Residents Want Less Traffic and More Parking. SMPD Wants to Talk Traffic Safety, However
Santa Monica Police Chief Renaud Speaks about Traffic - Well, Sort of
March 1, 2019
In a video released on Thursday, Santa Monica Police Chief Cynthia Renaud promised to discuss traffic and what the police department is doing about it. However, Renaud - understandably - shied away from discussing what residents really want to know about traffic:
How can we reduce it, and where can we park?
Instead, Renaud and two of her staff, Lieutenant Candice Cobarrubias and Sergeant Joe Cortez, discussed what the police department is doing about traffic safety. Oh, and they talked about parking tickets.
Admittedly, there is nothing the police department can do to reduce traffic. That problem is caused by irresponsible city staff and elected officials who routinely approve new developments, all of which increase the traffic flow and parking needs. Hands are waved about ride-share programs or scooters, citing such devices as magical talismans that will somehow coax people out of their cars. These magical solutions of course provide nothing to compensate a person for deciding against using a private vehicle, with all the safety and convenience that entails. So the magic is only in the eye of the elected official who gives a "yes" vote to yet another 80k square-foot mixed-use development.
But the police have everything to do with parking enforcement. It is doubtful there is a single resident in this town who hasn't had a run-in with this department. Out-of-town guests are immediately warned that the streets are full of ticket-sharks. Woe betide the driver who leaves his car at a meter five minutes over the expiration time. Heck, many of us have received parking tickets when we still had money on the meter!
Perhaps sensing this is a delicate subject, Renaud skirts the issue carefully. She has Lieutenant Cobarrubias assure the audience that the goal of parking enforcement is to ensure "there's enough mobility going around." Unsurprisingly, this fine-sounding phrase is never explained. How does giving someone a parking ticket ensure any kind of mobility? I suppose it ensures the mobility of the car. The owner of it has to make sure to move it in order to avoid getting a ticket. (Which puts him back into traffic - so that seems to actually work against mobility...)
Meanwhile, the goal of preferential parking, according to Cobarrubias, is not to add money to the city coffers via the permit fees residents must pay to park outside of their own homes. No, the goal is to give residents a guaranteed parking place under the stress of 7.5 million out-of-town visitors per year. That sounds good, but it isn't the whole story. Drive around any preferential parking area during the day. You will see miles of empty curb, curb that could be used while residents are gone if not for the Preferential Parking signs. Why not have 2-hour parking during business hours? Answer: that doesn't bring the city money.
The only subject Chief Renaud could address with any degree of seriousness was that of traffic safety. Last year, the City of Santa Monica joined Vision Zero, a multi-national traffic safety project begun in Sweden. The idea is to get to zero severe or fatal traffic accidents. Santa Monica made a promise to get to this zero threshold by 2027.
To execute this laudable plan, the heads of every single department show up every quarter. Of primary importance are Public Works, Traffic Engineering, the Police Department, and Mobility. (Yes, there is a separate department called "Mobility." They're supposed to synthesize long-range land planning with transportation planning to achieve "a sustainable and livable Santa Monica.") At the meetings, those present discuss particular intersections and other areas that may have a high incidence of traffic collisions. Possible fixes and improvements are proposed. For example, lights might be timed to give pedestrians more time to cross a street. This could occur, for example, in neighborhoods with a high elderly population.
So far this year, Santa Monica has had no fatal traffic collisions.
SMPD's Traffic Services Division has 108 employees, divided into parking enforcement, motorcycle-officer traffic enforcement, and crossing guards. The "whole mission," according to Cobarrubias, is "to ensure that traffic is flowing."
But as hard-working as the police in this city undoubtedly are, they can not get traffic flowing if there is too much of it in the first place.