Why I’m running for City Council: Four Pillars of Progressive Government

I’m pleased to announce that I’m running for a seat on the Santa Monica City Council.

I’m making the announcement today, July 9, because this afternoon UNITE HERE Local 11, the union that fights for the rights of hotel and other service workers in Santa Monica, began its endorsement process for the November election, and I threw my hat in their ring. As a supporter of the union’s organizing efforts since the ’90s, I am seeking the endorsement of the local’s hardworking members.

It’s fitting that I am making my announcement to run on the day that Local 11 begins its endorsement process. I base my politics on the classic four pillars of progressive policies: Jobs, Housing, Education, and the Environment. When it comes to jobs, Local 11, along with its community supporters, has been at the forefront of the fight to bring Santa Monica’s service workers into the middle class. (It’s exciting to see that a movement, for a living wage, that had its start almost 20 years in Santa Monica and a few other places, is now sweeping the nation.)

What about the other three progressive pillars?

As for Housing, there is no greater need at this time in Santa Monica, the Westside, and the region, than for housing that is affordable not only for working and retired people at all income levels, but also for those who have extremely low incomes, including the disabled and others who are homeless or who might find themselves homeless. For the 20 years I have been involved in Santa Monica politics, one of my primary goals has been to get residential development built on commercially zoned land. Not only because we need housing, but also because new residents do not materially add to traffic congestion, especially when compared to commercial development. More homes can even make our traffic situation better, because more employees can live near their jobs.

What about Education? The City of Santa Monica has a proud history of supporting our local schools and providing for early childhood education. I have always been not only a fervent supporter of these policies, but also a grateful recipient, as my son went K-12 through our local public schools. Like so many Santa Monicans, I’ve taken courses at Santa Monica College. In times of economic uncertainty it’s important that Santa Monica maintain its financial strength to continue to support our schools.

Education, however, does not begin or end at the schoolhouse door. It begins at home and continues throughout life. That’s why I support programs like Cradle to Career, Lifelong Learning, and other programs the City supports that enrich the lives of all children so that everyday when they attend school, they are ready to learn, and when they finish their educations, they can and will lead productive lives.

“Environment” is a word that encompasses so much. Not only the big picture physical environment, and issues like Global Warming, water quality in the Bay, or California’s water crisis, but also the smaller environments we live in – our houses and apartments, our sidewalks and streets, our parks and our plazas, our neighborhoods and historical landmarks. Our quality of life.

City services are crucial for quality of life. While it’s easy to attack small failures that come out of City Hall, our city government, and the people who work for the city, deliver services at the highest level in the region. Not only basic services we all depend on, like police and fire, paramedics, sanitation, and the like, but also a great bus system, libraries, and human services that are a credit to them and to all of us. City workers can do this because of the support we in the community give them. We need to make sure that these services, and our quality of life, continue to receive the funding that is required.

The biggest single environmental issue in Santa Monica is the fate of Santa Monica Airport. Sitting in the middle of neighborhoods, the airport is a huge source of pollution and noise. It’s also dangerous. I’m proud to have been one of the leaders of the movement to turn the airport into a great park for the benefit of everyone.

In Santa Monica, one cannot separate environmental issues from issues about development. Santa Monica has a 40-year history, going back to the defeat of plans to build an island in the Bay, of managing development for the public good by balancing economic and social needs. Mistakes have sometimes been made over those decades, but overall Santa Monica stands apart from the rest of Southern California, where development has been much less controlled.

One mistake Santa Monica made was to approve, back in the ’80s, too much office development without getting housing built for the new employees and their families. This mistake was compounded in the new Land Use and Circulation Elements (LUCE) adopted in 2010. I argued then, almost alone, that the LUCE called for too much office development and not enough housing in the old industrial areas near Bergamot Station. These policies add to our rush hour traffic jams, caused by commuters into Santa Monica. Santa Monicans find they can’t leave the city in the afternoon. One plank of my platform will be to amend the LUCE to radically reduce new office development.

I’ve lived in Santa Monica since 1983. I love the place. I’m running for City Council to ensure that Santa Monica’s best days are still to come.

I hope I will have your support. Thanks.

Logo July 8 2014 green and blue

Dissecting a Press Release

Tuesday evening the Santa Monica City Council gave direction to City Attorney Marsha Moutrie to prepare a measure for the November ballot. The measure would be an alternative to the initiative that the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) has put forward to (in Ms. Moutrie’s words) “protect vested interests at the Santa Monica Airport” and “lock in the status quo at the Airport.”

