Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Veto power, community groups and environmental protections

In Los Angeles, the Mayor is pressing forward with a plan to convert Pico and Olympic Boulevards into one way streets in order to speed east west traffic between the ocean and downtown. This plan is problematic for many reasons, but the biggest threat to the success of the conversions is that many neighborhoods are opting out of the scheme.

The City of Santa Monica will not have any part of it, and to the east, other council districts have taken a pass, so the new traffic plans end at Fairfax. At that point, drivers will confront a bottleneck and many will have to switch from a Pico to Olympic (or visa versa). Unfortunately, Fairfax is a four lane road-with only two effective lanes due to parking- at this point and is already gridlocked through much of the day. More traffic at this point is going to make a bad situation much worse, and this will likely eliminate all of the travel time savings accrued.

There are also groups on the Westside who don't want the plan to move forward and they are not getting any help from their local elected officials. So they've sued. From the LA Times this morning:

LOS ANGELES
Mayor's traffic plan is delayed

The city has agreed to delay for three weeks a plan to try to speed traffic on Olympic and Pico boulevards on the Westside, according to the office of the city attorney. Implementation of the plan, proposed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, was supposed to begin Saturday.

Two groups filed individual suits last week to stop the plan, which they allege was not properly studied under California environmental law. The groups -- the Westwood South of Santa Monica Boulevard Homeowners Assn. and the Greater West Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce -- fear that the plan will actually put more cars on both streets and affect businesses and residences.

The city's plan is to synchronize traffic signals to give an advantage to westbound traffic on Olympic and eastbound traffic on Pico.

In addition, the city wants to eliminate most street parking on both streets during the morning and afternoon rush hours to give an extra lane to vehicles.


There are two important points to note about the lawsuit. First, the homeowners association is a form of private government and is filling a void. That void is the residents do not feel their elected officials are responsive to their needs. This goes beyond just maintaining landscaping and facades. This action relates to how the neighborhood manages traffic and relates to the greater city. The second issue are the grounds for the law suit. Environmentalism has produced cleaner, more livable cities, but it also gives a powerful veto to small groups. I doubt that these homeowners are that concerned about direct harm to the environment. But suing for environmental reasons is their best option for stopping this traffic plan moving forward. The environmental veto is a common and under appreciated tool that local groups use to shape cities.
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