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Community Meeting: Priorities for the Budget:

Safety concerns, lighting, transportation, and urban forestry were among the issues at a Budget Planning Community Input meeting at the Ken Edwards Center on November 19. The meeting, one in a series being held in various parts of the City, addressed concerns from residents of the North of Wilshire (Wilmont) area, although issues of general interest were also discussed.

City Manager Lamont Ewell began with a presentation explaining the projected economic situation and the way that the City’s budget is figured. Santa Monica’s economy, he noted, has a somewhat better prognosis than the nation’s because of “the diversification of our revenues.”

But the purpose of the community meetings, he said, was to be able to better distribute funds based on community priorities.

“Before we know what the priorities are, we have to know what you’re thinking,” said Ewell. “If we’re hearing the same things throughout the City, we’ll try to make them the priorities.”

When community input began, the most frequently heard issue was safety. Many residents spoke of inadequate lighting in their neighborhoods. Several women mentioned that due to off-site parking and lack of good street lighting, the residential area north of Wilshire was becoming increasingly unsafe, especially for women walking alone at night. Residents called for better lighting and neighborhood watch programs run by the police rather than by the residents’ efforts.

Traffic issues were also mentioned. There were concerns about cyclists who do not obey traffic rules, causing tie-ups and accidents. In the Wilmont area, residents are still trying to get the City to install a stop sign at the corner of 4th and Idaho, an issue that, according to one speaker, has been ignored repeatedly by the City.

The ficus tree controversy popped up when local activist Jerry Rubin, after listing several areas where he felt the City was doing a good job, added, “The City needs to be more responsive on the tree issue.” He said that while he supported the City’s efforts toward street improvements, he wanted the City to work with and listen to the findings of urban foresters not working for the City.

Ewell said that the ficus tree issue is currently under consideration with the Landmarks Commission and that the City would be “guided by that decision.”

Several other speakers brought up the trees, citing the budget advantages to be gained through the trees’ contribution to slowing global warming and reducing pollution from buses. Some also asked why certain trees had been defined by the City as “diseased” and why the City couldn’t find ways of insuring sidewalk safety without removing the trees.

Ewell admitted that he had been wrong in using what he said was “layman’s” language to describe the trees as diseased. To move the meeting along, he asked City Forester Walt Warriner to speak on the tree issue.

Warriner said that the roots of the ficus trees grow so big that they “displace” the sidewalks and that the suggested solution of so-called “rubber sidewalks” is not the “magic pill” that will solve the problem on 2nd and 4th Streets. He said the City wants to plant the gingko trees on those streets to provide “more sunlight,” as apparently the shade of the ficuses makes the area too chilly.

Also mentioned were the need to create safer conditions at the outdoor Farmers’ Markets, and the lack of information about the City’s new water fluoridation program.

Feedback from the community input meetings will be presented to the City Council at its January 8 meeting. The budget will be developed between January and May, and adopted in June 2008.

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