Before the council hearing Tuesday the AOPA, through its local front organization, “Santa Monicans for Open and Honest Development Decisions” (SMOHDD), issued a press release. I’ve decided to reprint the release here in its entirety, into which I’ll insert my comments. Here it is.


June 24, 2014

CONTACT: John Jerabek
(310) xxx-xxxx

Santa Monica City Council Plans Competing Airport Ballot Initiative to Confuse Voters

Last April, Santa Monica voters launched* one of the largest petition drives in the City’s history in an effort to end 40 years of political and legal wrangling over Santa Monica Airport and place the final authority for redeveloping** this valuable land where it should be — in the hands of the voters. This effort culminated with an unprecedented 15,734 signatures*** being submitted to the City Clerk in early June to pass the “Voters Decide” Charter Amendment on the November ballot.

* “Santa Monica voters launched . . .” Well, no. According to the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) filings for SMOHDD, the petition drive was entirely organized and paid for by the AOPA, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying organization. The AOPA hired Arno Political Consultants and other political operatives to import into Santa Monica an army of signature gatherers — you probably met some of them if you bought groceries during May and early June. (To access the SMOHDD FPPC filings, go to the City’s Clerk’s webpage for Disclosure Statements, click on “Public Access Portal,” and then “search by name” for “Santa Monicans for Open and Honest Development Decisions.”)

** “the final authority for redeveloping . . . ” Also false. The AOPA initiative is silent about the redevelopment of the airport land — I hope this doesn’t shock anyone, but the AOPA is only interested in whether the airport stays in operation as an airport, and the right to vote in its measure is limited to the decision to close the airport. Should voters vote to do so, then, so far as the AOPA is concerned, see you later — the City can do whatever it wants with the land without any vote.

*** “15,734 signatures” is not a victory for the AOPA, but an admission that they expect a huge number of their signatures to be rejected as not valid, since they only need somewhat more than 9,000 good ones. If their signature quality had been better, they would surely have submitted their signatures a week earlier when they would have been assured that the County Registrar of Voters would have enough time to review them. (I’ve previously written about the signatures in detail here and here.)

Alarmed at the prospects of requiring voter approval of any effort to redevelop 227 acres of Santa Monica Airport land, the City Council this evening directed staff to draft the City’s own “voter initiative” to compete with the Voters Decide plan.

Anyone who watched the City Council hearing knows that the council was not “alarmed” about giving voters approval of redevelopment at the airport, since the council members repeatedly instructed the City Attorney to come back with a measure that would give voters the right to vote on future development. What is driving the council to consider a competing measure is the fact that Section 2(b) of the AOPA initiative seeks to prevent the City Council from managing the airport and the buildings and other property the City owns there in any way different from the status quo.

“This latest scheme is designed to mislead voters into thinking that they will be consulted before* politicians and developers achieve their goals of forcing out 175 businesses** and redeveloping airport land, at a loss of up to 1,500 jobs and $247 million in business activity,” said John Jerabek, a board member of Santa Monicans for Open and Honest Development Decisions, the sponsor of the real “Voters Decide” initiative. “This new tactic is a charade, just the latest attempt by City politicians to achieve their development plans*** while keeping voters out of it,” Jerabek continued.

* “consulted before . . . ” False. As discussed already, the council members told the City Attorney to include a right to vote on future development of the airport land, a right the AOPA initiative doesn’t have.

** “175 businesses . . . ” Of all the garbage the AOPA has dumped on Santa Monica in this campaign, one false claim they can’t let go of is that by closing the airport the City would be putting 1,500 people out of work and causing a big hit to the city’s economy. This claim goes back to a study the City commissioned in 2011 from the HR&A consulting firm about the airport’s economic impact. Indeed, as HR&A found, the airport is the site of economic activity, but the amount of that activity turned out to be trivial in context of the whole of the city’s economy — the equivalent, the study said, of a 300,000 square foot office building, which if you follow development in Santa Monica you know isn’t much.

But beyond that, most of the airport’s economic impact is from non-aviation businesses. Yes, there are more than 1,500 jobs at the airport, but according to the study, only 178 of them are in aviation. For instance, Volkswagen has its West Coast design center in offices it subleases from an aviation business that has a master lease from the City — a lease that terminates July 1, 2015, at which point, if the AOPA initiative doesn’t interfere, the City will be able to take over the building and collect rents from Volkswagen — rents that we at Airport2Park hope one day will pay for the operating expenses of a big park. These non-aviation jobs aren’t going anywhere if the airport closes and, given the demands for office space in Santa Monica, the City will have no trouble leasing space now occupied by aviation businesses to new businesses.

*** “their development plans.” Another big lie. There are no development plans for the airport. This is fear-mongering pure and simple.

The Voters Decide initiative is simple:
– There can be no change in land use at Santa Monica Airport without voter approval.
– Unless change is approved by voters, the land will remain in low-density airport use.
– The City’s land-use authority is not constrained; the City can do what they think best, but not on behalf of special interests or self-interested activists and only following a citywide approval vote.

Again, if you read the AOPA initiative you’ll see that it only requires a vote on closing the airport. Once voters vote to close the airport, that’s it.

“Our message for City politicians is clear,” Jerabek continued. “If the City has a plan for 227 acres of the most valuable land on the Westside, let them get it approved by Santa Monica voters. It’s that simple!“

The message is clear, all right: we are nervous that the FAA can’t keep the airport open and we’re pulling out all the stops to get this deceptive measure passed so that we can continue to use all that publicly-owned land for ourselves.

About Santa Monicans for Open and Honest Development Decisions
The Santa Monica Voters Decide Initiative is being led by Santa Monicans for Open and Honest Development Decisions. The committee believes the City and airport opponents have not been forthcoming with voters and taxpayers about redevelopment and land-use plans for the valuable airport property. The committee is supported by local residents, businesses and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

Now this is amusing. This “committee” was formed by the AOPA using the political law firm of Reed and Davidson; which even supplied one of its partners, Flora Yin, as one of the three Santa Monica residents who filed the initiative. According to its most recent FPPC statement, through June 4, the SMOHDD has spent $144,577 and taken in $59,977 in contributions. (The organization has outstanding debts of $90,993 — most of it to Arno and to Reed & Davidson.)

Of the $59,977 in contributions, $56,000 had come from the AOPA (in cash; the AOPA contributed another $1,000 in services). About $3,000 had come in through 18 individual contributions of at least $100, but of those 18 contributors, only three have Santa Monica addresses, and their contributions total only $300. (A small amount, $670, has also been contributed in contributions less than $100, and granted, these contributors could include some Santa Monicans, too.)

But get that — just three contributors who have given at least $100 to SMOHDD are Santa Monicans. Of about $60,000 so far contributed, only $300 have come from them — half of one percent.

So — who has not been forthcoming? Is there any evidence that the SMOHDD is a genuine local organization that is supported by any residents and local businesses who don’t have an personal or financial interest in the airport?

Thanks for reading.

A page from the most recent FPPC fiing for SMOHDD

A page from the most recent FPPC fiing for SMOHDD

When 15,704 signatures are not 15,704 signatures

If you read my blog yesterday, where I wrote about what a struggle the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and their consultants, Arno Political Consulting, had to obtain signatures for their preserve-the-airport initiative, and then read the news reports that they had turned in 15,704 signatures, when they need about 9,150, you’re probably thinking that I was blowing smoke.

I wasn’t. The 15,704 number is a gross figure, including all the signatures that are not from registered Santa Monica voters, that are duplicates, or that are otherwise defective. These will be rejected when the Registrar of Voters reviews the petitions. Typically when a company (like Arno) uses paid-by-the-signature signature gatherers the rejection rate is high.

How high? One of the CASMAT volunteers who was counter-leafleting against signature gatherers over the weekend had, in a lull in the action, a civil conversation with an Arno representative who told him that Arno’s average rejection rate is 36 percent, and that in addition to that, with this petition they were finding a high rate, 6 percent, of duplicate signatures.

Now this information is secondhand, and who knows if the volunteer was getting played, but the numbers check out when you’re trying to explain why the AOPA waited so long to submit their signatures. If the 15,704 meant something, clearly the AOPA would have had enough signatures to submit them last week, to be sure they would be validated in time for the City Council to put the measure on the ballot.

Look at the numbers. Let’s say the volunteer got good information and the total of rejections and duplicates is 42 percent. In that case, the 15,704 “gross” signatures would equal 9,108 good ones. The AOPA says it needs about 9,100 good signatures – a coincidence? (And this 9,100 figure may be low; according the Santa Monica Daily Press, in the final tally of the Hines referendum Residocracy needed 6,525 signatures, representing 10 percent of registered voters. The AOPA needs, for its charter amendment, more — 15 percent; if 6,525 does equal 10 percent, then the AOPA needs 9,788.

