Some Businesses Face Problems as Nordhoff St. Straightens Out

Times Staff Writer

Now that construction has started on a long-awaited $4-million project eliminating a jog in Nordhoff Street near Northridge Fashion Center, Tony Roma’s restaurant and other small businesses nearby are having problems.

Customers are complaining about a shortage of parking spaces in an area that has been fenced off for construction work. At Tony Roma’s, managers Jeff Compton and Lisa Weiss ended up posting two diagrams of the Nordhoff Street expansion to answer customers’ questions.

“A couple of weeks ago somebody drove into the fence in frustration,” Weiss said.

Despite the travails of the small businesses adjacent to the project, city officials say the frustration of many motorists will be lessened by the Nordhoff Street connection. It is expected to carry 35,000 car-trips a day when it is completed in the middle of next year.

Nordhoff Street now is fractured at Corbin Avenue, so motorists driving along Nordhoff must pass through two intersections instead of one.


Longstanding Plans

Since 1972, the city has wanted to convert Nordhoff Street into one thoroughfare by building a bridge over the Southern Pacific railroad line and Limekiln Creek. The plan languished because of lack of funds until 1986, when the owners of Northridge Fashion Center agreed to pay $1.5 million of the cost in exchange for the approval of an expansion of the mall.

The project “will be an important contribution to relieving east-west traffic,” said Ralph Crouch, an aide to City Councilman Hal Bernson, who engineered the agreement with U.K. Northridge, the company that owns the mall.

The mall’s expansion from 1.2 million square feet to 1.5 million square feet includes the addition of a Robinson’s department store, which opened last September, and a May Co. store, which is to open in August. Mall operators have scheduled a grand opening Wednesday for about 40 new specialty stores.

The connection of Nordhoff Street also should relieve traffic on Plummer Street north of the mall and Parthenia Street to the south, said Ralph Valenzuela, a deputy city engineer. Some drivers use those streets now to avoid congestion on Nordhoff Street, he said.

U.K. Northridge thinks the road connector will compensate for the added traffic attributable to the mall expansion, said Paul Wilson, a vice president of Richard Ellis Inc., which manages the mall.

The city’s original estimate for the cost of the project was $6.2 million. But bids came in lower than expected, and Security Paving Co. of Sun Valley was hired for the job at $4 million. The city’s share of the cost is being paid with funds from the federal gas tax. Construction started last November.

When the Los Angeles City Council approved funding the project with the mall’s contribution in 1986, City Councilwoman Joy Picus criticized it as a “big favor” for the mall. She said it was too small and would siphon funds from other projects. Crouch, the aide to Bernson, who represents the area, attributed the criticism to “sour grapes” in that the Nordhoff Street project took priority over other council members’ pet projects.

Traffic Lights

In addition to the bridge over the creek and railroad tracks, the project includes traffic lights for the intersection of the new portion of Nordhoff Street and the old, at a point just south of the Northridge mall. Eastbound traffic on the new part of Nordhoff Street will be able to turn west onto the old part, which is expected to be renamed Nordhoff Place, said Jim Glasgow, a city civil engineer.

The new intersection also will include a driveway providing access for eastbound cars to businesses east of the bridge, such as Levitz Furniture Corp. and Best Products Co. But to get to businesses west of the project, like Tony Roma’s and Breuner’s Furniture Rental, eastbound cars will have to turn left onto Nordhoff Place and then left again into the commercial area.

For Tony Roma’s, that means a more circuitous route for customers and a lessened likelihood of people seeing the restaurant and stopping, Compton said. Nonetheless, the restaurant hopes to stay open and plans to increase its delivery business, he said.

“You can’t fight City Hall,” said Cindi Thompson, manager of Breuner’s.

Especially not in this case, noted Valenzuela, the deputy city engineer. The city has held the rights to build the road connection through the commercial area for about 20 years, he said.