Nearly everyone who came to Santa Monica City Hall on a recent Friday pushed and pulled at the locked door.
"What holiday is it?" demanded one man.
Others muttered obscenities when they read the small blue sign that said City Hall was closed on alternate Fridays as part of the city's "employee commute reduction plan."
The South Coast Air Quality Management District has ordered all public and private employers of more than 100 workers to implement plans that significantly reduce the number of vehicle trips they generate. The response in two Westside cities--Santa Monica and Culver City--has been to implement a nine-hour workday and close city offices every other Friday.
Two months after the new schedule took effect in Santa Monica, city officials say the response from most of the public has been positive. Assistant City Manager Lynne Barrette said that the first Friday City Hall was closed they received 10 to 15 phone complaints. "It's been very minimal," she said.
But the continuous stream of people who still come to the city offices on closed Fridays are not happy. Although some said they forgot to check which Friday it was, most said they had never heard about the new hours.
"This is ridiculous," said John Ridley, who needed to visit several city offices. "I set my calendar for today to take care of these things. Now I have to wait until next week. It throws my whole schedule off."
"Why this Friday? Why when I have to be here?" asked Jacob Shalit, who owns a business in Santa Monica.
As part of the new schedule, city offices are open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on normal work days. City Manager John Jalili said many residents like the extended hours, especially in the morning, but he also acknowledged that those who find the doors locked on alternate Friday "are not exactly delighted."
Dan DeJesus drove to Santa Monica from San Bernardino to get permits. "It's a waste of time, waste of gas, waste of money, everything," he said.
To notify the public of the change in work hours, Santa Monica included notices with 15,000 business license renewals this summer, published an article in the city's newsletter and posted flyers at public facilities.
In Culver City, meanwhile, the alternate Friday closings have been in effect since April. City Personnel Manager Gordon Youngs said a continuing opinion survey by the city has found overwhelming public approval of the new schedule.
Any negative response to the new hours has been from members of the public who "think we should be open every day and from people who happen to come on the Friday we're closed," Youngs said.
Although the program has been in effect for nearly eight months, people still come to the Culver City offices on Fridays when they are closed.
"I'm an electrical contractor and I make 45 bucks an hour. I just charged a guy three hours for coming up here from Fountain Valley to pull an electrical permit," complained Kirby Cook on a recent Friday. "Now that City Hall's closed, he has to pay double for a $40 permit."
"I go to city halls all the time and this is the first city I've come across that's closed on a Friday," he said. After reading the posted signs explaining the alternate hours, Cook said: "It's probably my fault for not calling."
Prior to implementing the new hours, Culver City published advertisements in local newspapers, supplied handouts at all public counters and sent copies to businesses. Youngs said that the hours are also played on the answering machines in each department. "But despite that effort, you can't reach everybody," he said.
This month, because the Friday after Thanksgiving is a city holiday, both Culver City and Santa Monica City Halls will end up being open on only one of the five Fridays.
According to AQMD officials, the alternate Friday schedule has yet to take root in any other cities in the region, although several have switched to four-day weeks. Municipal workers in Carson, Hermosa Beach, Duarte and Vernon now work 10-hour days and have every Friday off, AQMD spokeswoman Claudia Keith said.
"We'll probably see the demise of the 8-to-5 workplace in the next decade," she added.
Emergency services in these cities remain open seven days a week, although staggered work schedules allow Santa Monica and Culver City Police Department employees to work 10-hour days and four-day weeks.