What makes this even more interesting is that according to the City Clerk’s office, 102 voters filed notices rescinding their signatures – clearly enough to make a difference if it’s as close as it easily could be.

Delivering 15,704 signatures was no triumph for the AOPA. They may not even make it to the ballot.

* * *

There were many ironies surrounding the delivery of the signatures – the whole thing was a masquerade where a big national lobbyist firm was trying to pass itself off as a grassroots movement – but one irony stood out.

According to The Lookout, one resident the AOPA put forward to represent their astro-turf movement, Flora Yin, stated that, “‘Voters like me are tired of the insider political game that has gone on too long.’” Yin didn’t mention that she is a partner in the law firm that the AOPA hired to draft the initiative and run the legal side of the campaign. The firm, Reed & Davidson, and Yin herself, specialize in political law, including ballot initiatives – in other words, in playing the insider political game that so fatigues Yin. (FYI, the firm’s URL is www.politicallaw.com.)

Dear Ms. Yin: I know you’re tired, but voters like me are tired of operatives like you foisting phony populist initiatives on the rest of us.

Thanks for reading.

A sign of the recent times.

A sign of the recent times.

Battling the Airport Initiative

So what’s the story about the aviation industry’s initiative to preserve the status quo at the Santa Monica Airport (SMO)? Yesterday, Daniel Larios reported in The Lookout that initiative proponents had informed the City Clerk that they would file their signatures yesterday. This was almost a week after the submission had originally been expected, but still nothing happened. While it is now likely that the AOPA will file its signatures today, is it possible that the AOPA won’t file enough signatures to put the measure on the November ballot?

The accepted wisdom in California politics is that if you can hire enough signature gatherers you can get anything on the ballot. Signature-gathering firms, like Arno Political Consultants, the firm hired by the AOPA to run the SMO campaign, typically operate on that basis – guaranteeing to their clients that if paid enough, by hook or crook they will get enough signatures in time. Even now I wouldn’t bet against Arno when it comes to the SMO initiative, but then again, it’s possible that they have already failed.

Why? Because of the calendar. Charter amendments (like the SMO initiative) can only appear on statewide elections – either general elections in November or primaries in June. The AOPA needs to get this initiative on November’s ballot or the next time it can be voted on will be in June 2016. That’s too late for them, because the leases to aviation businesses at the airport expire July 1, 2015, and by June 2016 the City Council will have had time to develop a plan for the airport that will dispel fears about overdevelopment.

To get on the November ballot, when should the signatures be submitted? According to the Santa Monica City Clerk, the suggested date for submitting signatures to get a measure on the November ballot “is approximately 172 days prior to the election, i.e., mid-May of the election year.”

Why so early? Because the City Council needs to put the initiative on the ballot at least 88 days before the election (this year that’s August 8), and can only do so at a regularly scheduled council meeting. The last regularly scheduled meeting before August 8 is July 22. The date the clerk needs to be able to put the matter on the agenda for the meeting is the Friday before that, July 18, but the clerk can only agendize it once the County Registrar of Voters has reviewed the signatures and informed the clerk that there are enough good, non-duplicative signatures from registered voters.

The City Clerk and the Registrar have under state law 30 business days to review the signatures. Last Tuesday, June 3, was 30 business days before July 18 – that’s why Larios in The Lookout reported that June 3 was the “deadline” to get the measure on the November ballot. (The City Clerk’s mid-May cut-off seems to be a conservative date to encourage petitioners to submit signatures early in case there are snafus with the validation process or other delays.)

Given that June 3 was the “safe harbor” for submitting, obviously as of yesterday Arno and the AOPA didn’t believe they had enough signatures to submit, because every day they delay increases the possibility that the Registrar of Voters won’t be able to validate the signatures before July 18. The AOPA is now counting on the Registrar to be able to process the signatures fast and not use up all the time the Registrar has by law.

What’s more, the delay in submitting the signatures shows that the AOPA has no hesitancy about lying to the media. Weeks ago the AOPA was telling reporters from The Lookout and the Daily Press that it already had 12,000 signatures. (They need about 9,200.)

