Sunshine Task Force

About the Beverly Hills Sunshine Task Force

Mayor John Mirisch formed the Sunshine Task Force upon election to “ensure greater transparency and public involvement in local government operations” in City of Beverly Hills. The committee includes former officials and politically-active stakeholders who share an interest in making the processes and products of local governance accessible to the public. We at Better Bike expressed our interest in the task force because we don’t always find City Hall particularly open to sharing information as advocate for mobility options.

We’ve created this page as a temporary repository for material related to the committee’s work until such a time as city staff organize and post it. (We also post Task Force meeting recaps on the main page.) Here we host reference material discussed at the Task Force meetings, highlight relevant organizations and potential contacts, and make available good governance reports and academic publications. We’ll add to the page as we come across new material.  Feel free to make suggestions in the comments pane and/or suggest material to post.

Advocacy Organizations

Sunshine Review is an organization that grades local governments on transparency. Their motto, “Bringing state and local government to light,” summarizes the mission and their goal – “a customer service hot-line for government transparency and accountability” –  suggests the utility. They publish a ‘transparency Report Card‘ which grades cities (for example) according to a 10-item checklist. Their checklist focuses exclusively on what it calls “proactively disclosing government data” via the local government website. By their measure, Beverly Hills receives a grade of only ‘C’ in 2013.

American Society of News Editors is the organization behind Sunshine Week, an annual celebration of good and open government funded by the Knight Foundation that supports legislative action to make the products of government accessible to the media and the public.

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press may sound like a members-only industry alliance, but in fact it can be helpful to the non-pro would-be journalist too. To the trade it  provides legal advice and advocates on First Amendment issues. To the local digger, the organization’s legal guide helps to protect your right to access public records and push back when you

The Knight Foundation is an outgrowth of the newspaper media empire of the same name and is a major backer of programs that nurture innovation in the media (e.g., the annual News Challenge). It works with selected communities on “transformative” communities program initiatives to to inform and engage the public. (Long Beach is the nearest Knight Communities non-resident partner.) Read the foundation’s national strategy for an overview.

The Open Government Foundation (helmed by California Congressman Darrel Issa) is a tech-tools maker with a mission to pry open the darker corners of the state and federal government. Making it’s mark early with opposition to the ill-conceived federal Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) legislation, the organization embraces an aggressive approach (“We bring the sledgehammers”) to an ostensibly non-partisan tech-libertarian agenda of using public information as a “disruptive” means to force change upon against hidebound bureaucracies.

The Sunlight Foundation is another tech-centric organization that leverages the power of the Internet to “catalyze greater government transparency.” They’ve developed some very handy user applications to encourage informed participation as well as a suite of cyber tech tools (e.g., APIs) to empower organizations and web developers to access and repurpose government data. The motto: “improving access to government information by making it available online.”

Best Practices

Website Content for Local Agencies: A Checklist from ILG from the Institute for Local Government is a brief, bullet-list inventory of what a satisfactory local government website should contain. A starter for a report card, perhaps?

Reports

How the Public Perceives Community Information Systems (2011) from the Pew Internet Project. If you’ve come away frustrated with the Beverly Hills website because you couldn’t find the information you need, you’ll find comfort in the report’s findings from three American Cities. The emphasis is on communications between local government and citizens. The takeaway: “Those who believe they can impact their community are more likely to be engaged in civic activities and are more likely to be satisfied with their towns.”

Understanding the Basics of Transparency Laws (2009) in the Public Service Ethics series from the Institute for Local Government provides an overview (for stakeholder and official) of the public’s right to access information. Note the handy section on public meetings access – a framework for understanding California’s Brown Act.

Academic papers

(coming soon)

Legislation, Policy Guidance & Misc Resources

California’s Brown Act and brief Brown Act Summary from the Attorney General and unofficial descriptive PowerPoint explaining the fine points.

