Moratorium Limits Businesses Along Hawthorne Blvd.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fed up by complaints about a lack of parking along a one-mile stretch of Hawthorne Boulevard, the Hawthorne City Council has reimposed a temporary restriction on the kinds of businesses that can lease, rent or buy property in the area.

The first restriction--a 45-day moratorium prohibiting a change of uses for about 50 stores along Hawthorne Boulevard, between El Segundo Boulevard and Rosecrans Avenue--expired last week. The council decided Monday to impose a second 45-day moratorium because a parking study that city officials began last month is not finished.

Some merchants affected by the decision protested that another restriction would create a severe hardship on several property owners who have vacancies in the area.

They said the moratorium--which prohibits landlords from leasing, renting or selling their properties to businesses that differ from the most recent use--makes it difficult to attract new tenants and reduces the value of their property. Other merchants complained that city officials should have been able to complete the parking study during the previous moratorium.

Howard Pilch, an attorney for Albert and Lily Dalva, owners of a building at 13441 Hawthorne Blvd., said the restriction came at an especially difficult time for his clients, one of whom recently underwent a kidney transplant and is no longer able to work. Although the Dalvas had agreed to lease their former furniture store to 99 Only Stores before the first moratorium took effect on Aug. 6, the moratorium has prevented the new tenant from moving in, thereby depriving the Dalvas of their only income.

"In the interest of a study, you're going to take the livelihoods away from a lot of people," Pilch said. "You are very well going to cost people their homes, a roof over their heads, all for the purpose of a study . . . which could be accomplished with the tenants in place.

"We're not talking of any danger to the city of Hawthorne, but we are sure talking about a lot of danger to the people who operate these properties," Pilch said, adding that, at the very least, the city should exempt property owners who have leases pending.

The council nevertheless voted 4-1 to impose a second moratorium with no exemptions. Councilwoman Ginny Lambert dissented, saying she could not vote in favor of the moratorium because of the hardship it imposed on property owners.

But Councilman Charles Bookhammer said city officials "have to start somewhere" to get a handle on the city's parking problems. In agreeing with Lambert that staff members should have finished the report already, Bookhammer said he would not vote to extend the moratorium further and urged staff members to finish it in 45 days.

There are about 100 businesses along Hawthorne Boulevard's targeted area, but the moratorium applies only to those built before the city required merchants to provide some parking for their employees and customers. Unless those properties underwent major remodeling, the owners have not been required to add parking, even after the businesses changed hands. As a result, at least half of the properties along the one-mile strip lack sufficient parking, said City Manager Kenneth Jue.

Although the biggest source of parking is the median strip that divides Hawthorne Boulevard, traffic along that thoroughfare has become so fast-moving and congested over the past two years that fewer and fewer shoppers are willing to park there, said Planning Director Michael Goodson.

"Park in the median and see how safe you feel," Goodson said. "You're in the lane of traffic and a simple little curb is all that separates you from the fast lane of traffic. People are constantly jaywalking, dodging the cars. That's a hazard."

Goodson said the parking study, which he hopes his office will finish by the end of next month, will evaluate how the median parking strip can be improved, as well as whether the city's current parking standards are too broad or lax.

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