Citizens Agenda: Candidates in the June City Election on Pedestrian Safety and Council Deputies

June-Election-Candidates
In early December, WEHOville asked West Hollywood residents what issues they wanted candidates in the upcoming City Council election to address. We received hundreds of responses and boiled them down to 13 key issues. We have asked each of the 4 candidates in the June 2 special City Council election to offer their positions on these issues. On each Monday through May 4 we will publish one or two of the questions and the candidates’ responses. On March 23, candidates addressed parking issues. On March 30 candidates answered questions about parking issues. Today candidates discuss pedestrian safety issues and the City Council deputy system.

1) What should the city do to improve the safety of pedestrians, specifically:

a) Should West Hollywood ban all bicycle riding on sidewalks?

LARRY BLOCK

Bicycle riding is not allowed on sidewalks in West Hollywood if there is a bike lane. Where there is no bike lane we have to improve connectivity. There will be an update to the city’s mobility plan in the next few months. We allow the sheriff’s Block by Block task force to ride on the sidewalks, and little kids should be able to ride on a sidewalk too. We need to develop clearer rules for main thoroughfares or neighborhoods streets.

I’m at the Public Safety meetings most every month. Pedestrian/car, pedestrian/bike, or, bike/car account for about 25 percent of the total accidents reported by the Sheriff’s station each month. We need to get that number down. Bicycle riding is dangerous, and we have a responsibility to protect, enforce and expand the safety and ability to ride around WeHo.

I also along with Phil Hoskins founded a group CrossSafe WeHo, and we were the first ones to advocate for the pedestrian safety zones. I’d like to get us crosswalk accident-free.

COLE ETTMAN

The safety of pedestrians who walk on our sidewalks IS a priority. It is not unreasonable for them to expect to do so without fear of being hit by a fast moving bicycle.  Children must also be able to ride their bicycles on the sidewalk safely. Our focus must be on creating a safe path for bicycles on the road. By law, bicyclists have the same rights to the road as automobiles.  If we want to get more cars ofF the road, we must make it safe and convenient for bikers. There must be a bike lane on every major thoroughfare in West Hollywood. Signage must let drivers know to share the road with bikers.  

JOHN HEILMAN

We have tried to balance the competing needs of cyclists and the pedestrians by banning bicycles on sidewalks where there is already a bike lane. Bicycles on sidewalks can be dangerous especially for seniors and people with disabilities. But we also want to encourage people to cycle to reduce the number of vehicles on the road. A complete ban on bikes on sidewalks discourages people from cycling. Rather than banning bicycles on sidewalks, we need to increase our efforts to promote safety and co-existence. This can be done by educational efforts as wells as by citing anyone who is endangering others on the sidewalks or roads.

Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to have separate lanes for pedestrians, bicyclists, cars, and skateboarders. We need to make sure that everyone is safety conscious and respectful to others using the roads and sidewalks.

HEIDI SHINK

Let me start by saying that I am an avid cyclist, and I believe that bikes as an alternative means of transportation are becoming increasingly important to reducing our growing traffic problems. However, our sidewalks have to remain safe for pedestrians, and having bicyclists on the sidewalks is simply not conducive to that. That being said, we need to increase the use of bike-only lanes as well as “sharrows” (lanes which are shared by both bicyclists as well as motorists) so that bicyclists will have safe road space in which to travel. Additionally, we need to increase awareness among drivers of sharing the road with our bicycling residents. One of the biggest threats to the safety of riders is that drivers are unaware of their presence on the road, and that is a problem we can remedy with a city-generated public education program of how to share the road safely.

 b) Should West Hollywood reduce the number of pedestrian crosswalks on major thoroughfares such as Santa Monica Boulevard?

LARRY BLOCK

I’m really riled up on crosswalks  and was the one who started a Change.org petition for mid-block crossing signals. I’ve worked hard to put this issue front and center in front of the City Council. And in my meetings with City Hall over these crosswalks along with the previous knowledge of lights approved via our Disability and Transportation commissions busted staff for not sending out to bid the rapid flashing beacon lights that the Council approved a year ago. My promise is to bear down on Public Safety and push to get the most walkable city the title of “safest city to take a walk in”! And ditto for the bicycles.

COLE ETTMAN

No, it is essential that pedestrians be able to cross the street at regular intervals.  We pride ourselves on being a walkable city, and must ensure the safe passage of pedestrians.  This helps our economy by supporting greater foot traffic to our local businesses, many of which are mom and pop storefronts on our boulevards.  Signalizing and synchronizing our crosswalks will not only make them safer, but ease the flow of traffic on the street.  We must utilize advanced technology currently found in other cities that provideS the best solutions for traffic and safety issues.

