STAP Update: Public Works and Budget and Finance Committees Recommend Approval, Meeting Raises More Questions

In a joint committee meeting of the Los Angeles City Council’s Public Works and Budget and Finance committees Wednesday, August 24, the City’s new proposed street furniture program dubbed “STAP” was the sole item being considered. STAP has been designed to change the City’s approach as to its street furniture program.  Instead of awarding a contract to a vendor who assumes all the expense and responsibility for building/purchasing, installing and maintaining the transit shelters, for the new program, the City proposes to purchase and own the shelters and prepare locations for installation. The vendors will maintain the shelters (remove trash and grafitti, etc.) and will manage the advertising and data collection programs. However, during the meeting where the Board of Public Works recommended contract approval, upon Board Q & A, it was revealed that of the nearly $240 million estimated to be needed to purchase the 3,000 planned shelters, that the City has $1 million allocated accompanied by a pledge (undocumented to date) of $5 million from Metro. The balance of needed funds was not addressed bringing into question whether (and when) the City will be able to meet the program’s goal. 

As adopted and recommended to Council by the Board of Public Works, the STAP program proposes to provide up to 3,000 transit shelters. To pay for the program’s maintenance and upkeep, and to generate revenues for both the vendors and the City, the proposed contract proposes to place over 6,600 advertising panels on our streets. Of the 6,634 ad panels, 1,952 will be digital screens with changing messaging every 10 seconds. 

Although Tranzito’s vision of the STAP program as presented in public demonstrations included such elements as cooling stations, hydration stations, wi-fi, package lockers, scooter docks and shade structures for locations where full shelters cannot be accommodated, the contract presented by StreetsLA/Public Works considers those elements as “optional.”  The originally “required elements,” which include the kiosks, urban panels, and eLockers are now considered to be “secondary” (read optional). Supporters of the program appear unaware of this modification which, in consumer affairs terms, would best be described as “bait and switch.” Funding for secondary and optional elements of the program was not discussed in committee and does not exist, nor was an arrangement to maintain those structures defined should they be installed setting the City up for more expenses and responsibility should they ever come to pass.  

The very important shade structures for locations where ridership or space do not allow a full shelter have not been designed or budgeted for.  Their cost is unknown.

The Board of Public Works approved the STAP contract with Tranzito-Vector prior to the public release of the City’s CAO office report. In the CAO’s report there are many questions raised as to the financial projections made in the contract. Both the Board of Public Works and the Council Committees failed to address or discuss during their deliberations a number of very significant issues that leads Scenic Los Angeles to strongly oppose the STAP contract and its environmental clearance documents:

–The insertion of the adoption of a new LA Municipal Code (LAMC) that will allow and will open up the public right-of-way (ROW) to commercial advertising structures. Currently there is a specific LAMC to allow advertising on transit structures. There is no need for a new LAMC for STAP. The City appears to be using STAP as a way to avoid public scrutiny of other advertising programs in the wings – programs that should be judged individually on their merits in a transparent process.  Instead, by inserting the new LAMCj in the STAP Mitigated Negative Declaration documentation, they seek to hide these programs and in effect attempt to achieve a blanket pre-approval before any analysis or public consideration.  For this reason alone, STAP should be stopped.

–The permitting of digital changing panels on transit structures.  Scenic LA has opposed digital changing messaging because they introduce a new driver distraction that endangers all street users—and especially the most vulnerable users: pedestrian and bicycle riders.  While program proponents say that the digital panels on transit shelters will not be as large as digital billboards, they will appear at driver eye level and introduce a new distraction to our cluttered and congested streets.  With Vision Zero’s goals becoming less and less attainable, the introduction of a new distraction appears to be a poor decision and, at the very least, worthy of study.  Neither the Council’s Transportation Committee or the Dept. of Transportation has been asked to weigh in or to review current literature which documents the dangers of digital changing messaging.  Further, what was the basis used to decide that the refresh rate for the changing messages should be established at 10 seconds and that figure fixed in the contract?

–The attempt to approve a project with significant negative impacts with a Mitigated Negative Declaration document instead of a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR).  The project’s visual and aesthetic impacts have not been adequately addressed nor have the traffic impacts as noted above. 

–Compliance with the City’s Mobility Element and General Plan.  The STAP program does not assure compliance with the adopted plans which protect designated Scenic Roadways.  Scenic Roadways must be protected from any introduction of commercial advertising. 

–The removal of the City Council from participating in any decisions having to do with future advertising programs or structures located on the public right-of-way with decisions granted in full to the Board of Public Works, a politically appointed body.  The public will have no say as to what happens on the PUBLIC right-of-way—our sidewalks, parkways and streets.  Vague reference is made to other advertising programs including those on street light poles.  We know that the City’s Convention and Tourism Bureau is hoping to advance its “IKE” advertising program that seeks to install hundreds of digital ad kiosks on the public right-of-way; STAP appears to be paving the way for that program and others.  Transparency and the opportunity to have input on what happens to our neighborhood streets and commercial corridors is important to communities, to neighborhood councils and to all Angelenos.  Giving the Board of Public Works a blank check to do what they please is not good policymaking.

