The Lookout Letter to the editor
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Oscar de la Torre

Dear Editor,

From reading the City staff report on the proposed changes to Michigan Avenue one might think that the Michigan Avenue Neighborhood Greenway (MANGo) is all about bicycles and bicyclists and not about upgrading and greening the Pico Neighborhood. The Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA) has been working closely with residents and City staff to ensure that a reasonable plan goes before the City Council this upcoming Tuesday night for approval and if not for the efforts to circumvent resident input, we would have full resident support for the project.

Unfortunately, the full story on the proposed MANGo project is not fully accessible in the City staff’s report.  First of all, there is not "one faction of the PNA that favors the diverters while another opposes them."  There is one Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA) and it has spoken with a clear and unified voice: NO TRAFFIC DIVERTERS on Michigan Avenue.

To be clear, the PNA voted to support the MANGo when we were assured by the City staff that there would be no loss of parking and no traffic barricades or diverters.  The PNA wants to see improvements to Michigan Ave. that will make the street safe, clean, beautiful and green. We support the various improvements on Michigan Ave. that will benefit bicyclists and pedestrians and increase safety for Samohi students. We also support the target goal of reducing traffic flow to 2000 car trips per day, BUT ONLY IF this can be done without the installation of traffic diverters.  Alternative measures such as improved student drop off and pick up locations at Samohi should improve traffic conditions on Michigan Ave.
 
According to the 2011 staff report, Michigan Ave. will be transformed from a residential street into a “superior connection for bicycles to get to the Bergamot Centers, Exposition Light Rail stations to downtown Santa Monica.”  It's now clear that there's a direct connection between the Hines development and MANGo.  In 2011, the City received a $154,000 CALTRANS “Environmental Justice” grant.  In the grant application, the City promised to engage low income and minority residents in the planning of a vision to create a special place along Michigan Ave. However, contrary to the terms of the contract, the initial outreach process for the MANGo ignored Spanish speaking residents in the Pico Neighborhood.

During the outreach phase for the workshops and the MANGo Pop-up, none of the materials were in Spanish. Therefore, a large number of our diverse residents were excluded from the public process. City staff lead on the project, Jason Kligier, stated that the City satisfied the promises made in the contract by having a person walking around during the MANGo Pop-up event with a button on his shirt that read “preguntame”(ask me). Mr. Kligier also stated that the City of Santa Monica had no plans or resources to rectify this issue with additional workshops or outreach. The City's community input process was not only ineffective, it also gave residents of the Pico Neighborhood the sense that our demographic profile (ethnically diverse/low income) was being “used” to attain funds for a vision of Michigan Avenue that does not include us, but was merely intended to connect two mega-projects at the east and west ends of the city.

The Community Workshop as well as the MANGo Pop-up event, while entertaining and colorful, failed to objectively gather input from Pico Neighborhood residents. After the Pop-up  in September 2013, the PNA determined that community input gathered on little "post-its" and scraps of paper at these events was inadequate and did not legitimately survey or address the concerns of local residents. We asked the City Manager, Rod Gould, to allocate approximately $5000 so that a survey could be conducted to assess the impact and desirability of major changes to street accessibility, etc., on local residents. This request was denied and the PNA board voted to move forward with its own bi-lingual survey in order to gather legitimate community input from residents, particularly in the areas most directly impacted by the proposed MANGo. 

Wishing to make sure the survey would be useful and non-biased, the PNA received help from the Planning Dept. in designing the questionnaire.  150 residents (90 English speaking; 60 Spanish speaking) were asked for their opinions on various aspects of the MANGo. Following the survey, the PNA board endorsed the MANGo survey results and sent a letter to City staff endorsing the MANGo as a whole, with the exception of the traffic diverters.

Over 95% of those surveyed rejected the proposal for a traffic diverter on 11th and Michigan and Lincoln Ct. and Michigan. (We had been told earlier that chicanes were also not going to be included in the plan, thus questions about chicanes were not included in the PNA survey.)

Once these results were in, we were assured by City staff, including David Martin, that traffic diverters, barricades and chicanes were “off the table.”  Thus, we were shocked to see in the “Draft Improvements Map” that is now part of the plan to be voted on at the next Council meeting (2/11/14), a “Potential for Future Traffic Diverter” on 11th and Michigan and chicanes on several neighborhood streets.  

The PNA MANGo Ad Hoc Committee worked in good faith with City staff to create and administer a survey instrument through which we could obtain useful and objective resident input on key elements of the proposed project.  We were led to believe that staff would respect the PNA survey results and we now see that this is another example of City staff trying to push through an agenda that is contrary to clearly stated resident input.  

With regard to our survey, it's unfortunate that Jason Kligier, without permission from the PNA made an extra 150 copies of the PNA Survey and gave these unauthorized copies along with a digital version to a self-described butterfly breeder who lives on Michigan Ave.  This woman, Ms. Barbara Filet, falsely claimed she was working under the auspicious of the City and set about doing her own rogue version of the PNA survey.  She continued doing so even when the PNA requested that she stop.  Because Ms. Filet rejected all protocol for objective polling and continually injected her own emotional spin along with a great deal of misinformation into her results, we asked repeatedly that her input be rejected by the City.  

To give this individual and her biased survey results credibility equal to those gathered and endorsed by a democratically elected neighborhood association that legitimately represents 12,000 residents of the Pico Neighborhood is shameful on the part of City staff. No one in the City has determined if Ms. Filet's rogue surveys can be verified or even if they come from residents of the Pico Neighborhood, and yet the City staff report on the MANGo states that there is a “controversy” between residents with regard to traffic diverters.  

Much like the Hines and A-lot controversies, we are concerned with regard to the MANGo that the City staff has pitted residents against each other to advance an already predetermined plan, ignoring objective resident input and using deceit in dealing with resident leaders. The City staff should be working to facilitate the implementation of a vision derived from the residents who call Santa Monica home, and not working as advocates for a vocal special interest group.

The City Council must reign in a staff that is increasingly out of touch with residents and out of control with regard to development. The MANGo project is endemic of what is wrong with the relationship between residents and City Hall and why residents are now going to extreme measures such as referendums to have their voices heard. 

Finally, and to re-iterate, the PNA welcomes the bulk of the MANGo project as an opportunity for the City of Santa Monica to reverse the historic dumping of hurtful development in the Pico Neighborhood, but we stand with our residents who voiced their opposition to traffic diverters and barricades that would encapsulate an entire section of our neighborhood.

Oscar de la Torre 
Co-Chair, Pico Neighborhood Association
PNA Board of Directors


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