpleasant odor that has been observed in Santa Cruz and San Francisco, they are not likely to stay in place very long! There are a lot of people taking walks in this neighborhood who would notice a tree that is not pleasant to be around.

Abby Arnold

To: Randy Little, City of Santa Monica
From: Abby Arnold

Hello from 668 Marine Street!

The Pyrus calleryana ‘Aristocrat’ looks beautiful! One concern I have: when I looked up the tree on the web, I found a reference that said: ” In spring before the new leaves unfold, the tree puts on a brilliant display of pure white flowers which, unfortunately, do not have a pleasant fragrance. ”

Does this mean it is a NASTY smelling tree, or a non-smelling tree?

From: Randy Little, City of Santa Monica
To: Abby Arnold

The tree has a very limited fragrance that typically goes unnoticed. Thank you.

TO SANTA MONICA URBAN FOREST TASK FORCE

Peggy Clifford 0 Comments

Copies to: Santa Monica City Council, City Manager, Planning Commission, Task Force on the Environment, Recreation and Parks Commission, city staff, interested citizens, media representatives

We are writing to express concern about recent events that are having the unfortunate effect of discouraging public participation in the Urban Forest Master Plan Task Force’s process and inciting public mistrust of the Task Force.

1. When completed, the Urban Forest Master Plan will affect residents, voters, taxpayers, businesses and visitors in the city for the next 50-100 years. As a result, many members of our community are intensely interested in the work of the Task Force.

2. The Task Force’s original agenda called for completion of its work in June 2011. The group’s recommendations were to be forwarded to the City Council via three city entities: the Environmental Task Force, the Recreation and Parks Commission and the Planning Commission. The Task Force’s original agenda called for the presentation of its Master Plan to City Council on October 20, 2011.

3. In response to complaints about lack of public notice and transparency this past summer, the city sent notices to city residents in August advising them of the work of the Task Force and offering opportunities for public input.

4. The Task Force assured citizens that public input would be taken into account as the Task Force worked toward developing a Master Plan. It further assured citizens that the Task Force’s process would be open and transparent.

5. All told, hundreds of community members have offered public input and testimony, and have signed petitions to the Task Force. This demonstrates that many people in our community have deeply held opinions and concerns about the trees that frame our homes, define our neighborhoods and grace our city. Yet even now, more people are just beginning to hear about the work of the Task Force and are desiring to get involved in the selection of street trees for their areas.

6. Specific recommendations for replacement trees have been prepared for the Task Force by its Species Selection Subcommittee. This subcommittee has deliberated in sessions that were closed to the public.

7. Two public input sessions were held in September in response to public complaints about lack of transparency, and were promoted as efforts to gather public advice on street tree selection. Two of the three Task Force members who serve on the crucial Tree Selection Subcommittee did not attend the second of these sessions.

8. Through Task Force sign-in sheets, many citizens shared their email addresses with the city in the expectation that they would receive timely information about upcoming meetings of the Task Force as well as about potential revisions in the city’s Draft Urban Forest Master Plan that might affect their homes, neighborhoods, businesses and personal well-being.

9. Through testimony, petitions and other input, members of the public have spoken consistently and eloquently about desires to maintain and preserve the city’s beautiful, historic and iconic allees of palm trees; to replace palms with other palms when replacement is necessary; and to keep historic allees free of interplanting with other, non-palm species. The city’s Land Use & Circulation Element also calls for maintaining and preserving the unique and historic streetscapes of the city’s diverse neighborhoods.

10. At its meeting on Sept. 26, 2011, the Task Force unveiled the recommendations of the Species Selection Subcommittee.

11. The Species Selection Subcommittee’s report and accompanying draft Master Plan were the culmination of months of work, and will form the backbone of the Task Force’s plan for the future of the city’s street trees. The two lengthy documents that were discussed at the Sept. 26th meeting contain detailed and intricate street-by-street and block-by-block descriptions of the subcommittee’s vision of the trees to be planted in the city’s parkways for the next 50 to 100 years.

12. Members of the Urban Forest Master Plan Task Force received two reports (the subcommittee’s report and an appendix that included the street-by-street tree recommendations) by email in advance of the Sept. 26 meeting. Members of the public did not receive either report before the meeting.

