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Council Takes Up Tax to Boost Traffic Safety

By Jorge Casuso

December 18, 2023 -- One month after taking steps to curb serious crashes involving bicyclists, the City Council on Tuesday will discuss boosting its efforts with a general tax on next November's ballot.

The proposed tax -- placed on the agenda by Councilmembers Jesse Zwick, Gleam Davis and Caroline Torosis -- would increase the City's parking facility tax, which is currently 10 percent.

Revenues from the measure -- which would preserve free 90-minute parking in the downtown lots -- would be used to "reduce traffic congestion and the risk of traffic fatalities and serious injuries."

The new funding would "restore the Safe Routes to School program," "fund safety-enhancing street infrastructure" and "address deferred maintenance needs of the City’s downtown parking structures."

The money would also be earmarked to "hire additional school crossing guards and traffic enforcement officers," according to the discussion item.

"COVID-related budget cuts resulted in layoffs for nearly half of all city staff responsible for studying, designing, implementing, and maintaining safety-enhancements on our roadways, including stop signs," Zwick told The Lookout.

"The Parking Facility Tax is an opportunity to create a permanent stream of revenue for these desperately-needed safety improvements in our city," he said.

The new safety efforts were spurred after a bicyclist was killed in a crash on October 27 at the intersection of 19th Street and Idaho Avenue ("Bicyclist Dies After Traffic Collision Friday," October 30 2023).

Three weeks later, the Council directed staff to strengthen Santa Monica's commitment "to eliminate all fatal and severe-injury crashes" ("Council Takes Steps to Curb Collisions Involving Cyclists, Pedestrians," November 17, 2023).

Before the month ended, the City had installed four-way stop signs at the dangerous intersection where the year's only bicycle fatality had taken place ("Intersection Where Bicyclist Killed to Get 4-Way Stop Signs," November 20, 2023).

The unusually swift action came after more than 120 members of the public commented in person and in writing urging the Council to place more four-way stop signs along Idaho Avenue and other busy Santa Monica streets.

Tuesday's item would further the effort, Torosis said. "It is our hope that we can generate additional funding to implement new stop signs at particularly problematic intersections and other traffic calming measures that will ensure safe streets for all."

If approved by the Council, Tuesday's agenda item would give City staff the go-ahead to study the fiscal impacts and gauge public support for a tax measure, Zwick said.

The item also asks the City Manager and City Attorney "to enter into discussions with the California Coastal Commission and assess the impacts of a proposed increase in the parking facility tax on parking rates in the Coastal Zone."

Recent data show the number of "injury-causing crashes" involving cyclists has dropped dramatically in Santa Monica -- from some 150 in 2012 to 72 this year ("Bicyclists Share Fault in Serious Crashes, Data Show," December 14, 2023).

Of the 72 fatal and severe injury (FSI) crashes between January 1, 2010 and November 16, 2023, the cyclist was determined to be at fault in 26 of the crashes and the motorist in 31.

In the remaining 15 incidents no fault was determined for either the driver or the cyclist, according to data provided to The Lookout by the City.

City officials attribute the drop to the "Vision Zero" policy the Council adopted in 2016 to end all fatalities and major injuries by focusing on engineering improvements, education and traffic enforcement.

"It is our moral imperative to keep our residents, visitors, and stakeholders safe in our city and this motion intends to accelerate our commitment to vision zero," Torosis said.

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