The city of Santa Monica has a strong commitment to being green. The Sustainable City Plan was initially adopted in 1994. It was founded on eight guiding principles and has been revised and updated to continually advance the sustainability of the city. Of the eight goal areas, one, of course, is focused on transportation. Helping to meet that objective is Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus.
“I think the most important thing is that there is a very strong local commitment to sustainability in the city of Santa Monica,” says Stephanie Negriff, director of the Big Blue Bus. “That policy direction, it really has guided everything that we’ve done.”
During our interview, sitting on her desk were some notes for a speaking engagement she was prepping for, for a sustainability summit. She states, “To me the main thing is, people understand the environment, but I don’t think that the message on sustainability has really permeated our industry.
“I also think that sometimes it’s just not something that’s front and center in everybody’s daily activities.” She says, “That’s the difference in our city, that there’s this policy commitment from the top.
“If your boss is saying your first commitment is to save money, then you’re going to save money. If it’s to expand, then you’re going to expand. And if it’s that you are going to be sustainable, you are going to be sustainable.”
Negriff stresses, “I don’t think people really kind of connect all of the dots as to what sustainability is, which in my view is just protecting your natural environment so that in future years you’ll be able to continue to enjoy the quality of life that you have today.”
Start in Transit
Having interviewed many transit directors, I’m used to hearing the customary reasons of how people get into transit: always loved trains or buses, a parent was an operator, started as an operator, and fell into it during school are the usual ones. Negriff had her own, unique reason — deciphering regulations.
“I’m kind of a details person,” she explains. “So I started reading regulations … and realized that even though that type was really small, there was a lot to it. There was a method to it and you could figure it out.”
This interest led Negriff into the planning side of transit. She’s been in transit a little more than 30 years and it started with a college internship in Austin. After working at the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority’s transit division as an associate planner, she had the opportunity to move into operations.
From there she moved to the MPO of St. Louis and was doing some systems planning. Being born in LA and growing up in Texas, the Midwest wasn’t a place she would stay too long. “It was the worst winter they had had in St. Louis in about 40 years,” she says of the first year she was there. “I had never lived in a place where you actually wore out a coat.” She adds while laughing, “You might outgrow a coat; it might become no longer fashionable because you had it so long, but I wore it out, so, had to go!”
Fortunately she had the opportunity to go back to Austin. Some people that she had worked with as an intern were beginning to do the community outreach, exploring the idea of creating a separate transit district. “I went back and I helped to develop in Austin the first service plan that was prepared for the creation for what is now Capital Metro,” she says.
“I’ve been in Santa Monica since 1986, so this will be my 23rd year,” she says. She started as the senior administrative analyst under the director at the time, Jack Hutchinson and then John Catoe. Under reorganization by Catoe, Negriff became a manager over the planning and inter-governmental relations functions.
With 16 municipal transit systems sharing in federal, state and countywide funding, she worked to ensure that Santa Monica got its fair share for funding for operations.