Crosswalk Coming to the Mid-Block on Santa Monica Avenue – Eventually
By Matthew Wood
The city is putting in a much-needed crosswalk on Santa Monica Avenue outside Ocean Beach Elementary School, just not as soon as teachers and parents were hoping. In the meantime, a group of concerned fathers have taken up the cause to ensure safety for kids going to and from school.
According to John Ly, a council representative and policy advisor for Councilmember Kevin Faulconer’s office, funding has been secured and the project is set to be completed by the end of the fiscal year, which is June 2014. He said part of the holdup comes from a city ordinance that states a crosswalk cannot be put in unless there is a street light nearby. Santa Monica doesn’t have any street lamps on that block, which is just east of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard.
“Funding for the light has been secured,” Ly said. “Through this process we learned that funding was not for a raised crosswalk. Our office is going to pay for the curb cuts.”
He said the entire project will cost around $30,000 – about $15,000 for the new street light, $5,000 for each curb cut and another $5,000 for the crosswalk itself, which will be a ramp-like structure that will also serve as a speed bump.
Parents have been clamoring for the crosswalk, which would connect the main OB Elementary building – known as the Big School – with a smaller building across the street that houses Kindergarten classes. They’ve been waiting for years to get some sort of safety measures in, according to Suzy Reid, a parent of two kids at OB Elementary.
“We’ve been asking the city and begging Kevin Faulconer’s office for the last four years,” Reid said.
Anyone who has driven down that stretch of Santa Monica can see how it would be a safety hazard. Cars go way too fast, especially heading west down the hill, and many show little regard for their surroundings.
Fed up with seeing the kids’ safety at stake, a couple of parents took up the cause and became volunteer crossing guards.
“At first I got yelled at a lot, but now it’s more ingrained with drivers” said Joseph Pina, whose daughter, Emma, is in third grade at the school. Pina, known as Moondoggie, and fellow parent Wayne Simard started coming before and after school about three years ago to help the kids safely cross the street and have now built a group of five volunteer parents. Their goal is to have all four corners around the school covered every morning and afternoon.
A fellow parent secured a grant for them to get vests, signs and traffic cones to make people aware of the situation. “It’s the power of the vest,” Pina said of his ability to control traffic.
That’s a temporary fix that has grown into a more permanent solution, but the ultimate goal is still to have a crosswalk to help the kids.
“If they’re not there, nothing is there,” school principal Marco Dreapeau said of the volunteers. He said for now he can live with the fiscal-year timeline. “I can swallow that, as long as it happens.”
To add to the frustration, the city came out a year ago and painted lines for a crosswalk. A day later, realizing the ordinance about a street light made the crosswalk against code, they came and painted over it. You can still see the remnants of the yellow line with the black paint, fading from weather. Pina and Simard joke that another couple of rainstorms will wear away the black paint and make the crosswalk visible again.
Kindergarten teacher Molly Stewart is one of the teachers with a classroom across the street from the Big School. She said she fears for the kids’ safety every day.
“It’s going to be incredible,” she said of the crosswalk. “We cross 25 students at a time. People drive too fast and get annoyed that we’re crossing.”
The classes include a student with muscular dystrophy who is confined to a wheelchair. Stewart said there are parents and grandparents in wheelchairs who have had to miss school functions because they couldn’t get across the street.
“It’s going to be life-saving,” Stewart said.
It’s clear that everyone wants the crosswalk as soon as possible, but Ly admits bureaucratic issues have tied up the project way too long. He said if ground is not broken by June, he would be out there himself with a shovel.
He’s not alone. Another father, Caleb Webb, said he offered to do the curb cuts for free, but so far the city has not taken him up on that. James Leiner, executive director of Pioneer Day School next door, offered to pay for the curb cuts out of his pocket. Ly said his office would be open to donations.
Until work begins on the project, Reid and other parents will continue to pester Faulconer’s office until they get what they think is a necessary addition. They sent a letter to the OB Town Council and have the support of president Gretchen Kinney Newsom.
“I honestly do believe it’s going to happen, mostly in part due to the fact that I’m very persistent,” Reid said. “It’s been such a collaborative effort. It’s going to be a big sigh of relief when people see those crosswalks going in.”