President Obama’s Executive Order: Making Open and Machine Readable the New Default for Government Information. “Government information shall be managed as an asset throughout its life cycle to promote interoperability and openness, and, wherever possible and legally permissible, to ensure that data are released to the public in ways that make the data easy to find, accessible, and usable.” The emphasis here is on eliminating barriers by developing and implementing best practices through the federal government.

Potential Contacts

  • Long Beach Community Foundation Vice President Julie Heggeness: (562) 435-9033.(Affiliated with a Knight Community partner.)
  • Knight Foundation Vice President of Communications Marc Fest:
    (305) 908-2677 or fest@knightfoundation.org

Proposal: Ombudsman

The public sector Ombudsman is a “guarantor of citizens’ rights” and a mechanism for “impartial and independent investigation of citizens’ complaints,” according to United States Ombudsman Association. The ombudsman is responsible only to the people and to the legislative body; success in the position is defined by autonomy and independence, the freedom “to investigate any act or failure to act by any agency,” and “discretionary power to determine what complaints to investigate and to determine what criticisms to make or to publicize,” according to criteria developed by the American Bar Association (which publishes “Organizational Ombudsman: Origins, Roles and Operations”).

Among Westside cities, only City of Los Angeles has considered creating a Public ombudsman position. In 2006, Councilman Zine proposed an ombudsman position that would “assist and direct constituents who visit Council Chambers and need assistance from the City.” As submitted, the motion stated: “To ensure that all constituents are heard, the City Council should direct the City Clerk, the Chief Legislative Analyst and the City’s Administrative Officer to coordinate with the Council President’s office to create an Ombudsman position to assist constituents with questions or problems and direct them to the appropriate City department.” [excerpt from file 05-0575-S1]. But the proposal expired in November of 2009 without council action.

City of Santa Monica has fielded the suggestion several times over the years. At a community meeting titled “Improving the Electoral Process” (2007) public support was expressed for staffing positions assigned to individual Councilmembers “or appointment of a City ombudsman” (according to city notes from the meeting). No general public ombudsman position was created, however.

But Santa Monica has created (in 2005) a Development Services Officer position to facilitate permitting and “act as an ombudsman in terms of public interaction” with the planning process. Subsequently in 2010, the City Manager assigned to that position the additional responsibility for assisting Santa Monica’s businesses with strategic issues – aka ‘Business ombudsperson.’ The city has fielded requests for other focused ombudsman positions, including a volunteer Section 8 ombudsman to assist tenants in resolving housing issues (recommended by a member of the Resident Advisory Board in 2002) and a “business start-ups” ombudsman, which was suggested by attendees to a city budget process in 2009. As recently as 2012, members of the public revived the idea during a community visioning process. Under the rubric of “Improve Communications with Local Residents and Community Members,” the public ombudsman would “interact with community members and address impact concerns.” No position has been created.

West Hollywood in 2009 created a temporary “one-stop ombuds/community relations office” to handle any permits and issues arising from the 25th Anniversary capital improvement projects (e.g., library) but otherwise has not created a general public ombudsman position. Culver City has evidently not discussed an ombudsman position at all.

Los Angeles County, on the other hand, has created an ‘Office of Ombudsman Community and Senior Services’ to provide a “professional, neutral, and independent, forum for people who seek answers and solutions to problems” – chiefly the focus seems to be on elder issues and long-term care.

It seems that scale is a consideration. City of Los Angeles population is four million and the County counts ten million. At the same time, discussing the position at all seems to align with overall principles of good government and stakeholder access, and from this scant evidence it appears that there is interest among at least some members of the public for another means of contacting local government.

Recent Posts

Complete Streets Walk Audit Recap

Complete Streets Walk audit overview of the roomBeverly Hills conducted a Complete Streets ‘walk audit’ on June 9th. It followed on the first Community Workshop (read the recap), the Workshop #2 (recap) and an Earth Day Complete Streets pop-up (pic). After those earlier conceptual discussions and associated mapping exercises, this event was a hands-on opportunity for participants to evaluate our environment for accessibility and safety.  And of course to make recommendations. “Everything is on the table” in terms of improvements, said Aaron Kunz, Community Development Department Deputy Director for Transportation.

