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Quarrel Over Silver Lake Meters Leaves Bitter Taste

Times Staff Writer

Parking meters may be installed soon along parts of Hyperion Avenue in Silver Lake--but not without a legacy of bad feeling between some area merchants and Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Woo.

Some Silver Lake business people say they are angry that Woo, in a letter last month, threatened to block installation of the meters unless merchants publicly conceded that he has helped them. Woo, on the other hand, said merchants misrepresented his views and unfairly accused him of not caring about the neighborhood.

Officials on both sides say tempers have cooled and two-hour meters may be posted within 90 days along both sides of Hyperion from Tracy Street to Rowena Avenue and on the east side between Tracy and Fountain Avenue.

“That is ancient history to me now. As far as I’m concerned, everything is fine,” Woo said this week of the dispute. His 13th District includes Silver Lake and Hollywood.

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Larry Lloyd, the restaurateur who is president of the Silver Lake Merchants Assn., said: “This definitely upset people, but I think peace has been made.” His group wants meters along all of Hyperion and on the retail parts of Sunset and Rowena. Woo’s office said it found opposition to that from residents and is, thus, limiting the meter proposal.

However, interviews with merchants show they are still riled on the issue and that Woo may have been hurt politically by it.

“He lost all my respect because of that letter,” Glenn Matsuki, owner of Plaza Floral Group on Sunset and vice president of the merchants association, said of Woo. “I don’t think it is professional to hold the meters as hostage.” Matsuki stressed he was speaking for himself and not for the association. “A lot of people were offended” by Woo’s letter, said Jim Lee, owner of Flamingo Gardens nursery on Rowena. He said the letter seemed to be “paranoid” and other people said they felt it was a sort of “blackmail.”

In the three-page letter, reportedly distributed to those at last month’s merchants association meeting, Woo said there was very strong opposition to putting meters on Sunset and Rowena. So, he wrote, he decided to support the project on just Hyperion as an experiment, with the possibility of expansion.

“However, at this point I am finding it difficult to go out on a limb for this project as the merchants association, particularly by its most recent newsletters, portrayed my office as an enemy, while in reality I have been a continual supporter of the association,” the letter stated.

Woo then listed issues, such as the oil pipeline, on which he said the newsletters misrepresented his views and questioned his commitment to Silver Lake. At the end of the letter, Woo wrote: “Until which time the merchants association chooses to make publicly known that I have, and hope to continue to be, supportive of that association, the installation of meters on Hyperion will be delayed. I cannot see supporting an organization that chooses not to support my office.”

Under a heading about Woo, the association’s June newsletter said: “Has he forgotten Silver Lake? This question is being asked by the community at large.” That was meant, merchants say, to entice people to attend a meeting at which Woo’s representatives would discuss local issues.

In an interview, Woo said he did not regret sending his letter. “I felt the merchants association was asking me to embark on a possibly politically unpopular step, and yet they were bringing up what I regarded as inflammatory statements in their newsletter. It struck me as hypocritical.”

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In a responding letter, Lloyd wrote that the newsletter “may have inaccurately questioned your commitment to work for Silver Lake.” Lloyd went on to say that Woo’s letter might be construed to mean that assistance from the council office would be given only to Woo’s political supporters. “We assume the implication in your letter is not what you intended,” Lloyd wrote.

Lloyd and Woo have since met to discuss the matter. “We decided it was a misunderstanding,” Lloyd said.

Merchants in the area have long complained that the lack of parking hurts their businesses. They say that car-poolers headed downtown and employees of other area businesses often leave autos all day in front of shops, discouraging customers from stopping. Retailers are also angry about the practice of some auto-repair shops of storing cars on the streets instead of at garages or lots. All that is exacerbated because the narrow, hilly side streets of Silver Lake offer limited and difficult parking.

Merchants also want the meters because income generated by street meters would go toward the purchase of property for off-street parking lots.

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However, Woo said some residents are worried that the meters could lead to increased demand for the free parking spaces on residential side streets.

So, Woo’s office has prepared a report for a possible council vote next week that recommends meters just on parts of the retail stretch of Hyperion. But the plan would also create an overall parking district in Silver Lake, with the power to install meters on other main streets if needed, William Chandler, Woo’s press secretary, said.

Jerry Berman, senior administrative assistant in the city’s Office of Parking Management, said his office thinks the Sunset Junction area of Sunset Boulevard needs meters badly, even though Woo opposes them there for now. Berman said that Rowena between Hyperion and Glendale Boulevard is not congested enough to merit meters.

Such an assessment of Rowena is disputed by Ralph Blunt who, with his wife, owns Cafe Norma and the jewelry shop two doors away on Rowena. Blunt said he is considering closing both businesses because of the lack of parking. Parking is especially tight there because of cars owned by teachers at the nearby Ivanhoe Elementary School and employees from the Recycler publication across the street.

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Blunt also said he remains upset about Woo’s letter. “It is blackmail. I feel it is a slap in the face,” Blunt said.

Meanwhile, on another Silver Lake issue, leaders of the merchants association said they were upset that an automobile lubrication shop is set to be built on the now-vacant triangular island at Sunset Junction, where Sunset and Santa Monica boulevards merge. They say the Jiffy Lube shop will hinder efforts to turn the Junction area into a vibrant, pedestrian-oriented retail center.

“We would rather have just about anything than an auto lube shop there,” Lloyd said.

Woo agreed that he, too, would have preferred a retail shop or restaurant on the highly visible island, but he said the lubrication shop does not need a zoning variance and could not be stopped.

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