–Invasion of privacy.  The new digital signs will be capturing data from the cellular devices of all who pass.  Despite requests to incorporate an “opt in” mechanism during StreetsLA public programs promoting STAP, no “opt in” or “opt out” mechanism has been incorporated into the program.  There are significant concerns about privacy, about the use of and security of data collected by the vendors and stored by the City.  

–Equity:  As proposed, Tranzito plans to roll out the new digital shelters in richer communities to generate program revenues. This repeats the strategy employed under the current contract where ad revenues determined shelter placement as opposed to rider needs.

–Should the City adopt STAP with the new proposed LAMC and the new advertising programs move forward, likely including Metro’s planned “Transit Communications Program” which seeks to install full sized digital billboards on shared Metro-LA City public right-of-way across the City, these installations would appear to breach the City’s 2002 Sign Ordinance as well as proposed updates to that measure as approved by the LA City Planning Commission.  The use of the public right-of-way for advertising will invite challenges by outdoor advertisers to the City’s right to enforce its ban on new billboards.  If the City can do it on public property, why can’t commercial outdoor advertisers do so on private property?  Such litigation has been brought before the City in the past and the courts have carved out guidelines for the City ‘s right to enforce.  It is highly possible that the new LAMC and the appearance of new advertising programs operated to benefit the City will undermine the City’s hard-won rights to regulate off-site signage thus risking a new wave of billboards and additional visual blight to our environment accompanied with added strains on our power grid, diminished quality of life, public safety, and property values for those in proximity to new signage.  The Board of Public Works may be charged with making decisions about the management of the public right-of-way.  However, they should not be permitted to adopt policies that conflict with the policies adopted by other departments, such as the Planning Department.  The Planning Dept. has historically had oversight over signage issues and should be involved now.

–The costs of the program are underestimated and unsecured.  Further, in the current program the 14 public automated toilets are provided at vendor cost.  Under the proposed program, the City’s general fund will be responsible for those costs and for oversight and maintenance.  The first year’s estimated cost is $3.5 million of which only $1.5 million has been identified and allocated.  StreetsLA is proposing the hiring of 14 staff to oversee the program at an annual cost of $1 million (which is why the program is being sent to the Council’s Personnel Committee for review).  The CAO’s report recommends against the salary request.  Why does the program require such a formidable new staff contingent?  Are those costs being taken against projected revenues?  Are the toilet costs likewise being taken off of the estimated proceeds?  

Despite numerous requests and pledges from StreetsLA to provide the information, no comparison to show the major differences between the final bidders ’proposals has been released.  Without that information and the scoring used to evaluate the final bidders’ proposals, it is difficult to understand how the contract recommendation was made – particularly when it appears that a competing bid contained less than 1,700 total ad panels which included 810 digital screens.  The manner in which the minimum annual guarantee to the City has been calculated is also in question.  After all expenses are considered, under which proposal will the City receive the highest revenues?  Why hasn’t the City attempted to pursue a strategy to minimize the numbers of ad panels on our streets while maximizing revenues and the numbers of shelters for transit riders? 

–The inadequacy to meet the growing needs of transit riders.  Transit riders appear to be so anxious to receive any new transit shelters that they have failed to stand up for a program that will guarantee what is proposed and that will provide more shade and shelter as our climate warms.  The City currently has nearly 8,000 transit stops yet, after 10 or 20 years, the contract will provide for only 3,000 shelters – reaching less than half the current stops. 

Is the true goal of STAP to provide shade and shelter for transit riders, or is it to generate advertising revenues for the City?  There has been no public discussion as to where the proceeds from the program will go.  Under the current contract the City’s share of revenues is shared 50/50 between the City’s general fund and the Council District offices.  The Council’s 50% share is divided equally and then placed in a discretionary account in each council district office.  IF the City was presenting this program to provide maximum shade and shelter for transit users, it would most certainly commit a specific percentage of revenues to be reinvested into providing more transit shelters!  There has been no public discussion on the topic of revenue allocation.  The rushed review process of STAP now underway diminishes the opportunity for such concerns  to be raised or for negotiations to take place.  And then there are the additional revenues from all the additional advertising programs to take place under the new LAMC!

–Lack of transparency during the program’s development and approval process.  The program’s RFP was written without input from the public, neighborhood councils, transit advocacy groups or transit users.  The RFP was written with information gleaned from focus groups held with outdoor advertising industry representations.

The City Council has two actions to consider:

       1)  They cannot make changes to the STAP program at this point in the process.  They may either approve the recommended program/contract or oppose it.

     2)  The City Council must either approve or reject the proposed environmental clearance document, the Mitigated Negative Declaration.  We would advocate that they reject the MND and request a full EIR to be done.  An EIR would not only evaluate impacts of the proposed program, but it would explore alternative programs as well hopefully resulting in the identification of a program superior to STAP.

It is said that people in City Hall are weary about hearing about STAP and that such weariness works in favor of an approval… to move it on. 

Transit riders deserve better.  The City deserves better.

NEXT STEPS:

The Personnel Committee under Chair Councilmember Paul Koretz declined to have STAP heard in committee and will yield to full Council consideration.  

