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The Streets Belong to the People

By Frank Gruber

“‘They’ll get the hang of it, and I think they’ll get used to the congestion.’” --Erik Jorgensborg, President of Fisher Lumber, as quoted in The Lookout on whether traffic congestion will prevent old Fisher customers from patronizing the new Fisher store he’s opening at Lincoln and Colorado.

As readers know, I have been rummaging around in old records at City Hall and one thing I’ve learned is that just as you can count on the President having a second term legal problem (even if it’s in fact a first term problem), there are certain eternal truths in local politics.

Traffic, for instance. Just in case anyone out there believes that there once was a golden age, on Oct. 13, 1954, the Santa Monica City Council appropriated $5,800 for a traffic study after the Chief of Police appeared and stated that the “traffic problem was critical and that an expert should be consulted.”

Things were so bad, that the chief also told the council that he was going to establish one-way streets in Ocean Park, and that in the future he would recommend that the council consider changing over to one-way traffic on Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth in the downtown business district.

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Of course if you don’t have bigger issues to worry about, traffic can make you a little crazy. And when I say “you” I mean the City of Santa Monica, whether it’s thinking about turning the streets downtown into one-way speedways 50 years ago or persecuting Santa Monica College students today.

It appears, based on Ann Willaim’s exclusive report in today’s Lookout, that City officials have come to their collective senses and allowed access from the vast parking lots of the College’s new Bundy campus to Airport Avenue, the east-west street that runs through the Santa Monica Airport from Bundy Drive/Centinela Avenue to 23rd Street (which becomes Walgrove Avenue in Venice). (see related story)

If the City Council fails to approve the deal, parkers would have to leave the Bundy Campus by way of the scary intersection on Bundy; let’s hope no one gets hurt. Quite frankly, before Friday’s breakthrough, I was not optimistic, as the City Council directed staff way back on July 26 to work with the College for both short-term and long-term solutions, and three months later there is still no solution, interim or permanent. (see related story)

I still don’t know what took the City so long. I mean I know that there are members of the City Council who want leverage against the College, and who want to throw some meat to their anti-College constituents in Sunset Park, but they weren’t involved in the negotiations. My instincts tell me that this became a kind of bureaucratic game involving the third party in the negotiations -- the City of Los Angeles.

Santa Monica staff wanted the City of L.A. to install a light at the Bundy entrance to the campus, which Council member Bill Rosendahl has now agreed to push for. This may or may not be a good idea -- there is only a short distance between the existing lights at Airport and Rose -- but for whatever reasons, L.A. had resisted until Rosendahl almost had an accident. But this seemed to have immobilized Santa Monica staff in its negotiations with the College; I suspect staff feared losing leverage with L.A. if Santa Monica agreed to Airport Avenue access before L.A. agreed to the new light.

But the Bundy light and Airport Avenue access should be separate issues. It’s true that Airport Avenue access would obviate the need for a new light, but the opposition to Airport Avenue access comes from people who want to impede the access to the campus from Santa Monica, not from L.A.

While more than 80 percent of the students at the new campus come from outside Santa Monica, i.e., from L.A., they don’t pass through any Santa Monica neighborhoods to get there -- just a bit of airport. Visitors to the Bundy campus from L.A. enter either from Walgrove, by way of a short stretch of Airport Avenue, or by way of Bundy through the Bundy entrance. If there is a connection to Airport Avenue, they will be able to enter by way of another short stretch of Airport Avenue.

The only people who would use Airport Avenue to get to the campus from the north by way of 23rd Street are those coming from -- Santa Monica! That’s right -- us! The people the City’s blockade of the Bundy campus hurts are the very people who voted to pay for it.

Meanwhile, by opening the Bundy campus the College has acted to reduce traffic in Santa Monica overall (and especially along the Pico corridor and in Sunset Park) by spreading its facilities around -- i.e., to be accessible from L.A.

What everyone using the campus should have the right to do is leave by way of Airport Avenue -- for safety’s sake, for those who want to use Bundy, or for convenience’s sake, for those who want to go south to Venice on Walgrove or north to Santa Monica on 23rd.

Unfortunately, as I have written before, one of the more ridiculous proposals that anyone has made regarding Bundy campus access is one the College volunteered -- that it would forbid motorists leaving the campus from traveling west on Airport Avenue to 23rd or Walgorve. This is a concession the College should never have made. No Santa Monican should have to travel on Bundy to get home from taking a class at the new campus.

Now that an interim deal is in the works, one possible long-term solution that I have heard about from two people involved in the negotiations is an interesting proposal to reroute the eastern stretch of Airport Avenue so that from Donald Douglas Loop South it would bend south and then run along the border between the airport and the new campus to Bundy. This would allow for just one light on Bundy to serve both the airport and the new campus.

The extra benefit from this plan would be that traffic would be routed “behind” the buildings on airport and away from the new park and ball fields the City is about to build. This would be a sensible long-term solution, but in the meantime the City needs to end the Airport Avenue blockade.

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Time flies when you are having fun, but it’s hard to believe that I started writing “What I Say” five years ago. My first column appeared in the last week of October 2000. Many thanks, to one and all.

The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Lookout.
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