JOHN HEILMAN

In some places we may need to consolidate crosswalks to reduce the risk to pedestrians. We recently took action to explore consolidating two crosswalks that are close to one another to increase pedestrian safety and ease the impact on vehicular traffic.

HEIDI SHINK

If anything, our city should be increasing the number of pedestrian crosswalks on major thoroughfares, and those crosswalks, as well as the ones we already have, must be made safer via the use of daytime/nighttime lighting systems, such as the one from Futurlux, which provides optimum and lateral light direction onto the crossing. This lateral lighting is proven to be one of the most effective ways to make pedestrians stand out to motorists. Providing more crosswalks, specifically with timed lights, will actually allow for better traffic flow as it will make traffic more predictable, with larger numbers of pedestrians crossing at once. This is in stark contrast to the current system our city employs whereby an unpredictable slow trickle of people cross randomly at any number of crosswalks throughout the city with no timed lights. The safety of those who live, work, and play in West Hollywood has to be paramount in our decision making process, and an increase in crosswalks will add enormously to making our streets safer for everyone.

 c) Should the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station more vigorously enforce jaywalking laws, ticketing violators?

LARRY BLOCK

Yes and yes, and throw in one more yes. We should have signs at all crosswalks that explain the penalties for not obeying the rules and move forward to our dream of a city that is the safest city to take a walk. We can also paint warnings signs on the ground at each crosswalk. Let’s get creative.

The Sheriff’s Station has been performing crosswalk stings the last couple of months and is  issuing 70 to 90 tickets a day at just a couple of intersections. The crosswalks remain dangerous, but we have not had an accident since we adopted the pedestrian safety zones. The zones and those mobile sign boards were my idea, and I fought to get them installed. If I am your Council member it won’t be so hard to fight City Hall. I see the problem, and I’m willing to listen.

COLE ETTMAN

West Hollywood has the highest rate of crime of all the areas patrolled by the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department. At their current levels Sheriffs are needed to patrol our streets and prevent these crimes, however, pedestrian safety also cannot be ignored. Pedestrians and motorists that show blatant disrespect by violating the law which puts safety at risk should be ticketed. That is why it is essential that West Hollywood increase the number of Sheriff’s deputies on the streets so that they will have the resources they need to ensure that our city and its pedestrians are safe and following our laws.

JOHN HEILMAN

I don’t think we need to increase enforcement. We should enforce primarily when someone jaywalking creates a risk to others in the community. Jaywalking should not be a high priority. Our law enforcement resources should be allocated to preventing, reducing and solving violent crimes and crimes against property in West Hollywood. While we shouldn’t ignore other violations that affect our quality of life, we do not need to launch a major enforcement campaign against jaywalkers.

HEIDI SHINK

Jaywalking tickets should only be used as a deterrent measure to keep pedestrians safe. Before we issue more tickets, we need to look at how we can create more avenues for crossing our streets. Once more crosswalks are installed (or existing crosswalks finally have timed lights, as well as daytime/nighttime lighting system as described in the previous answer), the City Council can look at recommending an increase in enforcement of jaywalking laws. But even in that instance, I would be in favor of a six-month probationary period where Sheriff’s deputies would issue warnings rather than tickets to help establish the new standard of crosswalk usage without penalizing pedestrians.

 d) In additional to installing stoplights synchronized with those at intersections, what else can the city do to improve pedestrian safety, especially during weekend nights in the Westside bar and nightclub area of Santa Monica Boulevard?

LARRY BLOCK

Have cops at intersection of Robertson and San Vicente and Santa Monica on the weekend nights. Better signage. Better lighting. Lower the speed limit on weekends. Pavement markers.

Keeping West Hollywood pedestrians safe should also include pedestrian safe zone signs as you enter the city from Beverly Hills. We have to have permanent signs that work 24/7 in place. We can’t rely on law enforcement around the clock. Pedestrians also need to take responsibility.

COLE ETTMAN

West Hollywood is a pedestrian-oriented city. We have been voted the most walkable city in the state twice. Residents and tourists are walking and biking in greater numbers. This statistic combined with heavy traffic means safety is a very important issue.

