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Sweeper Gets the Brushoff : San Pedro Residents Say a Clean Street Is Not Worth the Parking Tickets

Times Staff Writer

Betty Kraker has been getting her San Pedro neighbors worked up these days about street sweeping.

In doing so, the self-described “busy landlady” has unwittingly earned her neighborhood a peculiar place in Los Angeles history. The six-block collage of crowded apartments, duplexes and bungalows this week became the only neighborhood in the city to insist on surrendering its “No Parking” signs.

The signs ban parking for two hours twice a week so that street sweepers can swerve close to the curb and grind dirt and grime from the gutters. But Kraker said they also invite pesky parking enforcement officers who ticket their cars with a vengeance.

Los Angeles officials say the signs are a hot commodity from Sylmar to Wilmington because posted streets get swept weekly rather than monthly. Only 25% of the city’s 6,400 miles of streets have the signs but none have been added since 1975 because of a money shortage.

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It Took a Year

It has taken Kraker and her neighbors along the 500 and 600 blocks of 18th and 19th streets and the 1800 and 1900 blocks of Grand Avenue a year to convince city officials that they really do not want the signs. This week the Los Angeles City Council, following harbor-area Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores’ reluctant lead, voted to move the signs to Wilmington, where residents have complained for years about dirty streets.

“I get a couple requests a week for these things,” said an incredulous Curtis Bianchi, who heads the city’s street sweeping operations. “I’ve never heard of a neighborhood asking to remove them.”

Well listen up and listen good, Kraker says: The signs aren’t all that they’re cracked up to be.

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“People are getting too many tickets,” she said this week. “We have a parking problem here, and they come and ticket your cars before the sweeper comes. Sometimes the street cleaner never shows up, but the ticketing comes every week anyway.”

Kraker and her neighbors say they would rather take brooms to the streets themselves than awake every Monday and Tuesday morning dreading an encounter with a parking enforcement officer. Most houses don’t have driveways and those that have garages have filled them with cars or junk. The street is their only parking lot.

“If you get up 10 minutes too late, everybody else has moved their cars,” said Mary Samaras, who lives two houses down wind-swept 19th Street from Kraker’s duplex. “So you get to walk in your pajamas or bathrobe two blocks away, or park all the way on Pacific and look like you are from a halfway house.”

While the city does not keep records on how many tickets it issues in the neighborhood, residents say virtually no one has escaped unscathed. Dee Barron, who lives on 18th Street, said at last count she had accumulated 17.

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City officials acknowledge enforcement has been strict, but say there is no other way to assure the streets are clear for the sweepers. Flores described the enforcement as “avid.”

“There was no laxness,” she said. “If you just stopped your car for awhile because you forgot your lunch or something, you got a ticket.”

At $28 a shot, residents say, they were getting priced out of their own neighborhood.

Flores agreed to take down the signs only after receiving a petition with more than 100 signatures, touring the neighborhood and meeting with several residents in Samaras’ living room. Flores said she made it clear to the group that once the signs are gone, the neighborhood will not get them back.

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“I just couldn’t believe it,” Flores said this week. “Everybody in my district is screaming for these things. It is probably the No. 1 request I get from every Neighborhood Watch and homeowners group I go to.”

Wilmington residents were equally surprised about their spate of good luck.

‘Lucky for Us’

“We said, ‘Gee whiz, you don’t want them?’ ” said Simie Seaman, president of the Banning Park Neighborhood Assn. “Gee whiz, how lucky for us!”

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Susan Prichard, Flores’ Wilmington deputy, said she was greeted with a round of applause at a recent Neighborhood Watch meeting in northeast Wilmington where the signs will be posted. The area, which is in the shadow of an auto parts yard, has a particular problem with dirt and abandoned cars. Prichard said homeowners see the signs as a long-overdue solution.

But Kraker has little patience for such talk. The former lab technician and nutritionist who has heralded several other neighborhood causes said she hopes the signs work out for her neighbors in Wilmington. But she says she knows better.

“In Wilmington and places like that they don’t know what the problem is,” Kraker said. “We thought at first it was going to be good, too. But after we had all of these problems, ticketing and things, you realize it isn’t. These people think that street cleaning is going to solve all of their cleaning problems. But it doesn’t.”

Opposed to Removal

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City street-maintenance officials have opposed removing the signs all along. In a letter to Flores, Patrick Howard, director of the Bureau of Street Maintenance, warned that taking down the signs “would have an adverse effect on the cleanliness of the community as a whole.”

Howard said the restricted parking program was particularly effective in neighborhoods such as Kraker’s, where intensive residential development makes normal machine sweeping difficult because so many cars are parked on the streets. Under bureau guidelines, on average at least one in four curbside parking spaces must be occupied when sweepers make their rounds in order for a street to qualify for signs.

Yet all the talk about dirtier streets doesn’t worry Kraker and her neighbors. They say that they are used to keeping their neighborhood picked up anyway because harbor breezes blow litter and other debris on their sidewalks and lawns. “Tuesday’s filth just blows over on Monday’s clean side,” said Samaras.

Even so, Kraker let it be known that she was concerned others might not understand why their neighborhood would want to do away with a city service. She pointed out that she and her neighbors also fought for a “Slow-Stop Ahead” sign along Grand where cars were speeding through the intersection at 19th Street.

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“It kind of looks bad when you say you don’t want street cleaning,” she said. “I don’t want to be known as a street cleaner or anything. It is just a normal thing. It is like mowing your lawn.”


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