Meetings of the city’s various boards and commissions are open to the public and fun to attend. These boards and commissions are a liaison between the public and the West Hollywood City Council. At a grass roots level your voice can be heard at any of 15 different boards and commissions, which are as varied as the Human Services Commission and the Russian Advisory Board.
But I’ve learned that those boards and commissions don’t always work the way they are supposed to. For example, I’ve gone to the Public Safety Commission to express concerns over pedestrian safety for years and years dating back to 2009. (More people have been killed on one stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard between Robertson and La Cienega than all other streets in the city combined.)
In 2012 after two more deaths along Santa Monica Boulevard, I went to the commission again with my concerns. Chairwoman Ruth Williams told me that crosswalks are “not our purview” and bounced me to the Transportation Commission. Williams wasn’t happy about having to do that. “I am angry about this particular issue,” she said. “For years this commission has raised this as a public safety issue…. We continually beg for response from the transportation commission.” Marcy Norton, another public safety commissioner, agreed. “We have been hitting a roadblock with the Transportation Commission,” she said.
The two commissions finally met together in the Fall of 2014. But rather than letting them interact and discuss crosswalks and pedestrian safety priorities, the city staff loaded the agenda with staff presentations and there was almost no discussion between the two commissions about going forward.
In 2013 the city council approved funding for pedestrian safety programs, including installation of synchronized stop lights at four pedestrian crosswalks on Santa Monica Boulevard. That was supposed to have been rolled out two years ago. But to date, only one such crosswalk has been completed. It looks like we can build a $20 million robo garage and a $100 million-plus park faster than we can upgrade four crosswalks.
I cried out for something to be done. I got called into City Hall to address the Cross Safe WeHo signs I hung all around town. There I learned the crosswalk upgrade item was “stuck in a city staffer’s folder” and “had not been sent out to bid.” Eight months after the upgrades were approved by the city council in 2013, I was told the city staff was waiting for new information to start the upgrade. and then a year later the formal approval of the upgrade finally went before the city council
Fast forward to 2017 and last week’s Public Safety Commission meeting. The commission had asked that the city council put on its agenda a proposal for a joint meeting of the Transportation and Public Safety commissions to create a pedestrian safety task force. But we learned that that item had never made it to the council agenda. Was it rejected by Mayor Lauren Meister and Councilmember John Heilman, who as mayor pro tem works with Meister to create the agenda? Or did it just get stuck in the city clerk’s office because City Hall staffers opposed it?
I asked Public Safety commissioners whether city staffers keep them from getting things on the city council agenda. They told me that getting city staffers to pass along suggestions from commissions to the city council is a problem. That is unacceptable. There is a problem when City Hall employees put the brakes on the implementation and progress of crosswalk initiatives.
Stunned, I immediately spoke out. ‘This is absolutely unacceptable,” I said to the commission. “This program was designed to be the beginning of the test rollout. Its not the end of crosswalk updates”
I have discussed this with four current and former Public Safety commissioners. I was surprised to learn that the Public Safety and Transportation commissions used to have regular meetings together to discuss items of mutual concern. There used to be a “regular meeting” with representatives of both groups. But the city staffer who was the liaison to the Transportation Commission left and a new staffer took over. The Public Safety Commission was told the joint meetings would be postponed.
The Public Safety commission is now asking for a joint ad hoc committee with Transportation. (A “standing committee” holds official public meetings while “ad hoc” committees hold closed meetings between commission members.) That proposal is on the Transportation Commission agenda Wednesday night (the night of the city council election debate).
I’m not a lawyer, so my opinion is just one of a citizen. But if someone was killed tomorrow on Santa Monica Boulevard at Palm among others, to pick one crosswalk location, and the City of West Hollywood was sued for negligence, it would appear the plaintiffs would have a very good case.
Yes, the city has made improvements. After Clinton Bounds was killed crossing Santa Monica Boulevard, the city rushed to place pedestrian safety zone signs on the street after I screamed to get something done in the interim. That and other short -term measures over 24 months led to zero deaths. But conversations about next steps seem to have stopped after this “test rollout” on Santa Monica Boulevard. In our last meeting on crosswalks, local residents brought up the need for crosswalks on Fountain Avenue. We have not completed the crosswalk updates, we are just getting started.
Turn out at the Transportation commission this Wednesday at City Hall or register your voice via email to ask that the city council establish a standing committee that will meet regularly and let the public engage in discussion of pedestrian safety and crosswalk issues.
Here’s where to email your request: PArevalo@weho.org, Jheilman@weho.org, Jduran@weho.org, firstname.lastname@example.org, Lhorath@weho.org, LMeister@weho.org