Edited image of Santa Monica staff slides as presented to the City Council. Courtesy of Tim Tunks

Experimental pilot program advances while opinions abound

By Tim Tunks

Santa Monica’s lower Main Street is the center of Ocean Park commercial activity and has long been an interesting local attraction. The past 14 months of pandemic mitigation were disastrous for most of the district’s businesses, some of whom had been struggling even before Covid concerns. Revitalizing Main Street as a pedestrian piazza is a promising plan — a plan that gained both strong public opposition and effective political support.

The following collection of quotes from interested people reflect the various forces at play. I’ve had to edit some of the quotes to make space for more opinions and I’ll try to keep my commentary brief for the same reason. I’ve used initials only to protect privacy.

The largest group to send comments complained about displaced traffic patterns and private cars intruding on the nearby residential streets and parking. Some perceived fault with the city’s processes prioritizing big money interests over small property owners and renters enjoying their accustomed small town benefits.

P. M. wrote, “City survey polling a bunch of folks who don’t live near Main Street and who won’t be impacted by all the traffic forces into residential neighbors. City Council ignored local resident comments and there’s no traffic studies to back it up. Yet again, residents come after business interests.”

S. G. wrote, “The re-routing of vehicles into the local residential neighborhood is neither family nor eco-friendly. What’s portrayed as a neighborhood grass-roots movement is, in fact, astro-turf.”

D added, “If SM doesn’t want people to have cars, then why are there so many car lots?  What about that huge Tesla charging station? Cars are not going away. How many households in Santa Monica have multiple vehicles in their driveways? All this will do is push the cars to other streets.”

R. S. reminded us that we should not forget less enabled pedestrians: “I don’t have much faith in this pilot in the way the city is run. Example: the horrible scooters — no enforcement. I am disabled and the riders in my neighborhood are visitors and tourists. I have been almost hit on numerous occasions and scooters are left in the middle of the sidewalk to trip us.”

B. N. said, “The city and OPA have failed to include in both conceiving and planning the Main Street pilot residents who will be most severely impacted by a surge of overflow traffic, parking, and late night party types into their neighborhoods.  Closing a primary north-south artery through a residential community is reckless.”

W. H. satirically offered, “Perhaps the city should just give the $70,000 of LA Metro money to the half dozen bars and restaurants that are involved and save everyone a lot of trouble.” The $70,000 is the city’s contribution toward funding this experiment.

M. G., a nearby Ocean Park resident who has a long history of intelligent volunteerism, pointed out another concern: “It is striking to see the difference between the professional planning for revitalizing the 3rd St Promenade and the Main Street plan. I am also concerned with what may have to be cut given the inadequate budget for 4 weekends.” (The pilot plan’s organizers hope to get additional funding from other sources, with the Main Street businesses making their sizable contributions — additional funds will certainly be required to support the pilot in delivering the data it promises.)

Many other contributors painted positive pictures of possibilities a successful experiment might present:

S. B. offered: “Go anywhere in Europe to see lots and lots of car-free plazas, mews, lanes, promenades, esplanades, beer gardens, etc. They are wonderful to spend time in, shop in, dine in, meet friends in, read a book (or write one!) in, daydream in, etc. Honestly, I have never understood how anyone in LA would be willing to sit on a sidewalk with all the fumes, noise, brake dust, etc., and pretend they are ‘dining al fresco’.”

J. J. added, “I think the outdoor dining is a welcome addition, with and without the pandemic. I hope it stays. California weather is perfect for adding more sidewalk cafes. I would be surprised if bars and restaurants were finding issue with the additional capacity — considering all of the losses due to the pandemic.”
P. B. shared, “I’m enjoying and feeling safer outside dining. I also think we need to support the restaurants so they can stay afloat.”

S. B. also wrote, “I am ecstatic to see the neighborhood and the city embrace this pilot. “Sharing the Streets” is a perfect way for Ocean Park to celebrate coming out of Covid and is a tremendous opportunity for us to collectively test out a new way to experience the Main St.”

Another line of concern was that the potential benefits of this pilot would accrue only to the alcohol-serving sit-down restaurants to the disadvantage of the other merchants, as well as the traffic-plagued nearby residents.

Long-time Main Street business owner S. B. lamented, “My front windows are my best advertisement. If the street is closed [to traffic], I lose the advantage of tourists driving to the area. Retailers have forfeited significant on-street parking to help outdoor dining.” (Her front windows are my Main Street favorites and I always pause and study the interesting objects on display during my Main Street walks.)

H.H., a proponent of parklet outdoor seating since 2015, defended the pilot: “This is not about ‘selling a few more beers’. It’s about piloting a better way of managing neighborhood-commercial districts where residents and businesses work together to plan for the future.”

M.M., the major OPA spark plug of this effort, offered this closing remark: “I am ecstatic to see the neighborhood and the city embrace this pilot. ‘Sharing the Streets’ is a perfect way for Ocean Park to celebrate coming out of Covid and is a tremendous opportunity for us to collectively test out a new way to experience Main Street. Long-term, I envision a more pedestrian-friendly Main Street and this is an exciting first step in that journey!”

Power to Speak is The Argonaut’s guest opinion column for community members to voice their views on local matters and does not represent an editorial position or endorsement by The Argonaut. The opinions, experiences, research and data analysis expressed in this article are the author’s own. Have a unique point of view on a neighborhood matter or a national issue with a local twist? Email kkirk@timespublications.com.