West Hollywood ranked near the top of cities and communities in Los Angeles County for motor vehicle collisions involving alcohol and alcohol-related death rates (according to the 2013 West Hollywood Community Study) making pedestrian safety an urgent concern.  Traffic safety enforcement must a be a priority to protect lives.  Having our Sheriff’s department engaged is key.  Lets put officers at trouble areas during peak traffic times so that pedestrians feel safer and drivers are more aware of the rules of the road.

A comprehensive study and new action plan must be created to address our un-signalized crosswalks, and not just on Santa Monica Boulevard.  I live off of Sunset and it is just as scary and unsafe to cross the street. There are many tourists unfamiliar with traffic laws who are distracted by the many billboards on the boulevard. I am in favor of installing new traffic devices, like rapid flashing beacons, that will actually help to prevent accidents.  Our current measures do not do enough to both call attention to the crosswalk and make it easier for pedestrians to cross. As a member of our city council, I will charge the Transportation Commission combined with a team of expert consultants to expedite a plan immediately.

JOHN HEILMAN

We should evaluate whether it makes sense to put in an all-way pedestrian crossing, particularly at Robertson and Santa Monica on the weekend in the evening. This location often has a large number of people crossing Santa Monica making it difficult for Robertson traffic to safely turn.

We recently installed new pavement markers at crosswalks in an effort to slow vehicles down and increase the awareness that someone may be crossing. We have already noticed a decrease in traffic speeds approaching these crosswalks. We will continue to evaluate them in the upcoming year.

HEIDI SHINK

The most important step we can take to improve pedestrian safety is to light crosswalks appropriately. In using an overhead and lateral lighting system (as I described in previous answers), West Hollywood can be a leader in pedestrian safety by taking advantage of the most modern technologies available. Daytime/nighttime lighting systems are cost-effective and create a vast improvement in awareness of pedestrians for motorists. Previous administrations had the opportunity to investigate and implement creative solutions but lacked the vision, will, or know-how to employ tools that are truly life-saving. These systems, and ones like them, not only light the pedestrian, but they light the pathway across the street, commanding the visual attention of drivers. While the City needs to explore all options available to improve pedestrian crosswalk safety, lighted crosswalks are the most immediate and concrete action we could take to drastically improve safety.

2) Recent stories have revealed conflicts among City Council deputies, the apparent misbehavior on the part of some of them, a lack of clarity about who they report to,  the fact that their salaries are exceptionally high and that the deputy system is unprecedented among L.A. County cities that don’t have their own individual charters. Given that:

a) Would you support eliminating the current deputy system and replacing it with staff members who report directly to the City Manager but provide services to Council members, as is the model in Beverly Hills?

LARRY BLOCK

I don’t like the idea of centralizing the deputies under the city manager. I do like the idea to limit these salaries. If Michelle Rex has a compensation package that is something like $175,000, she is making more than our senators Barbara Boxer or Dianne Feinstein. The deputies should be community residents. The union is running City Hall. It’s not ours anymore.

COLE ETTMAN

We should seriously consider it as an option, but I will not support an expansion of the current system and believe that Council members must be held accountable for the behavior and performance of their deputies.

Council members need staff willing to stand up to the city bureaucracy when the public is being ignored.  Having council deputies report to the City Manager or eliminating their positions all together will leave us near defenseless against the entrenched developers, special interests and bureaucrats that run rough shod over the public interest and undermine attempts by the community to protect our neighborhoods and parks.

JOHN HEILMAN

Yes. We’ve had some very talented people serve as deputies but the current structure has been problematic for some time. Council deputies have an allegiance to the Council member they work for, but they are also overseen by the City Manager. Council members typically are working at another job and are not able to directly supervise the Council deputy.

HEIDI SHINK

The allegations of severe ethical infractions by a few rogue deputies— whether acting on behalf of their Council members or independently— has become a source of embarrassment for West Hollywood. These deputies should receive a fair and impartial hearing via a thorough investigation into the allegations made against them. But if it is found that any of them have abused their position or acted unethically, the deputies and the Council members they served need to be held responsible. At the end of the day, these are public employees, and they have to be held accountable to the residents of West Hollywood.

Going forward, our city urgently needs to look at all options as to how we can reform the deputy system. The Beverly Hills model, in which a single deputy handles both legislative duties as well as constituent services for all five Council members, could work in West Hollywood. However, it could lead to that one deputy being stretched very thin, and it doesn’t allow for any particular issue area of expertise, which I feel is an important aspect of hiring a deputy (or deputies) in the future.

b) If you do not support Option No. 1, what steps would you push the City Council to take to resolve the issues with the current deputy system?

