Parking Solution a Two-Way Street

The car: We love it; we hate it.

While embracing our own, we resent others for clogging the freeways, turning our neighborhood streets into speedways, parking in front of our house or condo, or in the space most convenient to our favorite stores, services and diversions.

It is not surprising that accommodating the car dominates most debates over planning and development, be the issue a regional shopping center, a modest expansion of a local business, a request for restrictive parking or installing a stop sign or a speed bump.

Questions on the appropriateness of proposed architectural styles might be interesting and, in the course of a building's life, more important. There is also the consideration of what needs the building might serve, and the jobs and revenues to be generated.

But aesthetics and economics notwithstanding, more immediate and critical to the development process these days is how many parking spaces are provided and how the surrounding streets will handle the expected increase in traffic.

The debates seem never-ending, especially in my hometown of Santa Monica, where the civic stew is a spicy mix of contentiousness and pretentiousness, fired by ideologues of all hues.

Just recently, a well-promoted plan for a 1.2-million-square-foot office complex adjacent to the Santa Monica Airport crashed after its traffic projections and proposed solutions were shot full of holes by a resolute battery of nearby residents.

And this despite the plan having gone through a series of hoops and reviews, to be blessed by the city's Planning Commission and City Council, and given permission to land. In the end, no amount of compromise and political maneuverings could clear the runway.

The latest controversy concerned a request last month for the creation of a permit-parking district on 17th Street, north of Montana Avenue to Alta Avenue.

The scenario there was a variation on a common complaint from residents in Santa Monica and elsewhere who live on streets next to commercial strips.

From early morning to late afternoon, it seems, the parking spaces on 17th Street are being snapped up by Montana Avenue employees and shoppers, a situation heightened by the avenue's increasing popularity.

Once simply a strip of relatively modest neighborhood-oriented establishments, such as drugstores, shoe repairs shops and markets, Montana from 7th to 17th streets now also houses a range of trendy boutiques and galleries with a regional appeal.

"We sympathize with the residents, but the parking is vital, especially for the older establishments," said Lou Moench, of the Montana Avenue Merchants Committee, and owner of the popular pub Father's Office.

He noted that most of the stores between 16th and 17th streets, some with more than 50 years' service to the community, don't provide parking and never have. They have always depended on spaces being available on adjacent streets.

However, the situation south of Montana has long been impossible, because spaces there are more or less used for permanent parking by residents of local apartment complexes. Because most were built when no or little off-street parking was required, few offer it.

In addition, many of the garages in the alleys are now used illegally for storage and bootleg apartments.

Aggravating the problem north of Montana is the recent replacement there of existing older homes with oversized and overstuffed houses, providing at best minimum parking. Garages there also have been converted illegally for storage, home offices and staff quarters. The result is that residents tandem park in their driveways or on the street.

But because of the shopper and employee parking, residents complained at the City Council hearing on permits, that they couldn't park in front of their own house, nor could their gardeners, messengers, repairmen, friends or relatives.

As for the tandem parking, they said, it was awkward and inconvenient.

They added that the shoppers and the employees should have to park elsewhere, perhaps the latter in municipal garages in downtown Santa Monica, and be bused to their jobs on Montana.

The residents' comments, offered in the spirit of a Leona Helmsley charm school, suggested that those who work on Montana--the clerks, the beauticians, the waitresses, manicurists and others who served them--were the "little people."

There also was the implication by the residents that when they bought their house (present prices for nouveau mansions there are $1.5 million), they got as a bonus the curb space in front of it.

In reply, most of the merchants testifying reluctantly accepted the concept of permit parking for residents, but argued for a two-hour limit for others, to provide some parking for customers.

The council opted for the permit parking for residents, with a one-hour limit for others, even though a few members labeled it a Band-Aid solution. "We are going to end up 'incrementalling' the city to death," said Councilwoman Christine Reed.

But for now it appears that lunches and window-shopping on Montana for those who park on the side streets are going to be less leisurely.

As for the employees, they most likely will just park on a street beyond the permit zone and walk a few extra blocks to work. No doubt, as a consequence, they will be more fit to serve the north-of-Montana crowd.

Meanwhile, the city is exploring increasing parking requirements for both residential and commercial developments, and more flexible permit parking, including the commercial use of the streets during the day and residential use at night, as was recently instituted adjacent to Melrose Avenue.

There also is talk of redesigning Montana for diagonal parking, at least on one side of the street, which would have the double advantage of providing more parking while slowing traffic.

The avenue, which widens from two to four lanes between 7th and 20th streets, has become a notorious speedway, and is even listed in a book on Los Angeles shortcuts as a quick and easy way to get to the beach from Brentwood and Westwood.

The last time diagonal parking was suggested, residents north of Montana complained that it was dangerous and would divert through traffic to local streets, such as Alta. Although it was shown how such traffic can be controlled, residents there are the type of people who seldom hear the word no, and the idea was shelved by the city.

But now the city is armed with a thorough traffic study by the consultant firm of Crain & Associates that suggests a variety of measures to protect neighborhoods from what they call "traffic intrusion." These include turn restrictions, diverters, one-way streets, cul-de-sacs and closures.

"Obviously, parking and traffic are entwined, and that something broad and dramatic has to be done, particularly to protect neighborhoods," said City Manager John Jailli. "The problem is that whatever we come up with is going to inconvenience someone."

Given the growth of Los Angeles, it is time for cars to start giving some ground, to be inconvenienced.

The good life here doesn't have to mean a parking space wherever you want it, to zip in and out in a soundproof, climate-controlled capsulated car.

Perhaps it will mean parking a few blocks away and walking along the street, pausing to say "hello" to your neighbors and the local merchants, and all the people who make a parking district and traffic zone a neighborhood.

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