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Activist Group Finds City of Santa Monica Abuses Own Campaign Limiting Driving and Parking Downtown

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Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

January 27, 2016 -- The City of Santa Monica is abusing its own campaign to limit driving and parking downtown, with more municipal employees than ever coming and going to their offices in the badly congested area, a local activist group has found.

Every year since 2008, the number of City of Santa Monica employees driving themselves to work instead of using alternatives, such as taking the bus, car-pooling or bicycling, has “experienced a steady increase,” according to the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City.

Santa Monica's largest employer is the City, with approximately 2,600 employees and the total number of those employees using alternative transportation has dropped 22 percent since that year, the SMCLC said.

“This is at the very time that City Hall is waging a campaign to limit driving and parking for residents everywhere in the City, especially downtown,” the organization said in a statement released Tuesday about the conclusions of its study.

The study itself was not released, however. The SMCLC said its findings were based on documents it received through a Public Information Request.

Santa Monica’s City leaders pride themselves on being environmentally progressive, and on their extended efforts to reduce the number of vehicles that clog streets.

Congestion gets particularly bad downtown, which is considered Santa Monica’s hub. By many estimates, the population in that area doubles in size during daytime hours with workers.

One of the City’s big goals has been to make dramatic reductions in traffic by reducing peak-hour automobile commute trips, with the ultimate goals being no net increases in evening peak-hour vehicle trips.

Ultimately, it aims to “promote and increase work-related transit use, ridesharing, walking and bicycling to minimize parking needs, prevent critical intersections from severe overload, and protect the quality of life in Santa Monica’s neighborhoods and districts,” a 2013 report compiled for the City’s newest land use ordinance notes.

But first, the City needs to practice what it preaches, the group said. In fact, City employees are granted free parking in Santa Monica, the organization said, and “the majority drive to and park in the downtown area.”

“The example they set matters,” the SMCLC said. “If City staff cannot find and use realistic transit
alternatives, the City should acknowledge the same truth for residents.”

Although officials within City government could not be reached for comment, longtime City Council Member Kevin McKeown said providing employee parking helps relieve competition for street spaces.

He said residents often tell the City “they want employers to
provide parking so employees don’t take up street spaces,” McKeown said. “Looked at
another way, then, the City’s provision of employee parking successfully
reduces parking pressure on Ocean Park, downtown, even Wilmont and
Mid-City (not all our employees work right at City Hall).”

SMCLC is one of the city’s largest activist organizations. It is also closely involved, along with other community groups, with other issues related to downtown. At this time, the focus is mostly on approval of a Downtown Specific Plan to regulate the height and density of building there. Final approval is expected in the next few months.

In its release Tuesday, the SMCLC said the City is unfairly holding the public to standards not imposed on its own employees. It highlights such City actions as reducing driving lanes, not providing parking at Expo Line stops and making street parking “more expensive and difficult to find.”

But in doing so, the City is imposing tough restrictions on the public that it spares the City’s employees

“We are not blaming City employees. They work hard. We understand why they
want to drive and park in Santa Monica,” the group’s statement said. But “residents are being treated one way while the City treats itself differently.”

The City Yards worksite at Bergamot was one example cited by the SMCLC. The City is planning a new parking facility for all of its 350 employees there, the group said, despite the need for additional parking needed at the Arts Center.

It said Santa Monica needs “real alternatives” to driving around the city “geared to how and where residents actually go, a truly workable mobility plan – not just promises years away.”

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