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Lawndale Plans to Rid Hawthorne Blvd. of Astroturf as Part of Major Face-Lifting Job

Times Staff Writer

Acknowledging that Hawthorne Boulevard in Lawndale is an “asphalt desert” that desperately needs new landscaping, city officials have decided to give the street a face lift and to develop a long-range plan to attract quality commercial development.

As a first step toward increasing the city’s sales tax base--a major source of Lawndale’s income--the City Council and Planning Commission agreed Tuesday to install new landscaping, presumably of the live variety, in place of the aging Astroturf in the thoroughfare’s median. City maintenance workers in recent months have started removing the green polyethylene ground cover, manufactured by Monsanto Co., which was installed by the city in 1970.

Lawndale won a Monsanto plaque for the “World’s First Astro Grass Traffic Median Installation,” but the fake grass has proven to be more of a blight than a blessing.

To the chagrin of city planners, who expected the Astroturf to give Lawndale an evergreen look with little maintenance, the plastic blades of grass trapped cigarette butts, bits of paper and assorted debris. The median became a litter magnet.

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“We had to invest in vacuum cleaners instead of lawn mowers,” said Gary McDonald, chairman of the Planning Commission, after Tuesday’s brainstorming session.

The meeting, attended by only a handful of residents, was billed as a discussion on how Lawndale can accomplish a revitalization of Hawthorne Boulevard. A primary goal is to upscale the commercial strip and increase sales tax revenues generated there. However, officials agreed that the face lift will not include removing the 66-foot-wide median strip--with its parking areas--because the street’s drainage system is underneath it.

In its 18-year history, Lawndale’s Astroturf median has gone through at least one attempted reincarnation: In 1984, when the Olympic torch was to be carried through Lawndale, the city decided to revive the sun-bleached plastic grass by painting it green. That backfired, officials said, when the painted grass took on a bilious blue cast.

Monsanto officials said the material is only expected to last 5 years; they are amazed it has lasted so long in Lawndale.

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Because the Astroturf has curled up at the edges after repeated vacuuming, the city Maintenance Department has begun tearing out the turf. Removal has been completed at the northern end of the boulevard, while some vintage Astroturf remains to the south.

Meanwhile, Lawndale has become the butt of jokes and slogans--about living in “Astrodale” and “keeping the lawn in Lawndale.”

City officials are not amused.

The fate of Hawthorne Boulevard has significance for the entire city, planners said Tuesday.

“Hawthorne Boulevard is Lawndale to many people, and it probably doesn’t project the best image the city would want,” said Paula Burrier, the city’s community development director.

Lined with a hodgepodge of businesses, the boulevard has high public visibility because it is a major South Bay commuter route and a thoroughfare for local traffic, officials said. It is traveled by some 50,000 cars a day, according to the state Department of Transportation.

Hawthorne Boulevard properties represent more than half of the commercial acreage in Lawndale, and thus are a major source of sales tax revenues, Burrier said Tuesday. Sales tax revenues represent 43% of the city’s General Fund income, she said.

Officials agreed Tuesday that Lawndale needs to beef up its sales tax revenues, which on a per capita basis lag behind all other South Bay Cities, Burrier said.

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Hawthorne Boulevard offers “tremendous potential for increasing the city’s sales tax base,” she said.

The three council members and four commissioners who participated in Tuesday’s workshop agreed that the first step the city can take is to spruce up the street. “We can’t expect first-class businesses to move onto this boulevard the way it looks,” said Councilman Harold E. Hofmann.

Planning Director Jim Arnold deplored the median and the cost of removing it, saying the concrete is “structurally great,” but “it looks terribly awful.”

Some people have suggested that the city could tear out the median, but the council and commission rejected that idea because a storm drain system lies underneath. To relocate the drains would be prohibitively expensive, they said.

City officials said that to keep costs down, they would favor easy-to-maintain greenery and landscaping that could be placed on top of what is there rather than a plan that calls for removing the concrete and restructuring the entire median.

They acknowledged that the parking lots within the median are under-used because it can be dangerous to cross the busy boulevard to get to businesses and shops. “You take your life in your hands when you try to get across through traffic,” one person said at the meeting.

The spaces are generally used by workers whose employers require parking in the median to leave street parking open for customers.

The city will seek landscape design proposals not only from professional consultants, but also from college landscape design students who might examine the boulevard as a class project and competition.

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The council and commission agreed Tuesday that the city should tackle long-range issues in a Specific Plan for the boulevard. The Specific Plan would become part the city’s General Plan, which was adopted in 1976 and is to be updated in a series of hearings in coming months. Residents and members of the business community will be invited to comment on both.

The Specific Plan would deal with traffic management, parking and zoning and it could exclude uses planners deem inappropriate for a retail shopping street. Burrier said examples might include businesses that do not generate sales tax revenues and businesses, such as a crematory, that may be undesirable for Lawndale’s main street.

While long-term planning is necessary, she added, installing new landscaping “would have the most immediate, most visual impact on the image of Lawndale. The ‘asphalt desert’ would be interrupted by a continuous greenbelt.”


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