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Santa Monica Mayor Honored for Lifetime of Public Transit Work

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By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

January 7, 2013 -- The Los Angeles chapter of the national sustainable tranist news website, Streetsblog, recently awarded Santa Monica Mayor Pam O’Connor for her work in expanding L.A.'s regional public transit.

O’Connor beat out Los Angeles City Councilmembers Mike Bonin and Jose Huizar and State Assemblymember Mike Gatto for a “Streetsie” -- the annual honor Streetsblog metes out to those who have made the greatest impact in pedestrian, bicycling and public transit issues -- in the “elected official of the year” category.
“Santa Monica Mayor Pam O’Connor seems to be everywhere, advocating for transportation sustainability, livable cities, and complete streets policies,” wrote Juan Matute, who sits on the board of directors of Streetsblog L.A.’s publisher, the nonprofit Southern California Streets Initiative (SCSI).

Matute, a Santa Monica resident who works as a researcher at UCLA, nominated O’Connor for the award “because of all the incredible work she does that many of her constituents in Santa Monica do not see,” he told The Lookout Monday.

While O’Connor came in second on the site’s online poll -- she trailed Huizar’s 532 votes with 379 votes -- a majority of the SCSI board voted to give her the award.

Bonin, who was elected to replace outgoing L.A. City Councilmember (and former Streetsie winner) Bill Rosendahl, took home 226 votes.

Gatto, who was nominated for his work strengthening anti-hit-and-run legislation, received 83 votes.

O’Connor told The Lookout Monday that she was “thrilled and honored” to be recognized for her work by “folks who are committed to multimodalism, community and mobility.

“My passion has been around issues of placemaking and public transit,” she said.

Aside from her day job as an urban planning consultant and her responsibilities in Santa Monica, O’Connor also chairs the Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority Board of Directors, which oversees the construction of the 15-mile light-rail line between downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica.

But it was also O’Connor’s history of transit and pedestrian advocacy work that clinched the awarded for the Chicago native.

"For Pam, it wasn't just things that happened recently,” said L.A. Streetsblog Editor Damien Newton. “It was more of a life-time achievement” award.

O’Connor, who has sat on the Los Angeles County Metro Board of Directors since 2001, chaired the Board in 2007 and 2008.

At the time, the Board was planning to put Measure R, a half-cent sales tax, on the ballot to help fund future transit projects, including the Expo Light Rail.

She also formed and, to this day, heads the Metro Board’s Sustainability Committee, which currently works on strategies to make it easier for people to get to and from major public transit stops.

In the late 1990s, O’Connor was also on the original steering committee for Los Angeles Walks, the “umbrella group for pedestrian advocacy” in the greater Los Angeles area, Newton said.

O’Connor said, “This is not the kind of thing that happens over night.” Nor can it be done by one agency -- or government -- working alone.

She is on the Board of Directors of the Local Government Commission, California Transit Association, National Association of Regional Councils and CalCog.

O’Connor is also on the Regional Council of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), which is currently tackling the question of designing -- and funding -- a region-wide bike share system.

In 2012, O’Connor was president of SCAG, the regional planning body for 18.3 million people in six counties, Matute said.

“She guided the organization through the adoption of the Sustainable Communities Strategy, a comprehensive regional plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance quality of life by focusing on active transportation and transit,” he said.

“It’s been an exciting time because the young folks are living a life where they are walking more, biking more, taking public transit,” O’Connor said.

Other Streetsie winners this year include Paul Backstrom, the transportation deputy for the L.A.’s Transportation Committee chair. Backstrom beat out Santa Monica’s own traffic engineer Sam Morrissey for “Civil Servant of the Year.”

Jessica Meaney took home the Streetsie for “Advocate of the Year” for her work pushing for pedestrian safety.

And, Alissa Walker was dubbed “Journalist of the Year” because she has became a “defender of the new Los Angeles and not the car-culture obsessed city of yesteryear,” according to Streetsblog L.A.

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