13. Because members of the public did not receive the reports in advance of the meeting, they were precluded from organizing neighborhood attendance at the meeting or gathering neighborhood responses to the subcommittee’s recommendations.

14. Members of the public who did attend the Sept. 26th meeting were told they had just 48 hours to provide written responses to the recommendations.

15. Some members of the public who attended the Sept. 26th meeting were clearly unhappy that they had not been notified in advance of the subcommittee’s recommendations. They heckled the Task Force loudly midway through the meeting, demanding the right to speak, and were told by the Task Force chair that they were out oforder.

16. Despite the public’s well-articulated desire to maintain and preserve the city’s historic palm allees, the subcommittee’s recommendations designate non-palm species for replacement or interplantings on palm-dominated streets in at least six neighborhoods.

17. The Task Force also appears to have eliminated all language regarding protection of “significant trees, allees and groupings that are iconic or historic in nature” from its working draft.

18. Despite repeated requests from the public throughout the Task Force’s deliberations, the current draft of the Urban Forest Master Plan does not provide for an appeals process or public collaboration in matters relating to street trees.

19. The Draft Master Plan also contains no mechanism for fine-tuning tree planting plans on street segments, particularly in the palm districts, where there is a high level of neighborhood interest, and where planting and placement decisions may be complex and will have consequences for decades to come.

20. Members of the public were told that the Task Force must complete its work by October 5, 2011, with presentation to City Council promised for December 2011. Thisleaves just one more Task Force meeting for discussion of countless intricate details involving recommendations for street trees on all of the city’s many streets.

21. The Task Force has no articulated process for next steps that affected citizens can discern. It is not clear when the city’s boards and commissions will consider the Task Force’s finished product, how citizens may provide input to those groups, or how differing revisions of the Task Force’s report might be reconciled. A work agenda currently displayed on the Task Force’s website is out of date and inaccurate.

22. The foregoing creates the distinct impression that the Task Force is being rushed to meet an arbitrary deadline at the expense of the integrity of its process. Creating a master plan for the city’s street trees is a massive project. Neither Task Force members nor members of the public can responsibly analyze the enormous amounts of data necessary for reasoned decision-making in the time allotted.

23. The foregoing creates the further impression that the city is not being candid when it claims that it values public input in the tree selection process. Public input in the development of Santa Monica’s Urban Forest Master Plan seems to be neither desired nor heeded, but seems rather to be at best window dressing for an extraordinarily rushed and flawed process. There is a widely held perception among members of the public that the next hundred years of the city’s urban forest are being shaped by a Task Force that discounts and disregards the wishes and judgments of citizens.

24. We urge the Task Force to pull back, extend its deadlines, and seek to engage with the public in a comprehensive, collaborative and genuine fashion. Railroading this Master Plan through to meet an arbitrary, pre-arranged deadline will only stoke further public distrust of the Task Force and its process.

Sincerely,

Patricia E. Bauer
502 20th Street

Caryn Marshall
609 21st Street

A PLETHORA OF ICONS

Peggy Clifford 0 Comments

Like James Corner, who’s designing the Palisades Garden Walk in the Civic Center, Peter Walker, who’s designing the Esplanade at the western end of Colorado Avenue, is a “world-class” landscape architect. As noted in “Santa Monica Talking Hype, Not Truth” (see below), the Santa Monica City Council is crazy about “world class” people and “world class” stuff.

Since the Garden Walk and the Esplanade bracket the Holiday Inn, its guests will have front row seats at the battle of the world class landscape architects. It may even want to promote its proximity to the epic battle. After all, here and now, Corner and Walker are the hottest landscape architects in America, and possibly the world, and they’re right here in our town. WOW!

At last night’s Planning Commission meeting, a partner from Peter Walker and Partners made a power point presentation of some of the firm’s relevant projects, including part of the World Trade Center memorial, which opened Sunday. Noting that he and Walker both grew up in Southern California, he went on to describe in some detail the firm’s notion of what the Esplanade should do and be.

Like Corner, he talked a lot about “icons” and features that should be “iconic.” He also talked about gateways,” as in the “iconic” Esplanade will be a “gateway” to the Santa Monica Pier, the beach and the ocean.