What is a walk audit? A walk audit is simply an exercise that helps us focus attention on the built environment as it exists today. In conjunction with a complete streets planning process, a walk audit gets us out onto the streets where we can cast a critical eye on the features that may impede multimodal mobility. Are there barriers to accessibility, for example, that make it impractical or even hazardous to walk or ride a bicycle? (Read more about walk audits.)

The spirit behind the walk audit is summarized in this assessment tool from Delaware:

Everyone is a pedestrian! Most trips by car, transit, or bike begin by walking. Many roads are designed with only cars in mind, but at least one-third of Americans do not drive, including children, adolescents, many older adults, people with disabilities, and low-income individuals….This includes economically disadvantaged individuals who do not own cars, people who do not drive, and/or persons with disabilities. Creating walkable, safe, and pleasant pedestrian areas creates transportation equity for mobility- constrained and special-needs populations. — Healthy and Complete Communities in Delaware: The Walkability Assessment Tool.

The walk audit is a fresh, and purposeful, look at streets that are a product of incremental engineering decisions over many decades. These decisions are generally taken without regard for the bigger mobility and accessibility picture. They may be triggered by traffic count thresholds and unfailingly overlook leading-edge best practices. Traffic engineering reflects our cultural bias, and for too long it prioritized efficiency over safety and, in particular, put the convenience of auto travelers front and center.

The culture is changing, however, and a walk audit asks us to consciously reevaluate the street and perhaps even bring a little bit of rigor to our assessment. What may need to change to encourage walking or bicycle riding? That’s what our own city plans say we should be doing.


About 25 participants, 10 staffers and several Traffic and Parking commissioners attended the session. Iteris consultant John Lower framed the issue and it was all about safety. “When we talk about ‘accidents’ we’re really talking about crashes: 94% of them arise from human error, and though our streets we can influence that behavior.” He went on to talk about the potential for ‘intelligent transportation’ (aka networked vehicles) to avoid that harm; and the need to shift more rides to transit by solving the ‘last mile’ connectivity problem: home to transit. “We want you to recognize these challenges and to buy in to possible solutions.”

Complete Streets Walk audit's John Lower with presentation

John Lower from Iteris gives the ins-and-outs of a walk audit.

This was a hands-on exercise, so we split off into groups to walk two segments of the business triangle, South Santa Monica and North Crescent Drive.

The former has long served as an expedient path for pass-through traffic but which came at the expense of safety and enjoyment of the corridor. There is now interest to refashion it as a village-like ‘local street.’ Crescent Drive is a busy pedestrian conduit between City Hall and the triangle and has already been identified as a bike route in our bike route pilot program. Both offer clear challenges! I participated in a South Santa Monica Boulevard walk audit so I will describe what we saw and talked about.

Not two minutes after we left the library we were confronted by a major safety challenge: the Burton Way / Rexford intersection.

Complete Streets Walk audit: Rexford and South SM intersection

South SM Blvd at Rexford looking west. Despite the faded sharrows, this intersection was created by drivers for drivers.

There is no better illustration of why riding a bicycle into Beverly Hills feels so hazardous: the marked bicycle lane on Burton ends with a couple of fading sharrows, which provides no guidance to a rider though that intersection. Worse, those sharrows exist in an optional right-turn lane (in the distance in the image above). Why queue impatient motorists waiting to turn behind a rider who may be continuing straight to go westbound? Why make that optional turn lane so extra wide? See the aerial:

Complete Streets Walk audit: South SM at Burton and Rexford

This intersection at Rexford and Burton would be so much safer for riders if the bicycle lanes continued through; and westbound riders were not merged into three lanes of motor traffic.

Better would be to narrow the turn lane to accommodate a marked bicycle lane to the left of the turn lane. It’s good when every road users knows where they are supposed to be. And then on the far side of Rexford that lane could have continued (instead of turning into a third vehicular lane). After all, this is where the boulevard narrows; do we need three through-traffic lanes? The poor sap on a bicycle dutifully follows the sharrows and then finds herself in a meat grinder of harried motorists. Crazy!

