Motorcycle Shop on PCH Hits Sound Barrier : Hermosa Beach: Two men who thought an upscale Harley-Davidson business was a natural for Pacific Coast Highway found the noise got to some influential neighbors.
As constant as the tides, as abiding as the sea gulls is the roar of traffic along Pacific Coast Highway. In the beach cities, the war on noise along the thoroughfare has for years been a fact of life in every little City Hall.
But in recent weeks, a controversy in Hermosa Beach has turned up the volume on the long-standing noise pollution debate and underscored the small-town flavor of beach-city politics. Amid charges of cronyism and insensitivity, two merchants are battling some of the city’s most influential citizens in an effort to sell Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
William (Willie) Campbell and Maiko Saravia say that when they decided to open South Bay Cycles, they assumed their building at 640 Pacific Coast Highway was the perfect spot for the business they had dreamed of operating for so long. Where better to sell Harley-Davidsons, they thought, than among the rackety carwashes and auto dealerships of PCH.
But one man’s dream can be another man’s headache, even in the noisiest of neighborhoods. Campbell, a 26-year-old builder with a pregnant wife, sank his $450,000 life savings into South Bay Cycles. But the store had barely opened this month when neighbors launched a campaign to shut it down.
Although Campbell and Saravia only were selling T-shirts and motorcycle paraphernalia while awaiting city permission to open their sales operation, the revving engines of their patrons’ cycles were enough to turn the neighbors against them.
Leading the charge were some of the South Bay’s leading citizens, including the former chairman of the Hermosa Beach Planning Commission and the executive director of the Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce.
“The noise along the highway is bad enough now,” said Gerald Compton, a Hermosa Beach architect and lobbyist who served for four years on the Planning Commission, including a stint as chairman, and whose 7th Street home is about 100 feet from South Bay Cycles. “Basically, what will happen if they (start selling motorcycles) is that we’ll have to move.”
Added Ann O’Dell, who lives in a condominium next to the cycle shop and whose husband is Ernie O’Dell of the Redondo Beach chamber: “‘We’re used to the drone of traffic, but this is just a killer noise. When those motorcycles start up and rev their engines, it’s so loud that it stops our conversations and wakes our neighbor’s baby.”
Campbell and Saravia have promised to muffle the noise by putting baffles on the mufflers of motorcycles brought in for repairs and by banning test drives of new vehicles. Their business, they say, will be the creme de la creme of motorcycle shops--a “boutique” with black-and-white parquet floors, dusky pink walls and a glass-bricked cappuccino and espresso bar for the customers.
But so far, the city has sided with Compton and O’Dell.
The Planning Commission has denied South Bay Cycles permission to sell and service motorcycles. And on Tuesday, the City Council effectively stalled any appeal by Campbell and Saravia by calling for public hearings on whether motorcycle shops should be allowed in Hermosa Beach at all.
Campbell and Saravia say the episode has left them confused, embittered and financially strapped. Why, they wonder, would the city ban their business when the neighborhood is already studded with car lots and body shops?
The reason, they say, is that their opponents are influential.
“Jerry Compton has been in this city a long time. He probably plays golf with the planning commissioners,” Saravia said. “He probably says, ‘Hey, guys, do me a favor.’ . . . And so they listen to him.”
But Compton and city officials say Saravia is wrong.
“It’s baloney,” said Mayor Chuck Sheldon, who is a motorcycle enthusiast himself. “If anything, the Planning Commission and the council tune out testimony from Jerry Compton,” the mayor said, because as a lobbyist, he is seen as someone with an ax to grind.
Sheldon added, “I feel terribly sorry for those guys, but the issue is one of noise. I ride with guys who have Harleys and they’re loud. Incredibly loud. If I were them, I, too, would want to equate my business with selling cars. But in fact, a Harley-Davidson shop would be more comparable with an iron smelter or a truck factory.”
To many in the South Bay’s smallest beach community, including Compton himself, the controversy points up the personal nature of politics in Hermosa Beach. Compton is perhaps the best-known lobbyist in the city--so active, in fact, that when Campbell went looking for political advice last month, a friend offered to introduce him to “a real influential guy in the city,” and then, to his astonishment, ushered him into Compton’s office.
When Compton told Campbell he couldn’t support his business, Campbell got another popular lobbyist--former Hermosa Beach Mayor Jack Wood.
But according to Parker Herriott, a local activist who has been closely involved with Hermosa Beach politics for many years, “Jack Wood isn’t listened to as much as Jerry Compton, because he lost his last election.”
Wood was ousted from the City Council in 1986 after allegations that he improperly tried to enroll his girlfriend in the city-funded health program.
“For a long time, I avoided getting involved (in the dispute over the motorcycle business) because I realized certain people would say I had undue influence,” Compton said.
Moreover, he noted wryly, he has made a name for himself defending Pacific Coast Highway car dealer Vasek Polak against charges that Polak’s businesses disrupt the peace and quiet of homeowners nearby.
“It’s very interesting,” said Jim Deutsch with a laugh. Deutsch is chairman of the Citizen Concern Group of 30th Street, which has fought for years to get the city to crack down on Polak.
“The shoe is on the other foot. Jerry now is getting to feel all the same concerns as a resident that we had when he represented Vasek Polak,” Deutsch said.
But, Compton noted, Polak’s dealerships were on Pacific Coast Highway long before the current neighbors moved in. In his case, South Bay Cycles is the interloper.
“I see a distinction,” Compton said. Though conceding the substantial investment that has been made in the motorcycle business, he said, “But, hey, I’ve put a million dollars into my house and into the apartment building I own next door. This is a big investment for me, too. The idea that the noise from that shop would force me to move or force my tenants to move is a real threat economically to me.”
Compton said he has carefully avoided any appeals to public officials based on friendship or personal acquaintance. O’Dell added that she regrets the arguments have “gotten so personal.”
Meanwhile, Campbell and Saravia say they are planning to hire a lawyer and, if necessary, take the matter to court.