City officials have said repeatedly that the station at the end of the Expo light rail line, at Colorado and Fourth, should be a “gateway,” welcoming disembarking passengers to Santa Monica, the pier and the beach, as if they’re afraid that if passengers aren’t properly “welcomed,” they’ll refuse to disembark and
go back to Culver City.

The beach and the ocean can’t be topped, and shouldn’t be embellished or tricked up. They are irresistible, and are quite capable of speaking for themselves.

The pier has long been a world-famous icon. In 1983, after a pair of storms had ripped the west end of the pier off and taken a 45,000 square foot bite out Of the southwest corner of the deck, photos of the battered pier appeared on the front pages of newspapers in Japan. Film footage of the pier appears in the run-up to virtually all the local TV news programs. The arched sign at the entrance to the pier, which went up in 1941, is an icon all by itself, as are the Carousel building and its merry-go-round.

And the broad beach and the Pacific Ocean are both icons and iconic. In the same way, Palisades Park, which spans Santa Monica from its northern border to the Pier, but is only several yards wide, is an icon.

Do Corner and Walker, our planners and the Council actually believe that they can and should top the park, the pier, the beach and the ocean? In fact, they can’t and they shouldn’t try. Rather than tricking up Palisades Garden Walk with an “arroyo motif,” “water features” and viewing cages, Corner should make a pleasant, serene green way station in which people going to the beach or the pier or returning from it could pause. And Walker’s principal task should be creating some simple means of separating pedestrians, cyclists and cars – on their way to and from the beach.

When everything’s an icon, nothing’s an icon. Santa Monica has a number of authentic icons, all of which had modest beginnings. The municipal pier’s primary reason for being was to carry the city sewer line out to sea. Arcadia Bandini Stearns De Baker gave the land for the very long, very narrow Palisades Park, but had no idea that it would become a magnate for successive generations of newly arrived immigrants. City Hall was a Depression era Public Works Administration project that turned out to be Streamline Moderne masterpiece. RAND’s original buildings were iconic, perfect representations of their era, while its current building is more bunker than building. Tony DeLapp’s “Wave,” which spans Wilshire, was commissioned by the City and designed to be an icon and a gateway, and is just a bore.

A studio executive, on viewing Fred Astaire’s screen test, wrote “Balding. Can’t sing, can’t act, can dance a little.” Years later, at an American Film Institute event honoring Astaire, Mikhail Baryshnikof said, “The rest of us dance, Fred does something else.”

We think it’s time for the City. Corner and Walker to do an Astaire.

SM Conservancy Awarded Significant Grant

Peggy Clifford 0 Comments

The Santa Monica Conservancy has been awarded a $7500 grant by the National Trust for Historic Preservation from its Los Angeles County Preservation Fund. The funds will be used to support a portion of the rehabilitation costs for the adaptive reuse of Santa Monica’s 1890s Shotgun House as a Preservation Resource Center.

The Shotgun House is a survivor from the early days of Ocean Park when many simple cottages were built for the visitors and new residents attracted by the City’s beaches and coastal climate. The small board and batten structure was formerly located on private property at 2712 Second Street and was landmarked by the City of Santa Monica in 1999.

Now in storage, it will ultimately be moved to City-owned property at Norman Place and Second Street, only two blocks from its original site. When the rehabilitation is complete, the new Center will be a base of operations for the Conservancy, offering programs and resources to help the Santa Monica community and its visitors understand the methodology and benefits of historic preservation.

“We are delighted with this grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation,” said Conservancy President Carol Lemlein. “The rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of the Shotgun House speaks to a core value that we share with preservationists everywhere: even the simplest structure can be repurposed to fill present-day needs, preserving the character of our neighborhoods while minimizing the impact of demolition and new construction on our environment. The grant from this prestigious national organization is intended as a fundraising catalyst and is a huge vote of confidence in the Conservancy’s plans.”

According to Conservancy board member and project architect Mario Fonda-Bonardi, “the grant will be applied toward costs such as protection and rehabilitation of historic interior surfaces rehabilitation of the porch including replacement of the missing corbels, and new double-hung windows compatible with the one remaining original window.” Fonda-Bonardi recently submitted plans to the City of Santa Monica in order to obtain building permits for the relocation of the Shotgun House to the parking lot adjacent to the Ocean Park Library, where it will be rehabilitated. A small addition will be built on the rear of the structure to support its use as a Preservation Resource Center.

