Community Editorial: Santa Ana’s Kids Plan Their Future Downtown

Santa Ana youth working on complete streets plan

Brenda Miller

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If kids could vote–especially Santa Ana’s kids–the world would be a sweeter place. I’m not talking about soda pop and cotton candy. I’m talking about civil engineering and urban planning. Santa Ana’s young people don’t believe in the four letter word, “can’t.” They do believe in making their world a better place and we’d be wise to listen to them.

The city’s update of its general plan is providing residents with an opportunity to redesign their streets and neighborhoods to be safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, which will also make the transportation network fiscally and environmentally sustainable and more efficient.

According to California’s Complete Streets Act of 2008, 41 percent of trips in urban areas nationwide are two miles or less in length, and 66 percent of urban trips that are one mile or less are made by automobile. Using motor vehicles for walkable, bikable distances is why roads like Santa Ana’s Broadway and Main St are inhospitable, dangerous, and unhealthy for people and the commerce they create. Moreover, improvements to car traffic conditions on those roads are limited because 100 percent of the public right of way, curb-to-curb, is allocated to motor vehicles. That coerces people to use their cars to protect themselves and their families from other people’s cars.

Can we afford projects that efficiently integrate vehicular, transit, pedestrian and bicycle modes? We can’t afford not to. Here’s what OCTA CEO, Darrell Johnson, says in his memo introducing the Long Range Transportation Plan called Outlook 2035, just adopted two weeks ago:

From 2010 to 2035, it is projected that average daily trips in Orange County will increase by nearly 1.2 million (14 percent), roughly going from 8.3 million to 9.5 million. This increase in travel demand is due to anticipated socioeconomic growth that is outside the control of OCTA. Socioeconomic forecasts estimate an additional 400,000 residents and 300,000 jobs within Orange County by 2035 . . . One challenge of note is the projected 167 percent increase in vehicle hours of delay due to congestion.

The solution to the problem is not necessarily more money from taxpayers. Indeed, Outlook 2035 declares, “[w]hile Measure M2 funding will go far toward improving mobility in Orange County, Measure M2 alone can not solve all of the County’s transportation problems.” Rather, it’s re-allocating existing funds to improve safety and efficiency of infrastructure in Orange County (& frankly, elsewhere in SoCal).

Since 43 percent of Measure M2 funds go to freeways, does it make sense to continue that allocation ratio given the predicted increase in population, jobs, and resulting average daily trips? Are Measure M2’s prescribed–but not unchangeable–allocations still consistent with its mission to solve traffic congestion problems? Is it reasonable to continue resource allocation in the new millennium the way we did in 1950, and to what end? Is freeway travel the most efficient method of moving people longer distances when transportation philosophy has changed significantly in the last 8 years? How about air quality?

Keep in mind the voters passed M2 in 2006, two years before California’s Complete Streets Act was passed and five years before it took effect January 1, 2011. Clearly, the Complete Streets approach to transportation was not in the public consciousness in 2006. That raises the question: should the voters get the opportunity to change M2 or are we stuck forever in the last millennium’s funding scheme?

As it turns out, M2 anticipated that question, requiring the following:

At least every ten years, the Authority [OCTA] shall conduct a comprehensive review of all projects and programs implemented under the Plan to evaluate performance of the overall program and may revise the Plan to improve its performance. The review shall include consideration of changes to local, state, and federal transportation plans and policies; changes in land use, travel and growth projections; changes in project cost estimates and revenue projections; right-of-way constraints and other project constraints; level of public support for the Plan; and the progress of the Authority and jurisdictions in implementing the Plan. The Authority may amend the Plan based on its comprehensive review, subject to requirements of Section 12.

Section 12 states, “The Authority may amend the Ordinance, including the Plan, to provide for the use of additional federal, state, and local funds, to account for unexpected revenues, or to take into consideration unforeseen circumstances . . . ” Was a Complete Streets approach “unforeseen?” Section 12 continues:

[a]ny proposed change in allocations among the four major funding categories of freeway projects, street and road projects, transit projects and Environmental Cleanup projects identified on page 31 of the Plan, or any proposed change of the Net Revenues allocated . . . for the Local Fair Share Program portion of the Streets and Roads Projects funding category, shall be approved by a simple majority vote of the electors before going into effect.

The voters own and control M2. Clearly, there are political and procedural hurdles that must be navigated for the voters to have a shot at a revision. M2 specifies amendment procedures, which involve engagement of the County Board of Supervisors and elected officials of each city, plus public hearings. An amendment must also wind its way through the M2 Taxpayer Oversight Committee’s 2/3 vote of approval. The OCTA Board of Directors then gets its shot, again by a minimum two-thirds vote on the proposed amendment. Finally, the voters get the final say by a simple majority.

Daunting, most would agree. But not impossible. Certainly, the law is not as inflexible as is generally thought. Public sentiment is changing as post babyboomers vote and assume leadership roles. With support for proposed freeway widening & HOV projects being far from universal across the OC, is anyone out there thinking outside the internal combustion box?

Santa Ana’s kids and their New Millennium sisters and brothers certainly are. Rather than asking sophisticated transportation consultants and engineers what’s possible, the kids at the Garfield Community Center complete streets workshops last week told the consultants and engineers they wanted safer streets for everyone, including cycle tracks, sharrows, roundabouts, wide sidewalks, bold crosswalks, and more public green space downtown.

Are there any grownups besides us transportation geeks who know what they’re talking about? If not, we should go back to school and let the next generations teach US a thing or two, or…

We can get a sweet taste of what their world might look like by coming to the SOMOS open streets event Sunday, Oct. 5.

And for the sake of SOMOS, don’t drive: walk, bike, and/or Metrolink it!

On Monday, October 6, at the Santa Ana Regional Transportation Center, 6 pm, the consultants will present their Complete Streets recommendations. Be there!

Brenda Miller┬áis one of Orange County’s eminent bike activists and serves on the Voice of OC Community Editorial Board.

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