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Residents and Council Reiterate Alignment of Expo Light Rail:

Following the completion in January of the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the phase two leg of the Expo Light Rail project to Santa Monica, The Exposition Construction Authority presented an overview of the alternatives being studied at the February 10 Santa Monica City Council meeting. Nearly two dozen residents, most of them school officials or parents affiliated with Crossroads Elementary School, gave public comment in support of a Colorado alignment, overwhelmingly agreeing that an Olympic alignment would present a public safety hazard to students at the school, which has campuses at Olympic Boulevard and 17th Street and Olympic Boulevard and 20th Street.

Besides the risk an above-ground rail system would present to young students crossing Olympic, other arguments against an Olympic alignment included the necessary removal of more than 40 Coral trees along a stretch of the Olympic Boulevard median, and an undesirable above-grade section proposed for the Olympic alignment. All residents who spoke at the meeting showed support for an at-grade, Colorado alignment, which the Santa Monica Planning Commission has already publicly favored. The council voiced unanimous support for the Colorado alignment, but reminded attendees that they ultimately have no legal say in the matter. Among council concerns about the project are a planned maintenance yard for rail cars in Santa Monica, which the council and some residents feel would present noise pollution and vibration. The council also wants more information about bike routes connected with the project, an aspect that was left our of the DEIR. No formal ordinance was made and the matter will be re-visited at the next council meeting.

A recommendation for the council to review and provide direction to staff on the proposed establishment of a franchise-based system for the regulation of taxi-cabs in Santa Monica, brought a handful of speakers to the podium. After hearing from people who prefer a franchise model and those who favor a medallion-based model, which favors independent drivers but might not yield superior customer service, the council asked staff to review both models, and look at issues such as cab driver wages and working conditions, customer service, environmental quality of cars, safety, accountability of drivers, and parking problems that prevent cabs from pulling over. The council and speakers agreed that there are too many cabs in Santa Monica, a fact that drives down the average yearly wage for drivers working six days a week to $ 24,0000.

A request for appeal of the environmental determination for construction of a senior group housing project at 749 17th Street was denied and the council supported the project’s moving forward. The council ruled that the project has been thoroughly reviewed and is exempt from the provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Staff presented mid-year council budget adjustments, which included a $2.7 million decrease in expected revenue for the current fiscal year. General fund expenditure adjustments include $1.45 million in general fund changes, almost all of which is for the start-up cost of fire dispatch coming back into Santa Monica. Revenue decreases total $1.2 million, most being reductions in water and waste water revenue as a result of decline in construction. Staff asked council to put $8.2 million previously set aside for potential utility taxes into an economic uncertainty reserve. Per councilmember Shriver, staff is analyzing the Public Employment Retirement System (PERS) and potential losses in 2011-2012. The five year financial forecast contains uncertainties as “conditions deteriorate faster than we anticipated”, according to City Manager P. Lamont Ewell, who also said some reductions in public service are inevitable. Public comment on the current budget and five-year forecast included requests for ongoing financial support of senior services, public education and crime reduction programs. Two motions regarding the adjustment of 2008-2009 budget changes and establishment of classification and salary rates for various positions were passed.

A recommendation to approve a final no smoking public education campaign by Southard Communications passed.

Sheila Finley was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Disabilities Commission. Michelle LeBlanc was appointed to a vacancy on the Commission for the Senior Community. Melissa Dagodag’s resignation from the Commission on the Status of Women was accepted.

A motion was made to direct staff to look into a request by Councilmember McKeown to temporarily use city funds to cover expected state non-payments and/or IOUs by residents for rent and mortgage payments. Various coucilmembers had strong reservations on the topic.

Brenda Katz’ resignation from the Pier Restoration Corporation Board was accepted. Katz is the widow of Herb Katz and she is returning to Ohio to be with her family.

The next meeting will be held February 24 at 5:45pm.

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