How is that the AOPA finds itself in this predicament of counting on the Registrar’s office to process the signatures faster than they need to? The answer is the community’s response to the signature-gathering campaign.

Community Against Santa Monica Airport Traffic (CASMAT), Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution (CRAAP), and Airport2Park (A2P), along with community organizations such as Friends of Sunset Park, mounted a tenacious campaign to counter Arno’s signature gatherers. This campaign involved sending volunteers all over Santa Monica, and even to grocery stores in neighboring Venice, to counter the signature gatherers, wherever they appeared, with leaflets exposing the deceptions contained in the AOPA’s initiative. Nearly all community groups in Santa Monica advised their members not to sign the initiative. (I was proud to be a part of the campaign.)

The volunteer counter-campaign was effective. By the last few weeks, it became routine for signature gatherers to abandon their posts in grocery store parking lots as soon as an anti-airport volunteer appeared with leaflets. The price paid for signatures soared, from around $4 in the beginning to $20 yesterday, according to what signature gatherers told the volunteers blocking them. Apparently Arno was desperate to fulfill its contract with the AOPA. Many new signature gatherers appeared over the weekend, attracted by the money.

A signature gatherer outside the Von's on Lincoln Boulevard

A signature gatherer outside the Von’s on Lincoln Boulevard

No one on the pro-park, anti-initiative side is declaring victory. The AOPA may well have enough signatures, and the Registrar may validate them in time. But if the initiative is on the ballot in November, no one here is rolling over.

Thanks for reading.

Negatives (and proving and disproving them) about Santa Monica Airport

The campaign to collect signatures for the aviation industry’s initiative to perpetuate Santa Monica Airport (SMO) is coming to a head. If the initiative’s sponsor, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), through its phony grass roots organization “Santa Monicans for Open and Honest Development Decisions,” doesn’t turn in enough signatures soon for county election officials to review, the initiative won’t make the November ballot. That would postpone a vote on the initiative until June 2016 because charter amendments, such as the AOPA initiative, need to be voted on at statewide primary or general elections.

The would be a disaster for the AOPA because by 2016 the Santa Monica City Council will have been able to create a real plan for voters to consider as an alternative to the airport. Until then the AOPA has the advantage because it can promote its initiative as an alternative to whatever parade of horribles it can conjure up for the future of the airport land.

Those Santa Monicans who want to close SMO, including those of us who want to turn the mile-long runway and adjacent areas into a great park, don’t fear a vote. We’ve always expected there would be a vote, because we expect that if the City Council votes to close the airport, the AOPA would mount a referendum campaign to put the council’s decision on the ballot.

That, however, would be a fair vote because the voters would have two concrete alternatives — keep the airport or do something specifically different. (I hope that something is a big park, in which case I’ll have to come up with a different adjective than “concrete” to describe the alternative.) Assuming the alternative makes sense, we believe we’d win that vote. (Putting massive development on the site, as AOPA signature gatherers say will happen, is not an alternative that makes sense.)

While the AOPA and its allies like to call us pro-park folks dreamers, the AOPA initiative is based on nightmares. The proponents of the initiative and other supporters of SMO don’t have to prove their claims while we opponents are left having to prove (or disprove!) negatives. Not only that, but besides requiring a vote on any airport plans the initiative also has provisions that would stymie any planning for a non-aviation future for the airport land or even managing the city-owned properties at SMO, without the city being overwhelmed with litigation.

I’ll tell you one thing — the truth doesn’t work for the signature gatherers. I’ve been part of the crew of residents trying to block the AOPA’s paid signature gatherers in grocery store parking lots all over town, and it’s been interesting to hear them make their pitch. The one truthful pitch, namely, to sign the initiative to “save Santa Monica Airport,” is a clunker. I’ve watched signature gatherers say that hundreds of times to passersby, and almost zero have responded.

There have been many unfounded arguments that the signature gatherers make, but none is more pernicious than one that if SMO doesn’t exist, flight patterns will change, and air traffic using LAX will fly low over Santa Monica. As is typical, I’ve never seen any evidence to back this up. Instead, the airport’s boosters leave it to airport opponents to prove the negative that air traffic patterns won’t change.

Neither I nor anyone else can tell you exactly what will happen to flying around here if the airport closes, but I can point out what looks like craziness when I see it. And it is crazy to think that LAX air traffic will change significantly.

