Today, the L.A. City Council Transportation Committee supported the Mar Vista Venice Boulevard Great Streets project. The committee unanimously denied a legal appeal against the project, affirming that the safety improvements are categorically exempt from full California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review.
The 0.8-mile Mar Vista Great Streets project includes improved pedestrian crossings, parking-protected bike lanes, a short stretch of buffered bike lanes, and a road diet lane reconfiguration from six through-lanes to four. Project construction finished in May, 2017. The road diet was initially temporary, pending an evaluation after one year. In December 2018, when data showed reduced serious injury crashes, the L.A. Department of Transportation (LADOT) made the project permanent.
As part of the decision to make the safety improvements permanent, LADOT determined that the project did not need a full environmental review under CEQA. LADOT posted a notice of exemption. Recently updated state rules outline various types of projects that are exempt from CEQA, including:
- Reduction in number of traffic through-lanes
- Removal or relocation of off-street or on-street parking spaces
- Addition of new or enhanced bike or pedestrian facilities on existing streets/highways or within existing public rights-of-way
The traffic safety denier group Westside L.A. Neighbors Network, which already sued the city to stop alleged road diets that were not actually in Westside streetscape plans, filed a new lawsuit asserting that the city should have undertaken a full CEQA environmental review. The lawsuit recycles numerous discredited allegations, including:
- The project reduces car capacity on a tsunami evacuation route (the project is more than a mile from the nearest such route)
- The project does not conform to federal guidelines for road diets (federal guidelines recommend road diets for improving safety, but they are merely guidelines – not legally binding dictates)
- The project creates noise that impacts butterflies, bird migration, and wetlands located a couple of miles away
- The project promotes increased density, with no guarantee that future density will include residents who won’t drive
At the committee meeting today, public comment included over a dozen speakers, more than half of whom spoke in favor of the improvements. Critics questioned data that shows the street is safer, and asserted that driving that stretch of Venice Boulevard was like being stuck on the 405 Freeway. Project supporters praised improved safety and atmosphere – resulting from slowing down speeding cars.
Councilmembers Mike Bonin, Paul Koretz, and Nury Martinez unanimously voted to deny the CEQA appeal, and affirm that the project is indeed categorically exempt. The project is located in Councilmember Bonin’s district, and he has strongly championed it. The committee’s decision is in the end less of an affirmation of the importance of street safety initiatives, and more in deference to Bonin.
The item (council file 19-0092) will soon go to the full council where it is likely to be approved. After that, the matter could end up in court.