Last week I wanted to get a hold of some of that NZT, the drug that allows Bradley Cooper to use 100 percent of his brain in the new film “Limitless.” I was feeling especially limited because I was concerned that Santa Monica’s current dialogue over car parking had already yielded to the idea that growth bringing more auto traffic was inevitable. Yet I was unable to come up with any alternative suggestions that felt futuristic and viable. If I could just score one of those pills, maybe I would think of something that could help our city find its way.
In the early going, I reviewed some of the transportation options that had looked so thrilling in my youth. Every male of my generation yearned to own one of those rocket packs that Sean Connery deployed to make a getaway in “Goldfinger.” How great it would be to just slip into one of those rigs and blast off every time you laid a bad report card down on the dinner table or had to break up with a girlfriend. “Sorry, but I’m not taking you to the prom. See you around.” Whoosh! Or in this case, “Come on kids, we’re going to the Santa Monica Pier. And thanks to these rocket packs, we won’t have to screw around with parking!”
For decades there had been the tantalizing promise of flying cars; cars that would sprout wings and lift off the ground when traffic on streets became unbearable. But those fanciful cover drawings on my copies of “Popular Science Magazine” never went on to explain how you’d handle all that traffic in the skies. The folks living near the Santa Monica Airport certainly wouldn’t be happy to have flying cars competing with private jets for more noisy take offs and landings. And once you’ve landed, parking was still going to be an issue.
Man, if I could just fire-up that lazy 60 percent of my brain there had to be something…
But nothing came to me. And during discussions about parking at the March 8th City Council meeting it became clear that many people were prepared to yield to what some called the “car culture”: More cars are coming, so let’s keep building parking facilities. Still, I blinked a few times when one Pier-based business owner offered this mantra to the Council: “More parking, more people, more revenue.” Yes, I see the logic. What I’m not sure about is utilizing that as a template for planning.
Have cars coming into Santa Monica become the Borg from “Star Trek,” telling us that resistance is futile? If you don’t accommodate cars and take steps to see that your city is car friendly, you risk turning people off of the idea of coming to visit. At the March 8th meeting there were concerned voices asserting that our primary city attraction, the Pier, was without adequate parking. Several people said that families can arrive at our Pier only to learn that the Pier adjacent parking lots are already full. There were also those who wondered if hiking to the Pier from the Civic Center parking structure might be asking too much of visitors.
Contacted by e-mail, City Council member Kevin McKeown made me aware of a previous cycle of Santa Monica parking space anxiety just a few years back. In May of 2006 the Council voted for a parking plan that called for 712 rebuilt spaces to accommodate existing volume and 1,000 new spaces to accommodate growth that was estimated to occur over the next 20 years. McKeown was alone in voting against the additional 1,000 spaces. He felt that the 1,000 number was built on speculation regarding development in Santa Monica; development that had not yet even been debated at the Council. Then in 2009 a parking study commissioned by the city found that we wouldn’t need those 1,000 spaces if existing facilities were properly utilized and priced. McKeown says he took heat in the 2006 election for his lone vote against the 1000 spaces, including some rival campaign materials that made him appear responsible for parking woes in our city.
That episode speaks to a need for the current debate to be wide open and farsighted. Again, I regret that my puny 30 percent of working brain can’t contribute to the debate with much more than hope; hope that inside our reflections over more parking there will be some view of exactly how much growth we are willing to endure. Los Angeles may be the world capital of denial about traffic, but that doesn’t have to be true of Santa Monica. Our city is considering digging a hole in the ground at Fourth Street and Pico Boulevard so that more cars can be accommodated there. If you think of those additional parked cars as the eggs waiting to hatch in the “Alien” movies, you see the root of my fears.
Does more parking reflect planning, or enable more traffic? Whatever your views on growth, none of us want gridlock on weekends to become a famous landmark of our city. We certainly don’t have to be afraid of planning that might mean a little more walking to the beach and the Pier, or visitor use of light rail. And then we have to bond with the reality that, at some point, we will have to decide just how badly we want more and more people to drive into our city. Unfortunately, the only pitch I have right now is that city leaders try some of that NZT and then look at everything involved in the parking crunch. We need to view 100 percent of the picture of what more traffic means to our city. Otherwise, the terror cars win.