Why? Flights landing at LAX descend gradually from the east. They take off over the ocean, then climb and turn if they are heading east, north or south. These are the most important patterns affecting flights in the area.

For instance, if you’ve flown from northern California, you know that flights from the north already fly over the Santa Monica Mountains and northern Santa Monica, but they fly fairly high. These commercial jets coming in from the north typically fly at altitudes between 6,000 and 9,000 feet. They need to be up high enough to fly east over downtown L.A. before making U-turns to descend into LAX. It’s absurd to think that if SMO isn’t there they are going to fly low over Santa Monica, Venice, Marina del Rey, and Playa del Rey to land at LAX from the northwest.

Similarly, if you fly out of LAX, you know that you sometimes turn and fly back over Santa Monica, but from the ground you know that those planes are already high enough not to be a nuisance.

Another reason that commercial flights will continue to fly high over Santa Monica and the Westside is that regardless of the presence of SMO, the sky up to about 7,000 feet is full of private aircraft. The best way to see this is to spend some time looking a flights over Santa Monica through the lens of the airport’s PublicVue website.

PublicVue Screen Shot showing flights around Santa Monica

PublicVue Screen Shot showing flights around Santa Monica

If you monitor PublicVue, you’ll see that there are flight paths along the coast for general aviation (i.e., non-commercial) flights, with connections to inland airports such as Van Nuys, Burbank, and Long Beach, that at altitudes around 4,000 to 6,000 feet are below commercial flight and above the LAX landing paths. The takeoffs and landings to and from Santa Monica Airport are, obviously, below these altitudes — it’s not the planes taking off from SMO and climbing to 1,000 feet or so that keep the big jets up high, above 7,000 feet, it’s all the other private planes passing through.

If you signed the AOPA initiative because a signature gatherer persuaded you that you needed to sign to keep LAX air traffic from swooping down low over your neighborhood, you can rescind your signature by filling out and signing a simple form, and sending to the City Clerk. You can get a copy of the form through the CASMAT website.

Thanks for reading.

Dear Hines: Please sell. Sincerely, Santa Monica

As I watched the City Council rescind its approval of the Hines Paper Mate site project what became overwhelmingly apparent was that by the end of the road, after seven years, Hines and its project were alone. Friendless. From the public, only the indefatigable Jerry Rubin spoke in favor of the project. All those supporters from before, vanished.

From the dais, there wasn’t much more support. Terry O’Day voted for the project again, but he acknowledged it was not the best it could be. Risk-averse, he voted for it because he feared the worst. Gleam Davis defended the project, but, conflict-averse, she voted to rescind. Bob Holbrook spoke little about the project, instead lamenting how nasty politics had become, and noting that change was inevitable. Pam O’Connor didn’t have to say anything.

The most profound silence came, however, from the developer. Ever since Hines got the four votes its execs thought were all they needed, the company has done nothing, at least in public, to defend its project. There was no campaign contra the signature gathering, and there were no offers to revise the project in the face of the opposition against it. Was this ambivalence or fatalism? Or arrogance?

Through my column (and occasionally over breakfast) I have been telling Hines for five years that to be approved Paper Mate had to be a residential project because adding even one car trip to the intersection of 26th and Olympic would drive people crazy. I’ve talked to brick walls that listen better.

In fairness to Hines, they thought they had a deal, because the City, in the aftermath of the Great Recession in 2008, wanted more commercial office space in the Bergamot area, and that’s what the LUCE called for. The council approved the LUCE on a 7-0 vote, and Hines had grounds to believe that that was the deal. Times change, however, and ultimately it is the developer’s responsibility to call an audible when they do. Hines should have asked to amend the LUCE so that it could develop a residential project.

The crucial moment took place in February when Hines got its four votes. Hines could have had six, which would have changed the political dynamic entirely, if someone from the company had jumped up that night to accept the offer that Ted Winterer made to approve the deal if 150,000 square feet of commercial development was shifted to residential. (Winterer had other concerns as well, notably about architecture, but one assumes they could have been resolved.)

Winterer’s proposal would have entailed more environmental review, because the scope of the environmental review had remarkably not included more residential development, and that would have created some uncertainty. But it would have created a better plan. If Hines had said that night that it could make the revised plan work, it could easily have had at least six votes to approve, since Tony Vazquez voted for Winterer’s motion, too.

Memo to developers: if you have a big project in Santa Monica, you need to count higher than four.