Individuals or organizations who are interested in helping with this project in any capacity – as volunteers, by providing in-kind services and materials, or as early financial contributors – may contact the Conservancy at 310-496-3146 or by email to info@smconservancy.org.

The Santa Monica Conservancy was founded in 2002 to promote widespread understanding and appreciation of the cultural, social, economic and environmental benefits of historic preservation through educational programs, assistance and advocacy. The Conservancy was the lead local partner for the May 2011 California Preservation Conference in Santa Monica. Current program offerings include the docent program at the Annenberg Community Beach House, a weekly walking tour of Downtown Santa Monica, and a tour of Palisades Park to be offered this Sunday September 18 (see story about the tour below). For more information, see www.smconservancy.org or call 310-496-3146.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately-funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places to enrich our future. The Trust’s Los Angeles County Preservation Fund was established in 2009 by a gift from the Getty Foundation, with subsequent gifts from the Ahmanson Foundation, the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, and the National Trust Board of Advisors. Funding for the current round of grants was provided by a further gift from the Ahmanson Foundation, as well as an individual gift.

The Santa Monica Conservancy was one of 12 organizations selected in a competitive process that included applications from historic and culturally significant sites and programs across Los Angeles. Other grant recipients include the Episcopal Church of the Advent in the West Adams district, the Charles and Ray Eames House Preservation Foundation, Hollywood Heritage, and the Friends of the Chinese American Museum of Los Angeles. The grants are intended as fundraising catalysts, to give momentum to community preservation projects by providing capital in early stages and at critical junctures.

Further information on the National Trust and the Los Angeles County Preservation Fund may be found at www.PreservationNation.org.

SMC TRAFFIC TROUBLES PERSIST

Peggy Clifford 0 Comments

While residents on and near Pearl Street praise local law enforcement for traffic control assistance around SMC, other areas heavily affected by local school traffic are completely ignored, causing gridlock, frustration and headaches for neighboring residents.

Among the worst traffic in Sunset Park is the two-block long stretch of Maple St. between 14th & 16th.

In addition to the ever-increasing SMC traffic, Maple Street is also assaulted by JAMS & Will Rogers traffic, as it’s the ONLY east-west through street between Pico & Ocean Park, other than Pearl. This small, residential road becomes jammed with multiple double-parkers, clogged with cars turning both directions at both ends of the street, and packed with students and others camping out in their cars for hours in permit-only spaces (without permits or any parking enforcement, of course), using Maple Street as a rest area and taking parking away from residents. They just park, sit in their cars, read, eat, sleep, and wait for either class time to roll around or permit parking time to end. No parking enforcement, no police, no worries!

SMPD has not responded to residents’ requests for traffic and parking control, claiming they have no officers available. That’s because they’re all assigned to Pico and Pearl.

It would be time well-spent if the SMPD could send even one officer to take a look at Maple St. during a school day, and even better if they’d stop by around the time JAMS lets out. If they can get there, that is. It’s never been this bad.

SMC is simply too big for this little neighborhood. Something has to be done to curtail enrollment & reduce traffic. Maybe instead of trying to attract 30,000+ students from all over the world, the city could focus on students in the immediate community. As in COMMUNITY College! What a concept! This isn’t an “SMC was here first” thing; it’s an unchecked growth thing. SMC has taken over Sunset Park, and that’s not right. We didn’t need (or need to pay for) residential parking permits 25 years ago. We didn’t have speed bumps or curb extensions or traffic chokers or parking meters on every side street. We didn’t need a traffic light at Pico & 16th. We didn’t have all the streets between Pico & Pearl closed to through traffic and turned into cul-de-sacs. That’s not progress, it’s out-of-control growth. Why are Maple Street residents stuck with 100% of the through traffic? The fact that we need multiple traffic control signs and warnings on Pico and extra officers to monitor surrounding streets should be a clue that SMC is too big! Do we need to hit the city council over the head any harder than that?

The current city government focuses all its energy on beach hotels, Third Street Promenade retailers and restaurants, mega-business parks, a dangerous airport and an overcrowded, bursting-at-the-seams “Community” College. It’s no longer a city that cares about its residents (unless you’re north of Wilshire), and it’s certainly not the wonderful, laid-back, largely undeveloped beach town that I knew and loved for over a quarter-century.

