Councilman Carroll Seeks Traffic Safety Report Re Outer Traffic Circle at Lakewood & Los Coyotes
(July 29, 2002) -- At the July 30 City Council meeting, 4th district Councilman Dennis Carroll has scheduled a request for a traffic safety report from City Hall's Dept. of Public Works within 30-45 days for the intersections of "Outer Traffic Circle" as it intersects Lakewood Blvd. and Los Coyotes Diagonal.
"Please include traffic history and any recommendations to enhance motorist and pedestrian safety," Councilman Carroll's accompanying memorandum says.
According to the City Hall's Transportation Element to its General Plan, City Hall planned to provide a major infrastructure improvement at the Traffic Circle two years ago. It was never delivered. It would have made the circuitous confluence of PCH, Lakewood Blvd. and Los Coyotes Diagonal considerably safer by running one street under another.
In September, 2000, LBReport.com posted an in depth report [which we have maintained on our front page where it continues to receive visitor hits] showing City Hall had failed to deliver the Traffic Circle project and other high visibility traffic improvements as pledged to the public over a decade ago despite a process that involved numerous public meetings, "blue ribbon committees," reports and public input.
Meanwhile, the City Council has continued to impose a 16% business license surcharge which it first imposed in 1991, claiming would pay for the Traffic Circle project and others.
Grade separations were also supposedly forthcoming at ELB's "Iron Triangle" (PCH/7th/Bellflower) and downtown at Ocean Blvd. and Alamitos Ave. A grade separation at Lakewood Blvd. and Spring St. in the 5th Council district was erased by the Council (with Councilwoman Jackie Kell voting "yes") after City Hall's record in failing to deliver it received public attention; its funding was then diverted downtown for a pedestrian walkway adjacent to a proposed upscale hotel.
City Hall's Transportation Element to LB's General Plan, adopted after community meetings, "blue ribbon task forces" and public input in 1992, lists the timing and priorities for these projects. In a table, columns indicate periods for ongoing work:
Traffic Circle Grade Separation: 1991-1996, 1996-2000 [i.e. it should be done now]. The project also notes: "Early start on design: Yes."
Iron Triangle Grade Separation, 1996-2000, 2001-2005. "Early start on design: Yes."
City Hall began collecting a 16% business license surcharge with pledges of these major traffic improvements and is still collecting it. City Hall is spending it, with Council approval, on other things including smaller street infrastructure and traffic projects.
What happened to the Traffic Circle project -- and the others -- is a case study in how LB City Hall treats even high visibility "plans" that lack legally enforceable remedies for taxpayers and de facto pledges to neighborhoods.
In 1991, the City Council approved a 16% increase in business licenses and new fees on new development to pay for traffic improvements, part of a highly touted "Traffic Mitigation Program."
The "Traffic Mitigation Program" capped a lengthy, largely City Hall driven process, including appointed "blue ribbon" style committees, followed by community meetings and news articles claiming future traffic needs justified the tax to provide improvements for the public. The Council even incorporated many of the "Traffic Mitigation" projects into the City's General Plan Transportation Element, a legal document, in 1992.
Those projects included running one street under another (called "grade separation") at the Traffic Circle, the "Iron Triangle" (Bellflower/7th/PCH) and Lakewood and Spring, measures that would reduce congestion and lessen the risk of intersection traffic accidents.
The Transportation Element's project schedules listed above include the usual government hedges (as funding permits and the like), but the bottom line remains: more than ten years after City Hall began imposing its 16% business license surcharge, and two years after the Traffic Circle Project should have been done, it hasn't been.
(And the grade separation at Lakewood and Spring will never be done because the Council has explicitly diverted the money to a downtown walkway; details also below).
A Tax Amid Promises But Without Guarantees
A so-called "Traffic Mitigation Program" was devised (in the words of a 1990 city staff memo) by "a committee of development and business interests which was convened by the City Manager [i.e. former Manager James Hankla]...The Committee released its recommendations on July 10, 1990 at a community forum sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce." The 12-member "Advisory Committee on Funding Transportation Improvements" included Mike Choppin ("IDM Corporation"), Doug Otto ("Liaison to Citizens Transportation Task Force") and individuals listed as then-connected with the "Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce," "Downtown Long Beach Associates," among others.
