The Fourth Street median just south of Adelaide Drive, which draws thousands of fitness buffs — along with the street stairs that enter onto Adelaide Drive — remains a point of contention between residents and those that use the area for exercise.
For the past year and a half, the city has received complaints from neighbors about the use of the Fourth Street median and the nearby street, including increased street and sidewalk congestion, and increased traffic, litter and noise, said Department of Public Works director Lee Swain. One neighbor has even complained about alleged fornication there.
Despite attempts to use proactive methods to secure compliance, including new signs, education and intermittent enforcement, the median has attracted increasing numbers of people utilizing the area for exercise and other activities that are not permitted, Swain said.
An ordinance in effect since 1970 in Santa Monica permits only walking and jogging on the city’s medians. Other activities such as yoga, stretching and group fitness classes are prohibited.
A second community meeting was held Thursday, January 8th, to present suggestions the city received from the community at its first meeting on solving the problem, and to gather feedback from the public.
The meeting brought many, including residents of Adelaide Drive, neighbors and exercise enthusiasts who have used the street stairs for decades.
In attendance were Swain; city attorney Marsha Moutrie; Santa Monica Police Chief Tim Jackman, as well as several other police officers; Kate Vernez, assistant to the city manager for community relations and other city staff members.
Over two dozen suggestions made at the first community meeting were discussed, including possibly restricting stair usage; converting the median into a public park; adding restrooms, water fountains and trash cans; turning the median into community gardens; fencing in the stairs; installing security cameras; establishing a task force; building alternative recreational stairs; and implementing permit parking.
Many at the meeting supported increasing trash pickup in the area and the idea of establishing a task force of residents, city officials and those who use the median and stairs.
Most of those in attendance seemed supportive of building alternative recreational stairs elsewhere in the city.
And while the majority of those at the meeting did not support restrictions on the stairs, quite a few were willing to compromise and have restricted access to the stairs for some period of time, for example from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.
Most were not supportive of personal trainers with large groups of clients conducting commercial activity on Adelaide.
Some even believed the solution to the problem was quite easy.
“I think there has to be some civility, respect,” said Brentwood resident and actor Haskell Vaughn Anderson III, who has been walking the stairs since 1988. “I think that’s the common denominator. I think that’s all we need.”
Anderson, who is sometimes called the “mayor” of the stairs, noted that the chaos on Adelaide did not become an issue until two years ago.
“Let’s be kind,” he said.
Brentwood resident Pat Compton, who also uses the stairs, agreed.
“We need to be thoughtful,” she said. “Throw your litter away. Put in it your pocket. Put it in your car. Don’t abuse a neighborhood that is private. It is not a park. It is a private neighborhood. Treat it that way.
“Enjoy the steps because they’re there — considerably and thoughtfully. Don’t change the neighborhood that’s there.”
But Tom Baker, a 35-year resident of the neighborhood whose driveway runs across the wooden stairway, fears someone will be badly injured or killed.
“My concern is not the nuisance,” he said. “My biggest concern is that someone is going to be hurt. The volume of the traffic has become horrendous. It’s a safety issue.
“This is a situation like the Farmers Market in Santa Monica, where someone is going to get hurt or killed. It’s the Farmers Market waiting to happen again. The city doesn’t seem to understand the liability. I can’t seem to get this message across.”
Baker believes that people have a right to use the neighborhood and stairs, but he thinks a reasonable compromise would be restricted access to the stairs, for example from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.
“There are people out there at four or five in the morning,” Baker said. “We want to live in harmony.”
But many at the meeting supported Culver City resident Tim Dezarn’s view.
“Do not restrict the stairs,” Dezarn said. “It’s a public thoroughfare.”
He says he started using the stairs — which he walks daily — after he lost his son in a car accident over a year ago. Dezarn had become depressed, suicidal even, but he said the stairs turned his life around.
“These stairs saved my life,” he said.
Dezarn thinks the issue is law enforcement. He thinks a few people who are breaking the law are ruining it for the rest, who are respectful when they come to Adelaide.
“If you’re breaking the law by impeding traffic or wandering on the street, you should get a ticket,” he said. “If the law is enforced, I think it’ll clear up everything. I don’t think the law is enforced. Enforce the laws that are on the books.”
Paula Savett, a resident of Adelaide Drive for 33 years, says she’s not even comfortable driving down her own street.
“I think closing the stairs would be divine,” she adds, noting that she thinks permit parking would also help.
“Palisades Park has two sets or three sets of stairs, bathrooms, water fountains,” she said. “And no one uses it. I don’t get it.”
The city plans to incorporate the community feedback into recommendations to Ewell and the City Council on how these issues might be addressed.
City staff is also working with the City of Los Angeles concerning the street stairs, since they are actually beyond Santa Monica city limits, in Los Angeles.