Detour Ahead : Piecemeal Street Widening Forces Drivers to Jog Around Jutouts
It’s hard to miss Roger Curry’s place when you drive along Mason Avenue in Chatsworth. His is the house with the front yard that sticks about 30 feet into the street--the one that some motorists have to swerve to avoid.
Curry’s small dirt parcel is a “jutout,” one of hundreds of pieces of unpaved land on street rights of way scattered along thoroughfares across the San Fernando Valley.
Homeowners find themselves living on a jutout when the street is widened in front of neighboring properties, but not theirs.
Since 1962, such widenings have been required of landowners applying for permission to build on lots facing streets that have not already been paved to their planned ultimate width.
It is up to property owners to donate the land for the widening and pay for asphalt paving and concrete curbs, gutters and sidewalks, which can cost almost $20,000 for a 100-foot-wide lot.
Los Angeles officials say jutouts exist because the city has to wait for landowners’ money because it does not have the funds to widen every street itself.
Property owners who have not built on their land since 1962 are not forced to widen streets or install sidewalks unless their jutout creates a safety hazard. But the accelerating pace of construction, replacing older Valley homes with new houses or condominiums, results in an increasing number of older streets being widened to their intended size on a piecemeal basis. That’s causing the leftover land to jut out at motorists.
Drivers on Louise Avenue in Encino face an obstacle course as they maneuver around 12 jutouts on both sides of the two-lane street along a half-mile section between the Ventura Freeway and Ventura Boulevard. One small jutout exists to preserve a 600-year-old oak tree.
In the East Valley, countless jutouts extend from North Hollywood tract houses built in the 1940s and ‘50s along Tujunga and Vineland avenues and parts of Burbank Boulevard.
In the West Valley, jutouts at 1920s and ‘30s farmhouses cause motorists traveling on such streets as Woodlake Avenue in West Hills to squeeze into single lanes.
The jutout in front of her house sticks out “like a sore thumb,” said Betty Curry, whose jutout was formed about eight years ago when developers on both sides of her Mason Avenue home north of Devonshire Street widened the street as a tract-approval requirement.
Roger and Betty Curry tried to eliminate their jutout by joining with the subdividers in widening the street. But Betty Curry said they were forced to drop that plan when city officials required that the couple also widen a side street next to their property as part of the deal. That would have required them to tear down their guest house.
When their jutout was first formed, unsuspecting motorists traveling southward on Mason Avenue would occasionally drive into it, she said. After several errant drivers damaged their water and sewer lines, the Currys persuaded the city to install a reflectorized barricade at the edge of the jutout. That ended the problem, she said.
City officials say jutouts can be an inconvenience to drivers but are seldom a safety hazard.
The most dangerous jutouts have long ago been paved over, said Jim Glasgow, the city Department of Public Works engineer in charge of street design for the Valley. In some cases, the city spent its own money rather than wait for adjoining property owners to get around to financing the work, he said.
Owners not planning to redevelop their property any time soon can rid themselves of jutouts by petitioning the city to form an assessment district to handle the cost of road widening and sidewalk building. Payments, added to the property tax bills of jutout owners, can be spread out over 10 years, officials say.
The cost of eliminating a typical jutout from a 50-foot-wide lot ranges from $8,000 to $10,000, officials said. That pays for asphalt pavement, concrete curbs, gutters and driveway entrances, a sidewalk and decorative trees.
The typical jutout-removal project takes about two years, counting the time needed to form an assessment district, draw up plans and do the actual construction. Some jutouts are far from typical, however.
City officials have been trying since 1974 to remove a two-block-long jutout on Parthenia Street at the northern edge of Canoga Park. The 43-foot-wide dirt strip extends from Lurline Avenue almost to De Soto Avenue. It pinches Parthenia’s busy four lanes into two, causing jam-ups in the morning and evening when heavy traffic from nearby industrial areas squeezes through.
The city’s proposal to eliminate the bottleneck has been delayed by nearby homeowners’ unhappiness at losing what have become the extended front yards of a row of one-acre mini-estates on the north side of Parthenia. Some residents believe that the strip contributes to what they regard as the rural look of their neighborhood.
When 34 Parthenia Avenue property owners were advised five years ago that they would be assessed an average of $9,000 each to pay for the widening, the resulting outcry forced the City Council to waive requirements that the widening project include street lights, sidewalks and sewer hookups.
The protests have triggered eight redesigns to the Parthenia project over the years. The most recent revision was finished a month ago, clearing the way for city officials to begin discussing sharing the cost of the $1.8-million project with property owners.
“The city will pick up a portion of the costs because Parthenia is a secondary highway,” Glasgow said. “We’re just now beginning negotiations with the owners.”
Officials hope to iron out the details in time for the Parthenia widening project to get under way in March, 1991, he said. Residents say they are equally eager to resolve the long-running dispute.
“I have mixed feelings about the widening,” said Vicki Johnson, whose family has owned one of the Parthenia mini-estates for nearly 20 years.
“The new street will be closer to our house. But there will be fewer accidents. There have been a lot of them--people don’t see the barricades. I’ve taken blankets out to people who have been hurt in accidents out there.”
But a more frequent problem involves motorists in four-wheel-drive vehicles who race over the dirt strip and stir up billowing clouds of dust, she said.
Others who live behind Valley jutouts say traffic problems are few, however.
“There’s never even the screeching of brakes, not even in the morning rush hour,” said Steve Fletcher, who rents a small clapboard one-time farmhouse on a jutout lot next to Wilbur Avenue in Northridge.
Ray Franzalia, whose Studio City front yard forms a jutout on busy Coldwater Canyon Avenue, said only one motorist has driven onto his property. “Ten years ago some woman landed on my front porch. I think she got a little confused trying to make a turn there at the corner,” he said.
Franzalia, who has lived in his home for 30 years, said his jutout was formed when apartment houses were built on either side of him. He said apartment developers, who would have to pave over the jutout, frequently ask him if he is interested in selling his house to them. “I tell them I’m not selling to anybody,” he said.
Down the street, operators of the landmark Little Brown Church--which also sits on a Coldwater Canyon Avenue jutout--say the same thing. They aren’t interested in selling. And they have not been troubled by cars crashing into their jutout.
“God really watches over our chapel,” said Catherine Martin, a church secretary. “Someone hit our picket fence six or eight years ago. But that’s all.”
Martin said the jutout is one of the reasons the tiny 48-year-old chapel, which was the scene of the Feb. 29, 1952, marriage of Ronald Reagan and Nancy Davis, has never been changed.
“The street would be right up to the front door if we got a building permit. That’s one of the reasons we’ve never remodeled,” Martin said. She said the church is approached frequently by developers, “but we have no intention of selling it or tearing it down.”
Glasgow said the cost to property owners of widening streets varies, depending on the size of the jutout. Local residential streets are only 36 to 40 feet wide, while secondary streets are 66 feet wide and “major highways” are designated to be 80 feet in width.
The city shares the cost of paving over large jutouts under the philosophy that people should not be penalized for living on a busy street. “If the widening is more than a local benefit, they shouldn’t have to pay for more than their share,” Glasgow said.
Glasgow said the city is in no rush to force landowners to eliminate jutouts that do not cause traffic problems.
Those jutouts, motorists will have to wait out.