What a shame.

Steve Schwab, Sunset Park

TOO MUCH

Peggy Clifford 0 Comments

We have lived in the Pico Neighborhood for over 30 years.

The Bergamot Transit Village development is huge. The revised Papermate site pending development is still too large and will negatively impact all of the surrounding areas with the increased traffic and congestion. With this development project, in addition to all the other pending projects, the density of commercial buildings in this area will be over the top. There is no need for this massive development in this area. Why is all of this massive development happening in the Pico Neighborhood?

Traffic is already highly impacted in this area. Try driving either direction down Pico, Olympic, and Cloverfield boulevards, Stewart Street or Colorado Avenue after 4 p.m. on weekdays. They are like parking lots. The streets cannot sustain that level of traffic and it is a safety hazard for residents. Emergency vehicles will not be able to reach residents if there is a need. They will be stuck just like every other car.

In all of the development proposals we have reviewed, we can see no mitigation being proposed for the impact on local streets such as Stewart and Cloverfield in Santa Monica, or Bundy Drive in West L.A. How will cars move from any of these developments to the Santa Monica Freeway? Stewart between Olympic and Pico is one lane each direction and is already totally impacted from the current commercial and school traffic. Cloverfield is equally impacted, and Bundy backs up so much it impacts Olympic.

Existing developments already in this immediate area include:

1) Yahoo Center — 1.2 million square feet

2) Water Garden — 1.27 million square feet

3) MTV Networks — 318,000 square feet

4) Lantana Media Center — 543,000 square feet

Large developments in that area that have already been approved by the City Council:

1) Agensys —153,000 square feet

2) Colorado Creative Studios/Lionsgate — 197,000 square feet

3) New Roads School — 117,000 square feet

The 47,000-square-foot expansion at the SMC Academy of Entertainment & Technology on Stewart and 28th streets between Olympic and Colorado, with 450 parking spaces, doesn’t require city approval.

Projects that will soon be coming before the City Council for approval:

1) Roberts Business Center — 250,000 square feet with commercial space, up to 170 residential units, and 538 parking spaces.

2) Village Trailer Park re-development — 230,000 square feet of commercial, retail, and 349 residential units, with 503 parking spaces, displacing about 100 current residents who own their own mobile homes and rent space at the trailer park.

3) Paseo Nebraska (NMS Properties) — a 3.5 acre parcel bordered by Olympic, Berkeley and Nebraska streets, including the Santa Monica Studios site and the SCI-Arc site — 356,000 square feet. Five-story project, with commercial and creative office space, 545 apartments, and 1,000 parking spaces.

4) Projects that don’t require City Council approval include 40 units of low-income housing on the southeast corner of Pico and 28th, and a huge low-income housing project on Virginia Avenue just east of Cloverfield.

Steve Kendell
Santa Monica

Note: This letter originally appeared in the Santa Monica Daily Press.
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Work on Expo Light Rail to Santa Monica Starts

Peggy Clifford 0 Comments

The Los Angeles Times reports:
Los Angeles transportation officials readily admit that building the first phase of the Expo Line has been trying, costing hundreds of millions of dollars more than originally budgeted and suffering nagging delays.

But city and county leaders hoped to leave those problems behind when they gathered in Santa Monica today to mark the start of construction of the second phase of the rail line — the first to reach far into the traffic-clogged Westside since trolleys ran some 50 years ago.

“Phase 1 was overly tough … over the top,” said Rick Thorpe, executive director of the authority in charge of building the Expo Line. “Phase 2 I feel much, much better about. We’re off to a great start, we’re incorporating a lot of lessons learned.”

Construction on the first phase of the line — which promises to take commuters 8.6 miles from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City in 30 minutes — began in 2006 with a price tag of $640 million, but that eventually jumped to $932 million. The second phase has a budget of $1.5 billion and will continue 6.6 miles west to the intersection of Colorado Avenue and 4th Street in downtown Santa Monica. Officials hope to have the full line open in 2015.

Thorpe attributed the first-phase budget changes to dramatic increases in construction and material costs, added expenses for new stations and grade separations, and legal battles with the project’s contractor and some local residents, among other reasons.

Last spring, officials hoped to at least open a shortened version of Phase 1 — from the 7th and Metro Center station downtown to the intersection of La Cienega and Jefferson boulevards just east of Culver City — in November.