LARRY BLOCK

One idea might be to allow deputies to rotate between offices instead of being beholden to one Council member. Another idea would be that deputies need to be approved by three-fifths of the Council members. This might create a more cohesive atmosphere for them to work together. The deputies should be working for the people of the city and not be a single Council member’s personal bodyguard. The deputy can follow through on the Council members’ vision. And Council members should be able to work with more than one deputy who would become their “campaign manager” rather than serve the people.

COLE ETTMAN

Whitewashing the problem won’t restore the Council’s credibility with the public.  If we truly want to change the 30 year culture at City Hall, we need to change the membership of the City Council.

The outrageous salaries being paid to political appointees are indefensible. West Hollywood is blessed with an abundance of smart, hardworking, creative people who are dedicating their lives to public service.  Surely we can find excellent candidates who are willing to serve the public for more competitive salaries.

JOHN HEILMAN

I support Option No. 1, but if the Council does not adopt Option No. 1, we need to at least obtain an outside review of the current structure and implement some measures to ensure that the deputies are properly serving the public.

HEIDI SHINK

I am most supportive of a “Deputy Pool” system, whereby a pool of deputies are shared by all Council embers, each deputy with a particular specialty. This would allow our deputies to be hired on more quantifiable criteria, each with a particular area of expertise. Using this model, the city could hire a land use deputy, or a constituent services deputy, for example, basing their hiring on previous professional experience and open interviews rather than political fealty. I believe that this would be a far more productive model for the Council members and result in better, more responsive constituent services for our residents.

I am eager to work on reforming this system with the new Council as well as working with our city manager, Paul Arevalo, on improving and modernizing the way City Hall operates so that we get the most efficiency and productivity out of all city employees to best serve the residents.


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Jan Keizer
Guest
Jan Keizer

I suggest painting a bicycle lane on the sidewalk. In Amsterdam the sidewalks have a “lane” which is either painted a different color or paved with bricks, on the edge of the sidewalks closest to the street. The sidewalks on Santa Monica and Sunset and many other streets are wide enough to include these bike paths.

mike dunn
Guest
mike dunn

I don’t agree mixing bicycles and motor vehicles on the same street can be safe. Painting a bike lane is not going to make said street safe. There is still the hazard of vehicle drivers opening their drivers door into the path of a bike rider. And there are to many motor vehicle drivers that have a difficult time just maneuvering their vehicles near adjacent vehicles. Then you add a bike and the hazards are greatly increased. It’s my opinion that bikes thoroughfares should be provided not on major streets but on secondary streets which experience less traffic.

Franz
Guest
Franz

All candidates have good points about bicycle and pedestrian safety, but all of them pretty much ignored the cause of these accidents and the general feeling that West Hollywood is not safe for pedestrians and people on bikes: High car speeds. People treat Fountain Ave, Santa Monica Blvd, La Brea, Sunset and every major streets in the city as if it’s a freeway, with dangerous speeds, reckless driving and aggressive behaviors. They need to be slowed down, either by road diets or improvements to the streetscapes and lowering the speed limit permanently in all areas of the city (like what… Read more »

Disco Dan
Guest
Disco Dan

Bicycle problem…I’ve seen people on bicycles riding on the sidewalks and in the WRONG direction ! If vehicular traffic is moving from West to East (and vice-versa). should not the bicyclists do the same? I’ve had a few close calls by being run into by someone on a bicycle. And if they knock me to the pavement, I think many (if not most) will just take off (as in a hit and run but mercifully not by a vehicle). And do not people on bicycles have to adhere to traffic laws insofar that they can’t just blow through a Stop… Read more »

Insight
Guest

I like that Larry Block and Cole Ettman are floating the idea of leveraging law enforcement for these issues. I have never understood the value in Heilman’s hands-off approach.

If you’re concerned that pedestrian/crosswalk/sidewalk safety enforcement would pull too much law enforcement personnel from other crime, that’s a staffing issue that can be addressed in many ways.

Manny
Guest
Manny

Good answers and ideas from all candidates. My pet peeve is bicycles on sidewalks. I’m glad that most candidates seem to have little tolerance for bicycle riding on sidewalks, whether there is a bike lane available or not. (of course children and law enforcement are exempt) The problem bicyclists face when there is no bike lane should not be transferred to the pedestrian walking on the sidewalk. I’m afraid it’s not just about the safely of seniors (seniors hate to be singled out all the time like they’re helpless) it’s about the safety of ALL people who use our sidewalks… Read more »