Amid much establishment cheerleading, the City Council approved the business license tax increase and money soon began flowing into City Hall.
Few noticed that despite all the tasks forces, public meetings and talk about traffic projects, nothing in the tax ordinance actually required City Hall to provide any traffic projects. From City Hall's perspective, the money was simply general fund revenue that could be spent as the City Council desired.
The result was predictable.
Within a few years, the Council twice voted to approve new developments at Lakewood/Spring likely to increase traffic, despite the supposedly pending traffic project to reduce it. The Council voted to allow a new UPS facility at the southwest corner in December, 1996 and a Marriott Hotel expansion on the southeast corner on April 27, 1999.
At a hearing on the UPS project, then-Councilman Del Roosevelt dismissed public concern that the Lakewood/Spring grade separation would never be done. Nonsense, he called public skepticism at the time. Three years later, he voted with the City Council to kill the Lakewood/Spring traffic project.
In early 1999, ELB resident (now LBReport.com publisher) Bill Pearl appealed approval of a Marriott Hotel expansion to the City Council. During the appeal, Pearl brought up the 16% business license tax increase and traffic projects City Hall promised but never delivered. He said that if a LB business took money for products and didn't deliver them, it would be out of business.
Pearl urged that the Council refund money collected for projects never delivered and rescind the tax. Councilmembers approved the hotel expansion but also directed City staff to deliver a written report on the business license tax and the money.
On July 13, 1999, staff sent Councilmembers a detailed, comprehensive and very complete report accurately stating that none of the 16% business license tax collected in FY 97-98 had been transferred to the Traffic Mitigation Program. Instead, the money was spent on other capital projects.
Before the report could be publicly discussed by the Council, Mayor Beverly O'Neill shuffled it into a Council committee (i.e. outside of most public attention.)
Meanwhile, city staff asked the Council to delete the Lakewood/Spring project entirely, claiming traffic hadn't grown as much "as planned." (This didn't stop City Hall from collecting the tax.) The City Manager told the Council the Lakewood/Spring project never reached its "second phase" and was not a stand-alone project separate from airport area projects. And staff noted, a project was in the works to widen Lakewood Blvd. from the 405 freeway north to the Airport...a de facto Airport gateway...and that one was moving forward.
On this record, the Council voted to remove the Lakewood/Spring grade separation from the City's Capital Improvement Project plans and diverted its funding to a downtown pedestrian walkway (and two other projects: 710 freeway signage and a longer 605 freeway offramp emptying traffic onto Spring Street).
The downtown walkway between Ocean Blvd. and 3rd street, part of the Promenade, will be near a planned "D'Orsay" luxury hotel in City Hall's downtown redevelopment area. To justify shifting the traffic money to the walkway, city staff said it would "support transit use through linkages to the Transit Mall" and encourage development and business location "within walking distance of the most heavily served by transit [sic] area of the City."
[Query: We wonder how many luxury hotel patrons will arrive by bicycle, buses or the Blue Line.]
The Council and Planning Commission both voted to approve this and also called the downtown walkway consistent with the Transportation Element...despite the fact the walkway will be funded by not doing the Lakewood/Spring traffic project that is part of the General Plan Transportation Element.
The Traffic Mitigation Program report was then brought out of Council committee and the Council moved to avoid future embarrassments over the 16% business license revenue. However, instead of repealing the tax or refunding proceeds not spent, the Council kept the money and told staff it wanted greater "flexibility" in using the funds for "other" capital projects (i.e. not necessarily the Traffic Mitigation projects sold to the public when the Council imposed the tax.) The Council also specified that the 16% amount be listed as a line-item on business license bills.
A postscript: Roughly four years ago, city staff indicated its (then) completion schedule for the Traffic Circle was "5-10" years with Iron Triangle "near-term operational improvements" (not a grade separation) in 10+ years.
City Hall did complete widening Lakewood Blvd. from the 405 freeway to the Airport as well as other infrastructure improvements boosting capacity in the Airport area.