At the State of the City Thursday that spotlighted the Expo Light Rail's arrival into Santa Monica—and the development it will continue to spur—transit officials called this city a model for all of Los Angeles.
"You are a model for the county," said Martha Welborne, a head planner at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority.
Santa Monica is "livable," "vibrant," and "sustainable," she said to an audience of city and business and community leaders.
Speaking to this year's theme of "Santa Monica On the Move," Welborne gave an update on the 119 miles of rail lines added countywide in the past two decades and the $40 billion in improvements to come. The planner was followed by Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority CEO Rick Thorpe, who spoke more specifically about the Expo light rail, which "is really going to happen... it's on its way."
When Thorpe said the rail would be competition for the notriously congested 10 Freeway by taking riders from downtown Santa Monica to downtown Los Angeles in 46 minutes, he drew chuckles.
"This year is going to be a big year for the project," Thorpe said. "A vast majority of the construction will occur this year." That includes building sound walls, installing tracks and continuing to construct bridges and stations, he said.
But "you can't build an infrastructure project of this magnitude without having construction impacts," he warned.
While Thorpe addresses some imminent road closures, City Manager Rod Gould confronted the bigger impacts that "are of great concern" to residents—traffic and development.
The city will continue its efforts to reduce residents' and workers' reliance on cars, he said, noting a 30 percent increase in bicycle ridership in Santa Monica last year. Big Blue Bus ridership also spiked to 19 million, according to Gould.
The traffic problem, he said, "is so pervasive and regional it defies a simple solution."
In the coming years, city leaders will will have the "opportunity to think about what we want developed" and "how that new development will occur."
There are more than 30 development agreement applications pending in City Hall (that's an all-time record for Santa Monica), primarily in downtown, on Lincoln Boulevard and near the bus and train lines.
The city manager promised to listen to residents' concerns and to consider all of their ideas and opinions.
"We are not going to rest until we have that ticket to ride the Expo line in our hands," Mayor Pam O'Connor said as she accepted a "special recognition" award from the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce.