Editorial: Our View on the SM Blvd Public Process Options

Yesterday we profiled the Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction public outreach options that the Beverly Hills City Council will consider. We said that the choice of public outreach oversight body would have implications for the choice of design this fall, and used the city’s framing – to widen or not to widen the boulevard – to suggest the stakes for Westside cyclists. Here we want to offer our take on the four options from which the Council will select this Tuesday.

If you haven’t read the post describing the wonky question on Tuesday’s Beverly Hills City Council agenda, take a moment to review.

Before the Council on Tuesday is this question: What kind of panel should oversee the conceptual design selection for Santa Monica Boulevard? Should it be a standing commission or a new body formed for this process? The Council will be presented four options as outlined in the staff report:

  • Traffic & Parking Commission would put the process into the hands of the commissioners that on the whole have shown little interest in the needs of riders (this is the “staff recommendation”);
  • City Council/Traffic & Parking Commission Liaison Committee would put the process in the lap of a small committee composed of two councilmembers and two T&P commissioners;
  • Multi-Commission Committee would draw upon the several commissions that have purview over some dimension of the boulevard and would put into this new body’s hands the outreach process; and,
  • Public Steering Committee would put the process in the hands of Council-appointed committee members – an approach that emulates the mechanism used by West Hollywood to craft bike-relevant policies under that city’s mobility plan.

Our View

From our perspective advocating for a more bike-friendly city, we feel that the two non-starters are the Traffic & Parking Commission and the ‘Multi-Commission Committee.’ We would reject both out-of-hand.

For one thing, only two members of the T&P Commission recognize the needs of cyclists. Jeff Levine and Chair Alan Grushcow have met with us several times during the Pilot bike lane program process and they understand the issues. But they are in the minority on that body. On the whole the Commission has adopted a ‘windshield view’ where mobility is concerned: it’s all about the auto. Moreover, commissioners individually have indicted hostility to the needs of cyclists (suggesting we’re merely scofflaws, etc.). Putting the Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction public process in this commission’s hands is sheer folly (as we learned from our experience with the Pilot). An added bonus, city staff recommends this option, which is a tipoff to avoid it.

As for the Multi-Commission Committee, several of the identified commissions simply have not much say in this process because it’s primarily transportation-related. Traffic & Parking Commission will have a voice in the reconstruction project regardless of inclusion here, but what about the others? The Planning Commission has great potential to support multimodal mobility through land use policies but has exhibited zero interest in the issues (as we learned in our work on the Gateway). The Recreation & Parking [sic] and Cultural Heritage commissions are really peripheral to this project anyway; they are only relevant by virtue of the boulevard’s proximity to adjacent Beverly Gardens Park.

And the Public Works Commission should have little say beyond utilities. In our experience it has been the least publicly-focused standing commission in the city (it’s doing marginally better lately – or at least posting its agendas and minutes). And besides, after this coming week, all transportation functions will now find their home in the Community Development department anyway. We’re happy to have Public Works out of the transportation planning business!

The Best Choice

We believe that the best option is the Public Steering Committee. Beverly Hills desperately needs a broader discussion about mobility in general and bike planning in particular. Witness our outdated 1977-era Bicycle Master Plan: at once it is a relic of the bicycle renaissance of the 1970s and yet the most progressive transportation planning document we have in Beverly Hills. A paradox!

A discussion of its merits – not least its vision for a citywide bicycle network – is long overdue. And we see the Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction project as  the spark for that broader discussion. As proposed, a body composed of 2-3 representatives appointed from each of the five councilmembers could be the kind of multivocal perspective on mobility that we need but rarely invite.

The appointed steering committee model has worked well for West Hollywood when it was crafting recommendations for City Council. (Read more about that body.) For an important project like this one, a steering committee could begin to situate the choices we would make here on this corridor into a broader conversation about how we’ll want to move about Beverly Hills for generations to come. For that reason alone this option is the least-likely to be selected by Council.

The Non-Starters

Not for nothing does staff recommend the Traffic and Parking Commission: it’s a known quantity and unlikely to take the lead in crafting a progressive mobility future for Beverly Hills…even though such a vision is expressed in our Sustainable City Plan. Moreover, we feel that the voices on that particular dais are unlikely to uncork a broader debate about equitable access for all road users including cyclists.

More cynically, this could be just the body to shape a limited pubic process in order to rubber-stamp any prevailing political imperative. City Council will have to make the final selection, of course, and a tightened process with less room for vision would only offer cover for a decision to eliminate bicycle lanes. We have progressive voices on Council today but it takes only three to pick the final design.

What to say about the Multi-Commission Committee? It wouldn’t have the focus of the Traffic and Parking Commission, the political heft of the Council-T&P Liaison, or the promise of the Public Steering Committee option. Why bother. If we’re considering a synthetic committee, we’d rather have a Planning/T&P combo. Looking ahead, multimodal mobility policymaking will increasingly focus on the transportation-land use nexus. We can start with this project.

The Other Option

The City Council/Traffic & Parking Liaison option is intriguing mostly because it has some political heft built in: two participating councilmembers. The two T&P commissioners could be an added value, too. But liaison committees are ad-hoc and meet irregularly. It might not be the best vehicle for overseeing the pubiic process.

On the other hand, our stated reservations about T&P not withstanding, the right mix of members could make a synthetic commission constructive. And that’s the rub: who will serve on it?

From our perspective, the best combo would be John Mirisch or Nancy Krasne working with Lili Bosse from the Council (both Nancy and Lili have planning experience) while Chair Alan Gruschcow and Jeff Levine represent the T&P Commission. (Both are familiar with bike issues.) Keep in mind that both the Council and the commission are 5-member bodies, so sheer probability dictates that the chance of either one of those particular combinations is only 20%. It could happen, but we don’t want to roll craps either.

Communicate Your Concerns to Council on Tuesday

Cynically again, Council’s choice of oversight body could already be in the can. Maybe the staff recommendation is the seal on that deal with the other four options as cover. Who knows. Heck, in 2015 we may wind up with exactly the corridor we have today (perhaps with better landscaping) and look back at 2013 to see this entire public process as so much Kabuki anyway.

But still you can communicate your interest. Contact City Council to let them know what you think and attend an upcoming public workshop this fall. Your participation is key. Here are a few ways you can get your input to City Hall:

  1. Show up in Council chambers on Tuesday at 2:30 pm (this is item #1 on the agenda);
  2. Email the Council at mayorandcitycouncil@beverlyhills.org (If you do email Council please CC Better Bike);
  3. Call the Council at 310- 285-1013.
  4. Indicate your preference to us and we’ll bring to Chambers.

Safe riding!