What now? I know that Terry O’Day hopes more than anything that his fears are proven wrong and Hines does not start the process to reoccupy the existing building, but it’s hard to dismiss his fears. If I ran Hines, that’s what I would do, because they no longer have friends to support them here during a new process.

But I have hope. There’s an alternative. My hope is that Hines sells the property to a new developer, one that specializes in urban residential development. There are good residential developers working in Santa Monica already, and there are others working in the region. Perhaps the fundamental problem with the project was that Hines is a commercial developer, and never seemed comfortable with building a place for people to live.

By the way, it’s a good time to sell, or at least to bring in a residential developer partner to take over. According to an article in today’s L.A. Times, the multi-family residential market is booming. Dear Hines: You’ll get your money back.

A new developer would not have to start from scratch. A lot of good planning has been done, such the new streets and pathways. Bring in new architects and planners, however. Let them reconfigure the open space to make it better suit a residential development. That wouldn’t mean there couldn’t be good public spaces connecting the station with the area to the north. There are many urban plazas around the world that are framed with residences.

According to the EIR, nearly all the new car trips the project would have generated would have come from the commercial development. Eliminate the offices, and the impacts of the project will be entirely different.

These seven acres across the street from the Bergamot stop on the Expo line need to be redeveloped to replace the hulking mass of the old factory. It’s time to get someone new to do it.

Thanks for reading.

The Paper Mate factory

The Paper Mate factory

New music, Expo and me (and maybe you)

The Expo line will not reach Santa Monica for a year and a half or so, but I have already become a regular user — that is, if taking the train about once a month equals regular use. It all has to do with avant-garde music and the fact that my wife teaches at USC. You see, starting about eight or nine years ago we began attending the wonderful Jacaranda chamber music concerts at the First Presbyterian Church on Second Street. Jacaranda presents concert music going back centuries (check out tomorrow night’s concert with music from Mozart, Debussy and Arvo Pärt), but for Jacaranda the history of music didn’t end in 1900. Before Jacaranda, my wife and I didn’t pay much attention to new music, but now we’ve become addicted.

The L.A. Phil presents a prominent concert series, called Green Umbrella, for new music on Tuesday nights about once a month in Disney Hall, but we never attended those concerts because weeknight traffic is so miserable from Santa Monica is to downtown L.A. That changed, however, when Expo reached Culver City.

My office is in downtown Santa Monica. I board the Metro 534 bus on Fourth Street at Santa Monica Place around 4:30; from there the 534 travels non-stop on the freeway to the temporary Expo terminus in Culver City. The train takes me to USC in 14 minutes, where I meet my wife; she has her car there because she drives in in the morning. We drive to a restaurant downtown, and then go to the concert.

Obviously our circumstances are unusual and won’t apply to many others, but in taking Expo at least I’ve learned something about it.

To begin with I’ve learned whom Expo will serve when it reaches Santa Monica. The 534 originates in Malibu and when I board it at 4:30 it is full of workers returning to L.A. from jobs along the coast. I’ve been told the 534 is called the “nanny bus,” but nanny hardly encompasses all the people on it. Class defines transportation in L.A., yet it still surprises me when friends tell me they have never taken a bus here. (They have no problem with using transit in New York.) Some even confess that they are “scared” to do so, but when I’m on the 534 I feel like I am among 40 of the most dignified people in all of L.A.

Passengers on the 534 bus returning home from work

Passengers on the 534 bus returning home from work

The bus I catch at 4:30 originates in Malibu at 3:28, and no doubt some of the people on it have been riding for an hour already when I board. When we get on the freeway, we are stuck in the same traffic as everyone else. (I guess that’s what equality means today — motorists in private cars get to travel as fast as a bus carrying 40 people.)

At that time of day the 534 takes between 30 and 60 minutes to travel from Fourth and Colorado to Culver City (it takes 10 minutes when there is no traffic). Typically, more than half the passengers exit in Culver City to get the train. When Expo opens in Santa Monica, the train will take about 15 minutes from downtown Santa Monica to Culver City. That means that all those 534 riders who connect with the train will do so in Santa Monica and save between 15 and 45 minutes each trip home.

Boarding the Expo train in Culver City

Boarding the Expo train in Culver City

These workers and others like them are the people whom Expo will serve immediately. The primary purpose of Expo is to provide access to jobs on the Westside and in downtown L.A. to the vast middle of Los Angeles, home to much of L.A.’s working-class. By doing this, Expo (and the Crenshaw line scheduled to open in 2019) will help reverse half a century of dis-investment and decline in South Los Angeles. Already Expo is prompting investment in those areas, as the L.A. Times reported last week.