That opening got pushed back, and now the goal is to open the shortened version by the end of the year, with the remaining 0.7-mile segment scheduled to begin operation in early 2012.

“Metro continues to run test trains and conduct system checks and will soon be training its operators and controllers on the new light rail line,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in a statement last week. “We won’t open it before Metro decides it’s fully ready.”

But even the newest targets are shaky, and Thorpe is unwilling to make promises. He said crews have “unfortunately run into some problems during the testing,” including issues with ventilation and train control software used to help connect the Expo and Blue lines.

Thorpe said the Expo Line’s second phase would involve a new group of contractors, a fixed budget and a larger contingency fund for unknown costs.

He conceded that there probably would still be problems, including legal opposition expected from a neighborhood group in Cheviot Hills. But, he said, “we’re set up in a way that we’ve got a good grip.”

Metro Chief Executive Art Leahy said that once the entire Expo Line is completed, its ridership could easily rival that of the heavily used Blue Line between Long Beach and downtown Los Angeles and may become one of the busiest rail lines in the country.

“This is really a next-step milestone for the promises of Measure R,” Leahy said, referring to the half-cent sales tax that voters approved in 2008 for transportation projects. Phase 2 of the Expo Line is heavily funded by Measure R, unlike the first phase, which began before the measure was passed.

Leahy said he expects the second phase to run more smoothly because of changes to the way the contract was issued and because of Metro policies that now demand increased scrutiny over project budgets.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said it is important for officials to study Phase 1, “especially lessons with regard to changes in project scope and budget, schedule delays and community relations,” according to copy of his prepared remarks for Monday’s groundbreaking.

Ridley-Thomas said the next phase of the project will hire more local workers, noting that when he joined the Expo Line construction authority, only 14% of the Phase 1 labor force included people who lived in the vicinity.

County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said last week that he’s grown tired of discussing the problems encountered during Phase 1.

“Most of our projects in L.A. have gone largely without incident,” Yaroslavsky said. “The first phase of Expo had a lot of issues.… That’s an exception, it’s not the rule.”

“We’re starting a new chapter of the Expo Line,” Yaroslavsky said.

SANTA MONICA: TALKING HYPE, NOT TRUTH

Peggy Clifford 1 Comment

L.A. Observed reports that “the San Diego book store Mysterious Galaxy is opening a second store on Artesia Boulevard in Redondo Beach” later this month. And …”Diesel, a book store, Malibu’s beloved indie bookstore, is coming back….their new location to be up and running by mid-October…”

Santa Monica once had nearly a dozen independent book stores on and near Third Street. Only Arcana: Books on the Arts, an exemplary bookstore specializing in the arts, has survived the big City Hall broom that has swept the Promenade clean of virtually everything that’s truly valuable, original or unique.

The artful stewardship of owner Lee Kaplan has kept Arcana lively and vital.

But, after nearly 25 years on the Promenade he’s preparing to move early next year. He sought space in Culver City, but may still settle for Santa Monica.

Now, even as Diesel, the bookstore, returns to Malibu, if City Council members Bob Holbrook and Terry O’Day, have their way, Tesla, the $109,000 electric roadster, will pull up on the Promenade…possibly in the space currently occupied by Arcana.

In addition to its other assets, it is one of the few buildings on Third Street that has parking on the alley. It’s hard to decide whether a test run down a Santa Monica alley or whipping a hundred-thousand-dollar electric roadster through the throngs of pedestrians on the Promenade would be more amusing.

The notion of a car dealership on the Promenade is thoroughly daft, as is the notion of a West L.A. auto dealer leap-frogging all the Santa Monica car dealers at the invitation of two Council members — especially since it has been reported that Tesla “intends to sell the current version of the Roadster until early 2012, when its supply of Lotus Elise gliders is expected to run out, as its contract with Lotus Cars for 2,400 gliders expires at the end of 2011. The next generation is not expected to be introduced until at least 2013.”

But, as James Baldwin, one of this country’s wisest writers, has noted, “Americans, unhappily, have the most remarkable ability to alchemize all bitter truths into an innocuous but piquant confection and to transform their moral contradictions, or public discussion of such contradictions, into a proud decoration, such as are given for heroism on the battle field.”