Those heading eastbound anticipate the beginning of marked bicycle lanes on Burton, but when they come off of South Santa Monica there is no bicycle lane that protect them. There is no marking to guide them through the intersection. Somehow we are expected to (again) share a too-wide optional right turn lane.  Why no bike lane? There is width sufficient for it. As it is it is a ‘right-hook’ nightmare for the cyclist.

For pedestrians crossing Rexford westbound (as we were) the danger at this juncture was clear: the wide-radius right turn from Burton onto north Rexford allows drivers to negotiate the turn at high speed. Speed kills when vehicles collide with pedestrians in a crosswalk.

Pedestrians faced the same hazard (and greater danger) at the South Santa Monica / Crescent intersection. The ‘diamond’ shape seen in the aerial is created by two acute corners and two wide, obtuse angles.

Complete Streets Walk audit: South SM at Crescent

Who would engineer an intersection like this? No doubt our transportation engineers cross on foot regularly. It’s the SW corner of City Hall. They never did a forehead slap to say, “What were we thinking?”

The westbound driver turning north onto Crescent can take that northeast corner at high speed. (Same with eastbound drivers turning south on Crescent.) This is the southwest corner of City Hall and yet it feels to be the most dangerous place for walkers or riders in the entire city. Three of the four crosswalks there are not high visibility and the north-side crosswalk is arguably not even disability-accommodating due to the many pop-up bollards.

What’s the fix? The city could create a pedestrian scramble at Crescent to shorten the crossing distance between City Hall and the triangle. Here’s a before/after animation:

Complete Streets Walk audit: South SM at Crescent reimagined as a scramble

A before/after view of today’s crosswalk looking southwest and a pedestrian scramble. This should have been the first scramble installed anywhere in the city! (Reload the page to refresh the animation.)

Alternately, or in addition, squaring off the crosswalks relative to the curbs would help too. Not only would that shorten the crossing distance across wide South Santa Monica Blvd; it would also require that eastbound drivers stop well in advance of the corner on the red before proceeding around that oblique angle turn. Win-win.

A bike box

The bike box is a reserved space for cyclists that facilitates an advance start ahead of motorists.

The intersection is also hazardous to a westbound rider who would turn left onto the bike route at Crescent. The choice: merge across two through traffic lanes and into left turn pocket. Dangerous because this is a high-speed corridor (and there is no enforcement). Or cross Crescent to the northwest corner and wait for the southbound signal (aka box turn). Why not put the city’s first bike box just before the crosswalk at Crescent? That allows riders to bunch near the front of the car queue and is very handy for accessing the left turn. The riders are visible to all drivers queued at the signal and riders get a jump on the movement. It’s a no-brainer if the crosswalks are squared off: that makes more room for a bike box.

The peril for bicycle riders only begins at Crescent. Once west of the Wallis, the road narrows considerably. Here traffic is dual-lane with no curbside parking. Boy do drivers fly through here – like water shooting through a crimp in a garden hose! What we need is traffic calming.

Walk audit: South Santa Monica west of Canon

No ‘village’ street should look – or feel – like South Santa Monica Boulevard between Beverly and Canon. Bad for all road users

I suggest a road diet! Take these dual lanes down to single-lane and create a buffered bike lane in each direction.

Kory Klem made a good point at the last workshop: make South Santa Monica Boulevard single-lane west of Beverly. Then, remove curbside parking on the north side to make room for a bicycle lane. Kory noted that removing the north-side curb parking would help to accommodate both bike lanes AND back-in parking. That would increase parking capacity on the south side to make up for the less-efficient parallel parking lost on the north side. Here’s the diagram:

Kory Klem's South SM Blvd proposal diagram

Diagram of South Santa Monica Boulevard east of Wilshire. Credit: Kory Klem.

It is a win-win-win. 1) It would (properly) send drivers to the garages (just behind the stores) rather than invite them to circle continuously for an open meter. 2) It would vastly improve the pedestrian experience on narrow north-side sidewalks. A buffered bicycle lane would put motor traffic fully 8 feet from the curb (today west of Canon it abuts the curb). And finally, 3) It would provide bike lane connectivity though this most difficult area. Safety first!

