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City Reduces Speed Limits On Some Santa Monica Streets, Increases Others

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

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Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Hector Gonzalez
Special to The Lookout

February 11, 2016 -- In a new ordinance approved this week, 10 Santa Monica streets feeding into neighborhoods will see reduced speed limits, but two others linking to thoroughfares will get higher speed limits even though they contain segments with homes.

Because the state considers them local residential streets, the 10 streets never should have been included in state-mandated speed surveys officials conducted to set speed limits on all City streets, said Andrew Maximus, Santa Monica's principal traffic engineer, in a presentation to the council Tuesday.

Residential streets, according to the state, “have a default speed limit of 25 mph,” he said.

Against their wishes, however, council members unanimously approved increased speed limits, from 25 mph to 30 mph, for two non-residential streets, Marine Street, between Lincoln Boulevard and 17th Street; and 4th Street, between Colorado Avenue and Pico Boulevard.

Like it or not, Maximus said, officials in California cities have no legal power to set speed limits on their local streets. The state solely determines how local cities should go about setting speed limits.

Cities that don't do the speed surveys for non-residential streets are legally blocked from using speed-detecting radar to back up traffic citations in court, he said.

With the exception of streets deemed as residential, all other streets “have a statutory speed limit of 55 mph, and in order to reduce the speed limit for public safety,” the state requires cities to do speed surveys, he said.

For example, if a speed survey finds a majority of drivers are going 33 mph in a 25 mph zone, city officials must round the average speed to the nearest 5 mph increment, which would put the speed limit at 35 mph.

However, cities can increase or reduce the speed limir by 5 mph, according to the state's guidelines.

In the case of Marine Street, where the limit is 25 mph, the survey found a majority drivers were traveling at 33 mph, putting the speed limit at 35 mph when rounded up to the nearest 5 mph increment.

But officials used the 5 mph allowable reduction to set the speed limit on Marine at 30 mph, said Maximus.

Councilmember Ted Winterer said he's received complaints from residents on Marine about drivers going to fast even with the 25 mph limit.

“Our hands are completely tied by the state law? Because it seems to me that what happened there was that we had the 25 mph speed limit, but because it wasn't being proactively enforced at all times, we got that average speed of 33 mph, which requires us to increase the speed to 30 mph. Is there nothing we can do? What if we don't obey the state law?”

Fiddling with the state's formula could put the City in jeopardy of having drivers set their own speed limits.

“Any tickets written would not be permissible and would probably be thrown out by a judge in that court,” Maximus said.

Councilmember Kevin Mckeown asked the staff, in a motion seconded by Councilmember Sue Himmelrich, to investigate what criteria the state uses to determine when a street is deemed residential and therefore exempt from the speed surveys.

“Marine is residential, it has schools, it has parks,” said McKeown. “What if we said, 'Hey, that's a residential street, state of California, and the default speed limit is 25 mph.”

The 10 streets getting reduced speed limits, unless they already are at 25 mph, are:
* Olympic Boulevard from 4th Street to 11th
* 16th Street from Montana Avenue to the City's southern border
* 21st from Ocean Park Boulevard to Dewey Street
* 24th from San Vicente to Ocean Park
* Airport Avenue from 23rd to the east City limit
* Alta Avenue from 7th to 14th streets
* Chelsea Avenue from Wilshire to Santa Monica boulevards
* Michigan Avenue from 7th to 17th streets
* Navy Street from Highland to Lincoln Boulevard

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