More and more, we talk hype in Santa Monica, not truth. The Council is currently gaga over the “world class” parks now under construction in the Civic Center, the upcoming “world class” movie multiplex that apparently requires no parking, the “world class” shrinking urban forest, and now, possibly, a “world class” car dealership on a pedestrian mall. The Council is less effusive about our “world class” traffic and congestion, the principal product of its extended “world-class” commercial development boom, which has picked up speed again after a brief lull during which it approved two parking plans that are guaranteed to increase traffic in the mid-cities area.

Generally speaking, hype is constantly devolving, but once the Council gloms onto a word, a phrase or , God help us, a concept, i.e., “world class,” it never lets go. Virtually everything in Santa Monica now is “vibrant,” or “robust,” or both – but never both at once. And, now, “village” is overtaking both “vibrant” and “robust.”

Texas developer Hines, is currently promoting a 770,000 square foot (recently reduced from 960.000 square feet) commercial development that it and the planners call “Bergamot Transit Station Center Village,” and any day now work will begin on “The Village,” a mega-housing project in the Civic Center that will combine 130 affordable housing rental units, 134 luxury condos and the ubiquitous ‘retail,” Some of “the Village” buildings will be nearly 100 feet tall.

The Council, along with the City Hall hypesters, also seems pleased as punch that four new hotels are in the works — though one is guaranteed to fatally sully one of Santa Monica’s most cherished landmarks, and two will be located on Colorado Avenue in downtown Santa Monica, which is already on its way from congestion to gridlock.

Council members have never expressed concern, much less regret for the loss or displacement of virtually all of the Third Street booksellers, though it was their decision to court Barnes and Noble and Borders — the mega-stores that ultimately unhinged the book business all over West L.A. Indeed, if quizzed, they would probably take credit for saving Santa Monica from the chaos that afflicts the book business now — with Kindle eliminating the need for actual books, and Amazon et al simultaneously eliminating the need for actual bookshops, and publishers in a tizzy over e-books, and writers publishing their own books on-line — by killing the bookstores 20 years ago.

That’s the kind of twisted logic that seems to dominate Council decisions now. Another example is Pam O’Connor’s take on campaign contributions. Sure, she takes money from developers, but she also receives emails from residents and encounters people in public places who oppose developments and she listens to all of them. Perhaps. But she invariably votes for the developments and against the residents whom she was elected to represent.

The City announced a new website this week: “BE EXCITED, BE PREPARED!” it says. “ The future that Santa Monicans have envisioned for the city through the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) community visioning is beginning to break ground. www.SMConstructs..org will help you stay informed about the exciting projects coming soon to Santa Monica!”

Unfortunately, since the adoption of LUCE last summer, residents have seen little that they envisioned during the extended LUCE process, and a lot of what they thought they were done with — over two million square feet of new commercial developments in the area between 26th Street and the L.A. border, the fracture of existing residential neighborhoods, the further coagulation of traffic, more development in downtown Santa Monica, including “bicycle centers” that will be located in parking structures and include changing rooms and showers. Given the traffic jam-ups on the Olympic “corridor,” it may be necessary any day now to install showers and changing rooms for motorists at regular intervals on the Olympic median.

The new website is very well-made and artfully organized. As it carols all the projects in the works, it urges us to BE PREPARED! BE EXCITED!

But, looking at it, exploring it, one inevitably feels like a passenger on a train that is about to go off the rails, and when we try to contact the people in charge, we get the BUSY signal. We ARE excited, but not in a good way.

Residents have spent much of the last year dutifully attending workshops and meetings and talking truth to the planners, the developers, the Council. The projects are too big. There are too many. There are no discernible “public benefits.” The architecture is undistinguished. The planners have failed to prepare the vital documents – an area plan, an environmental impact report, and so on – that would permit them to accurately assess the projects — as a whole and individually. And traffic! It’s a nightmare! It’s already choking the streets. But the Council isn’t listening.. It’s working from a different script. The Bigger Better More script.

The Hypesters script. Vibrant…Robust…World Class.

In 1993, City Hall began calling itself the City, and everything else, meaning residents, the city. It was ominous, but clear. At least we knew where we stood — at the back of the line.

I not only read books. I write them. So I’m biased, but I believe that if the City hadn’t scuttled the book stores years ago, we might all be talking the same language by now.