We are halfway there: eastbound travelers already see the road narrow to one through-lane on the blocks before Beverly. (This was a recent change to accommodate eastbound right-turn-only lanes at busy intersections.) Why not expand on that concept to create single-lane travel from Moreno through these choke points and clear on to Burton? That way we could have contiguous bike lanes from Century City to the eastern Boundary near Robertson. Win #4: Reverse angle parking makes it safer for cars backing out and the adjacent bike lane need not be buffered from motor traffic: parked cars are the buffer. No bicyclist would be in harm’s way.

Other Issues

My group identified several other issues that I will touch on briefly. Like sidewalks that are unpleasant to roam – especially between Canon and Beverly. (Ironically the area used to be rife with pedestrians as the streetcar station was located adjacent.)

And half-blocks north of the boulevard provide little to the pedestrian. These are important connectors to Beverly Gardens Park, but they are unsightly (and with the exception of Alfred Coffee there is little to catch the eye).

Walk audit: SM-5 garages

Walk audit: SM-5 garages and ancillary use KILL a street vibe.

Walk audit: Dead zone on South Santa Monica.

Not much here beckons a pedestrian except shade.

There are whole blocks that are ‘dead’ from a pedestrian standpoint as this part of South SM west of Camden shows. Indeed an entire chunk of the triangle seems to have been simply carved out from our designated pedestrian area according to the map.

Why? No doubt there is a story to it! If I know Beverly Hills, it was easier to carve it out than to suggest to commercial property owners to prioritize the street. As a result the whole corridor west of Camden dies on the vine.

Wrap Up

From there we headed back to the library on the south and shady side of the street. As we paused adjacent to one of the city’s so-called pedestrian plazas (probably the short end of a development bargain for a behemoth tower), we stumbled on some public art. It was an older couple in bronze. With fear in their eyes. Our Community Development Director immediately identified the figures as frightened pedestrians. There is no better metaphor on a walk audit though a part of the city so badly in need of complete streets!


At the library we pored over maps and devised our recommendations. (I’ve elaborated on some of ours above.) Here are a few pics. Send me the results of your table!

Walk audit: Ron and Mark with staffer Gina

Presenting our recommendations for a road diet and bicycle lanes.

Walk audit: Sharon and Lou's table talks safety

Walk audit: Sharon and Lou’s table talks safety

Walk audit: South Santa Monica mapping

Walk audit: mapping tomorrow’s South Santa Monica Boulevard

Walk audit: Crescent Drive mapping

Walk audit: mapping tomorrow’s Crescent Drive

Walk audit: Crescent Drive mapping

Making a safety list and checking it twice for an improved Crescent Drive

Walk audit: Crescent Drive mapping

Building a boulevard profile for tomorrow’s Crescent Drive. Will it or won’t it include bicycle lanes? It’s a bike route already!

The walk audit was a chance to surface all manner of ideas, including some that did not anticipate adding bicycle lanes to either South Santa Monica or to Crescent Drive. That is a foreshadow of the challenge we face in coming up with a complete streets plan to makes our streets safe and accessible while also needing to accommodate stakeholders more concerned about motoring.

Do your part to keep up with the process and consider the online survey and provide your comments to our Traffic and Parking commissioners. (Visit the transportation division to leave a comment.)

TPC Chair Nooshin Meshkaty is the most safety-minded commissioner we’ve ever had. At this walk audit she took to task the transportation staffers and consultants who fail to step up, and, in my view, who too long let our streets descend into madness. “Professionals with ideas we should not stop at anything. People have suggestions but we need leadership,” she said. “Take our city through the future. Guide the vision of the residents. It is not just crosswalks but about the future. Guide our community to that.”

Make your comments specific and reference problems that need to be fixed. The draft complete streets plan is set for release coincident with the third (and final) community workshop on August 22nd. The clock is ticking!

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