Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Some FAQs about Proposition T and some that aren’t so frequently asked

Q: So, I don’t have time to read this whole blog, tell me again, why you’re against this?

A: Because it won’t solve the traffic problem, and it will cost this city and SMMUSD much needed net revenue.

Q. Whoaa!! The Yes on T folks say it won’t cost the City any money, and that the City Attorney’s own estimate says it will negligible.

A. Well the City’s independent analysis forecasts a 9.4 million dollar deficit in 2008 dollars to the City, close to one-half million to SMMUSD, and about 100,000 to SMC. I guess it’s a case of competing analyses. However, I put my money on the independent analysis, as that firm does this kind of analysis for a living. The City Attorney’s specialty is not making these estimates.

Q. Yes, but wasn’t that analysis done by a consultant that works for developers?

A. Yes, they also work for cities and states. Of course they work for developers, too. Everyone who does this kind of work, and who has any credibility, works for developers. These firms do not fudge the numbers if they want to stay in business. Their reports go to lending institutions, debt rating agencies, etc. If their numbers can’t be believed, they won't be around for long. Their professionalism, and absolute commitment to impartial analysis is their calling card.

Q. Okay, say I do believe their numbers. By 2023, the city’s budget will be close to 1 billion dollars. What’s 9 million compared to that number?

A. Well let’s compare apples and apples. I’m looking at today’s budget which is half that number. So if we want to adjust for inflation, then let’s do that across the board, in which case this number comes close to 20 million dollars, about 2% of the city’s budget. Still doesn’t sound like a lot, but given the amount of fixed costs the city has, this could be the money the city provides to SMMUSD for things like music and arts programs.

Q. Okay, enough about finances, I get it. It will have an impact. You say Prop T won’t work. What do you mean?

A. Well it won’t reduce traffic.

Q. Yes, but the Pro-T forces admit that. They just say it will slow the rate of traffic increase.

A. Okay. If you think the problem is bad now, and this measure offers a solution that makes it get worse slower, do you think that’s a solution?

Q. Well, no, but it’s better than nothing.

A. I’m not advocating doing nothing. Nor, is the city's own General Plan as reflected in the LUCE document. I’m advocating a comprehensive plan of Transportation Demand Management (TDM) solutions, which include “parking cash-outs,” car-pooling, taking public transportation, etc. For more on this you’re going to have to read the rest of the blog.

Q. Well why not both: TDM and Prop T?

A. Because part of TDM is creating land-use diversity, which ensures that the most residents can walk or bike or take public transit to jobs and retail services. When you bias the development playing field to a predominant housing mix you lose much of the potential for TDM.

Q. Okay, okay, but still, I’m so sick of the “over-development” of Santa Monica. Isn’t this a step in preventing that?

A. No. It’s a step in limiting commercial development only. Most of that will be replaced by housing development.

Q. Well, doesn’t housing generate less traffic?

A. Again, it goes back to the mix, I just spoke of. Nature abhors a mono-culture, as does urbanism. All housing, and no commercial, not only make a city a dull place, but it also makes the traffic worse.

Q. Still, I’m so sick of these out-of-town developers from Beverly Hills and San Francisco proposing these six-story buildings that are destroying what’s left of my little beach town.

A. Wow, a lot of anger, there. Let’s take this one step at a time. Prop T will do nothing to prevent six-story buildings, particularly if they are composed of residences. Second, if those six-story building are composed exclusively of affordable housing (which I would argue is not necessarily a good thing; creating another mono-culture), then the ground floor can still have commercial space that is exempt from the 75,000 square foot cap. Measure T won’t affect that. So if the issue is protecting what’s left of the beach town, why not look at LUCE, which is the city’s land use component of its new General Plan. It addresses the issue comprehensively, acknowledging, that Santa Monica, itself has many neighborhoods and districts (some beachy, some not) and plans for them accordingly.

Q. Well, I don’t know, the city hasn’t done anything about this problem. At least this is something.

A. From my own perspective, I’d argue that the city has been treading water for the last few years while LUCE was being developed. LUCE has hours upon hours of citizen input from across the political spectrum. It is an extraordinary document which everyone should read. It would be tragic if now when it is ready for implementation, it had its heart cut out.

Q. You have said that this measure will actually hurt the city’s efforts to combat global warming. Isn’t that an absurd statement, like Ronald Reagan saying, “trees cause pollution?”

A. Well you do have to read the post for the full explanation, but the gist of the argument is this: Prop T will not help the current traffic situation. Proponents claim the traffic will get worse slower than doing nothing. However, new businesses that wanted to be here will simply go to Venice, West LA or Marina Del Rey. Folks will simply go through S.M. to get to those businesses, and Santa Monicans themselves will drive farther to get to these destinations. The reduction in TDM that this measure allows further reduces the chance for overall trip reduction, thus increasing driving.

Q. Well, why should I believe you any of what you say? You’re an architect. You work for developers. It even says on your internet profile that you do “transit-oriented development and design.” Aren’t you just protecting your own interests?

A. Actually, I work about equally for cities and developers. One of the things I do for cities is to help to negotiate these very complex development issues between different resident constituencies as well as developers. I challenge both sides to arrive at creative win-win solutions. As a result, I actually know something about this issue. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I love what I do. That’s why I have gotten so active in this issue. Interestingly enough, a majority of developers I work with are housing developers, who would not be affected by Prop T at all. In fact, they might be helped by it. And yes, I do have a bias for transit-oriented development as I believe it is a key piece to achieve traffic reduction and reduce global warming.

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