We will send out an action alert prior to the full Council’s consideration.  We do not expect to be given more than 72 hours’ notice of the Council’s consideration so please watch for email messaging.  Of great concern:  The Council has a history of scheduling issues of interest to communities directly after holiday weekends.  We hope that will not be the case with Labor Day before us… but anything is possible.

It should be edited to say this:

NEXT STEPS:

The staff positions to administer and implement STAP as recommended by the Public Works Dept. and their StreetsLA unit have been removed.  Therefore, the Council’s Personnel Committee is no longer slated to hold a hearing on the program.  It will now go straight to the full Council.  We do not know exactly when, but it will be soon.

The Council File has a “last date to act” of October 14th.   We will likely have only 72 hours notice of the full Council’s consideration of the program.

We are contacting Council President Nury Martinez urging her to hold the program back in order to gather the votes needed to build support to send the contract and program back to Public Works for a major re-work.  You may wish to contact the Council President as well to tell her to oppose the program and send it back to Public Works:  213 473-7006.

TAKE ACTION:  

Now is the time to enter public comments into the two Council Files to oppose STAP and seek a program that will deliver shade and shelter for transit users AND will respect the integrity of our shared PUBLIC right-of-way (ROW) and retain the existing protections against advertising there.  

As the Council cannot amend and/or improve the program or contract and can only vote to approve or oppose, they must oppose it.  They are unable to remove the new LAMC from the program.  They are unable to add back in all the program elements now deemed to be secondary.  

From a political point of view, without strong public support to vote to oppose the project, it will likely pass.  The Councilmembers are in a tough position should they appear to be voting against providing shade and shelter for transit riders.  It is up to all of us to give them the cover and the courage they need to say NO.  Many have said that they don’t like the program.  Some likely don’t know the details.  We have to demand more for transit riders who are relying on an illusion of a program.  They likely haven’t read the fine print of the plan but WE HAVE.  And the plan does not deliver for transit riders while it delivers significant dangerous commercial advertising blight to our urban environment.

CALL YOUR COUNCILMEMBER.  SEND YOUR COUNCILMEMBER EMAIL MESSAGING TO OPPOSE THE PROGRAM.  These emails and call will complement the messages submitted to the Council Files.  

If able, make time to call all the Councilmembers’ offices!  Send this info to others with a link to this website and/or to the CityWatch article recently published:  

https://www.citywatchla.com/index.php/cw/los-angeles/25504-stap-trojan-horse-or-transportation-program

213 473-7001  District 1 – Councilmember Gil Cedillo

213 473-7002  District 2 – Councilmember Pual Krekorian 

213 473-7003  District 3 – Councilmember Bob Blumenfield

213 473-7004  District 4 – Councilmember Nithya Raman

213 473-7005  District 5 – Councilmember Paul Koretz  

213 473-7006  District 6 – Council President Nury Martinez

213 473-7007  District 7 – Councilmember Monica Rodriguez

213 473-7008  District 8 – Councilmember Marqueece Harris-DAwson

213 473-7009  District 9 – Councilmember Current D. Price, Jr. (In Commitee he understood the equity issues and voted no, and can be thanked for doing so.)

213 473-7010  District 10- Acting Councilmember Heather Hutt

213 473-7011  District 11- Councilmember Mike Bonin 

213 473-7012  District 12- Councilmember John Lee 

213 473-7013  District 13- Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell 

213 473-7014  District 14- Councilmember Kevin De Leon

213 473-7015  District 15- Councilmember Joe Buscaino 

Message to copy and paste into Council File comment box for CF 20-1536:

**    I join all my fellow Angelenos who support the provision of shade and shelter for transit riders BUT cannot support and strongly oppose the STAP program as proposed.  I urge the Council to reject the program.  The STAP program is a failed effort that will open up our public right-of-way to advertising structures citywide with its new LA Municipal Code language.  It is a Trojan Horse for advertising programs, not a transportation program.  Transit riders and our city deserve a program that guarantees more shelters, reinvestment of program funds for shelters, and no distracting digital changing messages. 

Send the program back to Public Works/StreetsLA.  It is not ready to be seriously considered.

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Sample message to copy and paste into Council File comment box for CF 20-1536-S2:

**The City’s attempt to adopt a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND)  is an inappropriate attempt to avoid completion of an Environmental Impact Report as required under CEQA.  The City cannot justify approval of the Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration.  The contract proposal based upon that MND, with its inclusion of a new LA Municipal Code to allow all kinds of outdoor advertising structures on our City’s public right-of-way should not be approved. The financial aspects of the program are not sound as noted in the CAO’s report and program elements presented to the public as part of STAP have now been removed from required elements and appear as secondary or options elements – demonstrating that Angelenos and transit riders in particular are victims of a bait and switch scheme that sought to create advertising opportunities instead of real and meaningful protections for transit riders.  Approval of an unfunded program is disingenuous.  The introduction of changing digital messages on our streets where Vision Zero is meant to be reducing needless deaths and injuries on our streets is particularly disturbing.  Send STAP back to Public Works/StreetsLA for true public input and  major reconsideration.