Considering the open Main Street pilot program

When alfresco outdoor dining on Main Street was first mentioned 14 months ago as COVID-19 mitigation indoor closures were announced, I thought, “What a fine idea. Restaurants can continue to operate with customers spread out, safely social distanced in plenty of fresh air enjoying our mostly fine weather. Main Street can take on some of the piazza character with sidewalk dining like I’d enjoyed touring Europe on my motorcycle half a century before.”

But when the PowerPoint slide deck showed car and bicycle thru lanes bifurcating the space, slashing the heart out of the potential pedestrian walkway and corralling the dining areas in narrow parklets spread along the former curbside parking spaces — my spirits fell. Lost were the potential for replacement seating capacity to keep the restaurants and their help profitably employed, along with the potential space to spread out safely in the open air to mitigate community virus transmission potential. What a thoughtless design decision they made!

More than a year later, the “Sharing an Open Main Street” experimental pilot program was approved, financed to the tune of $70,000, and planning began as a joint effort between the leadership of the Ocean Park Association (OPA) and the Main Street Business Improvement Association (MSBIA ) for four “Pilot Program” experimental weekends of car-free Main Street commercial and community activities. Again I thought, “What a fine idea — correct the error of slicing the potential street plaza with noisy contagion spewing traffic, creating a much-needed safe, social and commercial activity center to replace much of what we’d lost through the COVID-19 shutdowns and closures.” But again I was disappointed.

Outdoor diners were still corralled in the small parklets and the narrowed sidewalks became even more dangerous contagion gauntlets with some restaurants adding sidewalk tables to squeeze unmasked passersby tightly along the parklet enclosures.

“How could the planners have missed the opportunity to spread diners from the storefronts out into some of the freshly vacated street area making ample room for social distancing while enlivening the empty street with activity?” I thought.

But that was the dismal outcome of the first experimental weekend last month — a sad empty street, the sides dangerously crowded with the expectant public who came to enjoy a special time safely strolling, dining and socializing.

I expressed my dismay and again pointed out the errors in the planner’s judgement in these pages as well as in direct communication to those involved. I hoped to see all corrected for this past weekend — some great benefit to compensate for lost street parking and potential traffic jamming adjacent residential streets.

Some things were better. Additional park bench seating and assorted activities enlivened some sections of the street, but pedestrians, along with occasional scooters and bicycles, still crowded the sidewalks. The dangerous mix of unmasked seated patrons eating and drinking just inches away from the un-masked passersby still existed.

“How could the organizers repeat this hazardous configuration?” I asked a few of the key OPA and MSBIA players. Not getting a satisfactory answer, I’ve assumed that they decided to simply ignore the potential negative optics of considering community transmission. Their desire to make a success of their flawed execution overshadowed concerns and consideration of the new even more communicable Delta COVID variant. “For shame!” I thought.

The world has been thrown into a severe pandemic crisis and “Open Street” has wasted that crisis. This would have been a golden opportunity to build useful models, not only to rescue Main Street from the present threat but also to set goals for a more sustainable future when the COVID threat finally subsides. Clear-thinking, well-informed people now realize that we must dramatically reduce our dependence on carbon polluting private urban transportation if our society is to thrive and our progeny are to survive.

The strong opposition that has surfaced to open carless streets could have been countered with examples of an alternative way to live. With more resources and better planning, the “Open Street” architects could have devised transportation alternatives to convey the public from off-site central parking to this free public space where families could play and socialize. This pilot program could have been a showcase for what our future needs.

Likewise, COVID hazards could have been countered with a pop-up vaccination site and information booths distributing free face masks to make the present safer and raise awareness for the mitigations we’ll certainly need when the next pandemic happens.

OPA and MSBIA meant well but they could have done so much better. Perhaps the September 18 and 19 experiments will show some improvement. We the public can encourage them when we respond to the surveys they’ll distribute. We can write letters to our local newspapers. We can communicate directly to the pilot program administrators in the city government as well as to the two sponsoring associations. Perhaps we can bend the program into something better — something that will help establish a path toward a better future for us all.
Tim Tunks
Santa Monica

Bonin and Garcetti’s Bridge Housing blunder!

The recent COVID-19 outbreak at the Venice Bridge Housing facility was preventable, avoidable and only occurred because of the insistence of poor public policy decisions by Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilman Mike Bonin.

Despite near universal opposition by the Venice community from the start, the wishes of their constituents were arrogantly ignored and unacknowledged as Councilman Bonin rolled his eyes and described locals as “NIMBY” at a community meeting some two years ago that offered nothing more than lip service to a project that has yielded zero net results of moving the chronically homeless from the streets to permanent housing.

For the only real benefactors of this homeless boondoggle has been not-for-profit bureaucrats and the influential vendors of this cottage industry of the un-housed in the millions of dollars to say nothing of the billions squandered through the likes of the notorious HHH funding that is now for the most part depleted and broke!

For lawyers, architects, contractors and builders have reaped obscene profits from public dollars while the size of the homeless population in Venice ballooned to historic numbers!

If that is not a mortal sin, what is?

To add insult to injury, you have voices from the Venice Community Housing describing residents of Venice as “segregationists” when such nasty rhetoric has no basis in reality and does nothing to bring consensus around the issue of homelessness in our community.

Practically speaking, when thousands roam the streets of Venice with many of them mentally challenged, unstable and drug-addicted, how would a 154-bed facility even offer a dent in this ongoing crisis?

More to the point, too many Venetians during this pandemic warned of cluster outbreaks within these encampments that again fell upon deaf ears. Now the largest nest of homelessness is now ravaged by a public policy decision so ridiculous and incompetent that one wonders how either Garcetti or Bonin can even remain in elected office.

As Mayor Garcetti has watched his political star stain from presidential timber, cabinet consideration to being jettisoned to India and Councilman Bonin now facing yet a second recall initiative, can these two finally admit they were wrong and the community of Venice was right to oppose this delusional and failed project?
Nick Antonicello
Venice Beach

Mike Bonin
The letters from the people who want to recall Mike Bonin remind me of my old Boy Scout method of cooking spaghetti: throw as much on the wall as you can and see what sticks.

There are no specifics!
Can someone please explain to us middle class taxpayers a few things?

It is estimated that the recall election will cost us taxpayers around $500,000. A recall vote will most likely happen in May; the date of the next regular election is June. If the recall election succeeds, what good will it do us if we have no city councilman or woman for a few months?

What would your desired replacement on the council specifically do to reduce homelessness, that isn’t being done now? What would your desired replacement specifically do to reduce crime, that isn’t being done now?

Wouldn’t it be better to spend this half million dollars of our tax money on building housing and reducing crime, instead of getting us a council vacancy so that we have no representation for two months?

What’s really your goal?

Jack Schwartz