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Scooters Zip By Development as Hot-Button Issue
By Jorge Casuso
December 24, 2018 -- With the rise of e-scooters and the decline of jets, transportation grabbed some of the top headlines in 2018, while development remained poised to regain its spot as the hot-button issue of 2019.
In the final part of a series on the year's top stories, the Lookout looks back at a year when "micro mobility" became a catch phrase and three major Downtown projects prepared for their big test.
City Tries to Curb E-Scooters Amid Raging Debate
They are little bigger than a skateboard with handle bars, but e-scooters made a big impact in Santa Monica in 2018, splitting residents like few issues besides development.
Proponents praised the scooters as an alternative mode of zipping around town without a car, while opponents blasted them as safety hazards cluttering sidewalks and public spaces.
City officials were left to try and strike a balance.
In February, the City reached an agreement with Bird Rides, Inc stemming from a criminal complaint that included multiple counts of violating local law ("Bird Rides Agrees to ‘No Contest’ Plea, More Than $300,000 in Fines in Santa Monica Case," February 15, 2018).
The Santa Monica start-up behind the wildly popular motorized scooters agreed to a “No Contest” plea and more than $300,000 in fines and restitution.
Less than one month later, the City Council imposed an emergency law to impound “shared mobility” devices, such as e-scooters, when their use poses a hazard to others on the City’s streets and sidewalks ("Santa Monica City Council Approves Emergency Law Impounding E-Scooters Posing a Public Hazard," March 8, 2018).
The backlash intensified in July when a Santa Monica mother posted an online petition after her seven-year-old son lost several teeth in a collision with a scooter on the beach bike path ("Santa Monica Mother Launches Petition Drive After Son Injured by Motorized Scooter," July 18 2018).
By month's end police had cracked down by enforcing a law banning electric vehicles on the path ("EXTRA Santa Monica Police to Crack Down on Electric Scooters on Beach Bike Path," July 26, 2018).
In September, the City launched a 16-month City pilot program testing how such devices would be regulated.
After being shunned and fined, Bird, along with Lime, were each allowed an initial fleet of 750 e-scooters ("Bird, Lime Named Among Companies Allowed to Rent E-Scooters in Santa Monica Pilot Program," August 30, 2018).
The true test will come next summer when the tourist season kicks into high gear.
Jet Traffic, Bus Ridership Nosedive
It didn't take long for neighboring residents to notice noise around Santa Monica Airport had declined dramatically after the City shortened the runway in December.
In February, jet traffic was down by nearly 80 percent and the pattern would hold throughout the year, although piston planes saw a resurgence at the century old airport ("Air Traffic Reaches Holding Pattern at Santa Monica Airport," August 21, 2018).
Big Blue Bus ridership continued its decline in 2018, largely due to the arrival of light rail in the summer of 2016.
But Expo may not have been the only reason. A UCLA study released in February found low-income earners and immigrants were ditching mass transit as soon as they could afford their own wheels ("UCLA Study Suggests Low-Income Riders in Santa Monica, Southern California Switching to Own Wheels," February 6, 2018).
Stage Set for New Round of Development Battles
Development may have taken a back seat in 2018, but three major mixed-use projects proposed for the Downtown made major strides in 2018 and are poised to take center stage next year.
The year kicked off with the public unveiling of Frank Gehry’s newest version for a mixed-used tower on Ocean Avenue -- the first of the trio to be cut down from their original size ("New Frank Gehry Design for Santa Monica Makes Public Debut Tonight," January 11, 2018).
The plume-like structure's original 22 stories were reduced to 12 to meet the new height limits imposed by the Downtown Community Plan, but the original design was basically the same.
Not so with the radical redesign of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel that was publicly unveiled three months later ("EXTRA New Miramar Hotel Design Embraces Past, Present and Future of Santa Monica, Developers Say," April 12, 2018).
The long-awaited redesign by world-renowned architect Cesar Pelli sliced the original 22-story project to meet the 130-foot maximum height ("Santa Monica Slow-Growth Group Gives Miramar Hotel's New Plan Negative Reviews, Residocracy Leader Says," April 13, 2018).
Still, slow-growth activists appeared ready to battle the project when it makes the round of public meetings next year.
The year ended with the opening of the comment period for The Plaza at Santa Monica' draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR), kicking off what promises to be a heated debate.
The proposed mixed-use development sits on City owned-land slow-growth activists have been eyeing for a public park ("Comment Period Begins for 'The Plaza at Santa Monica' Draft Environmental Impact Report," December 11, 2018).
While development may not have been a hot-button issue in 2018, it helped determine the race for three City Council seats and the resounding support for term limits ("NEWS ANALYSIS -- Development Remains Major Issue in Tuesday's Santa Monica Election," November 7, 2018).
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