Officials express concern over vehicle growth

Golf carts are common sights on the streets of Avalon. Photo by Rosa Quiroz

It’s probably a bit far-fetched to say Catalina Island is experiencing traffic jams, but city officials on Tuesday did express a growing frustration over the expanding number of bicycles, smart cars and fast golf carts on the island.

City Council Member Joe Sampson had requested a change to city transportation ordinances approximately six months ago to allow for small cars (Toyota Cion IQ) and larger golf carts so that residents could go places In the island’s interior where existing golf carts could not take them.

“I’m beginning to question my own reason for doing that,” Sampson said Tuesday, asking his fellow members to take another look at the use of smart cars and super-fast golf carts on the island.

Sampson said his reasoning was valid when he proposed changing the rules to allow larger “autoettes,” which included faster golf carts and certain brands of so-called smart cars, but the “outcome of the changes” was beginning to concern him.

“Our streets are not wide enough,” he said, and traffic laws are not sufficient to control golf carts that “go over 50 mph.” Sampson said he “doesn’t think it’s safe for the community.”

Golf carts themselves are good for the community and Sampson said he thought then that the more powerful carts would allow more people to explore the interior beauty of the island. “That was my intention,” he said.

What’s happened since, he said, is that small smart cars that are the same size as some golf carts are beginning the populate the island which, he said, is not prepared for a glut of new vehicles.

Moreover, the council learned that owners were not shipping older carts off the island after they are supposedly being replaced by the new, larger ones.

“Maybe we need a time out for smart cars,” he pleaded, as officials can study how best to control the growth of vehicles on city streets, which they heard were also causing parking headaches.

Sampson said there are now approximately 1,700 golf carts on the island. If many of them were to trade up to vehicles allowed under the modified ordinance, the “quality of life” on Catalina may suffer. “It’s time to take a second look,” he said.

If any changes are made, said Sampson, residents who acquired vehicles approved by the existing ordinance would be grandfathered in and would be able to keep them.

The Council took no action but agreed to study the matter and place the item on a future agenda.

In a related, yet completely separate item, the Council also held a long discussion about the limitation of bicycles in Catalina. Some hotels are asking for the right to have bikes for their customers and a staff report indicated that this is a growing trend in the industry.

On Catalina, however, where bicycles play such a huge role in the overall transportation infrastructure, the Council seemed ready to put the brakes on any bike expansion, at least for now.

Mayor Anni Marshall has previously made requests for policy ideas to better register and regulate bikes on the island. Council members heard that there is “already a good assortment” of bikes in the city and other members said there is already “too much traffic” on the streets.

City Attorney Scott Campbell said the city had two potential options, either permit non-motorized bikes or ban bicycles from non-bike shops, “although I would have to see whether that would be legal.”

Member Cinde MacGugen-Cassidy said the one and a quarter page staff report provided insufficient information on which to make any realistic determination of the bicycle’s future on Catalina. Bikes could add value to some businesses, she thought, but said she needed more facts. MacGugen-Cassidy said she would be inclined to support a policy of no more motorized (electric) bikes on the island.

According to the discussion, Portofino Hotel has 10 bicycles.

Sampson said he wanted to hear from hoteliers and from legal advisor Scott Campbell before discussing any policy changes.

While officials said they, of course, understand the overall value of bikes on the island, the agenda item was marked for discussion only and no action was taken. Staff will further study the issue.


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