Indeed, another group of Expo users don’t even know who they are today – they are the people who will move to neighborhoods near Expo, or to apartment buildings and condos along the line that aren’t yet built. Economists and planners have long understood that transportation shapes land use and can create or destroy wealth. If you run a freeway through an existing city, it typically reduces property values along the way (while increasing them where the freeway reaches open land), while rail does the opposite – it increases property values along the route.

It’s through this increase in economic value that transit pays for itself at the macro-economic level. If you ride Expo, and look out the window, you’ll see many derelict properties that will be redeveloped over the years with new housing and businesses.

View from Expo of property that's become more valuable

View from Expo of property that’s become more valuable

These land use changes don’t happen overnight, but gradually new development gravitates toward transit. Thirty years from now, many riders on Expo will live in buildings that don’t exist today. It is changes in land use over time that result in a greater percentage of commuters and other travelers not driving.

Santa Monicans are asking themselves if they will use Expo. I hate to say it, but initially I doubt many will. This is for various reasons. Because the Exposition right-of-way originally passed through industrial areas of the city, few Santa Monicans now live with walking distance of Expo stations. In addition, because of the number of jobs in and near Santa Monica and how the traffic pattern now favors residents such as my wife who leave Santa Monica to work, Santa Monicans already have lower than average commute times and few Santa Monica commuters are likely to benefit from a switch to Expo.

Frankly, for people who already drive it’s going to be hard for Expo to compete with the convenience of driving for most of their trips. I have to ask myself the honest question – if we didn’t have my wife’s car to drive back to Santa Monica at 10:00 p.m. when the Green Umbrella concert ends would I take the train in? Even when the train reaches Santa Monica, that would involve getting from Disney Hall to the 7th/Metro train station and then a 45-minute ride back to Santa Monica, and then we’d have to get home from the station. Driving home at 10 o’clock never takes more than 25 minutes. (In the big scheme of things, probably taking the train in and a taxi home would make the most sense, and maybe I’ll evolve into that level of urban consciousness.)

Meanwhile the Big Blue Bus is exploring how to set up buses and shuttles to connect with Expo, and to do this Santa Monica has some advantages. Transit lines usually connect city centers with jobs to areas on the periphery with residents, and most riders go in one direction in the morning and the other later on, but Santa Monica has both residents and jobs. This means that connecting buses in the morning and afternoon rush hours can carry passengers in both directions, making them more efficient.

Which brings me to a simmering controversy in Santa Monica – should the City build parking at our Expo stations? The answer is no, or at least not much of it, and none of it subsidized.

There are many reasons for saying no to building parking at the train stations. One obvious one is traffic. Do we want to create more incentives for people to drive to downtown, the Memorial Park area, and Bergamot? “Park and ride” means “drive and ride.” But the most fundamental reason to oppose building parking is economic: parking costs too much, and let’s face it, when people say they want parking they mean free or heavily discounted parking.

The construction cost per parking space in the new Structure 6 on Second Street was about $50,000. Let’s say you wanted to build a five-story, 500-space structure near an Expo station. That would need a footprint of about 33,000 square feet. Land cost (at $400/square foot, typical for prime land in Santa Monica), plus construction cost would mean the structure would cost about $38 million, or about $75,000 per space. Assuming the City would pay for this with a 30-year, 5% bond, the monthly amortization for each space would be $403. Add a typical maintenance and operations budget of 15 percent, and the monthly nut that needs to be recouped is about $450 per space, or about $15 per day (including weekends).

Theoretically, I have no problem if Santa Monica built parking structures and charged enough to earn that back, but my guess is that if the City charged that much, there wouldn’t be much demand for the parking. (Conversely, there might be a demand for taxis and services like Uber and Lyft — but again, I haven’t evolved that far.) (To read how Metro has squandered public money to subsidize parking at train stations, read this.)

The cost of providing parking at stations is not only, however, a matter of dollars, but also a matter of opportunity. The land near the stations is prime land, and if it’s used for parking, it can’t be used for housing. There is much more social value in building housing near transit than there is in building automobile storage for people who already have housing and can afford to own and operate a car. Public dollars are better spent subsidizing housing, and much of the housing we need can be built without subsidy.

Thanks for reading.