In his first meeting as a Lawndale city councilman, Norm Lagerquist tipped the balance Thursday in favor of removing parking restrictions along Hawthorne Boulevard, an issue that for three years has driven a wedge between the council and businesses in the area.
Business owners, who supported Lagerquist in his campaign, have been trying to get the parking restrictions lifted, saying they discourage customers from spending money in Lawndale.
Lagerquist, who was sworn in before the council meeting, was joined by council members Carol Norman and William Johnson in giving tentative approval to removing the no-parking, tow-away zone that is in effect between 4 and 6 p.m. daily along Hawthorne Boulevard.
A final vote is scheduled for Dec. 18. Mayor Harold E. Hofmann and Councilman Larry Rudolph voted against it, citing traffic and safety issues.
As the tie-breaker in a long-standing stalemate between bitterly opposed council factions, Lagerquist’s vote was no surprise to his supporters.
The 35-year-old newcomer to city politics, who was endorsed by both Norman and Johnson, had campaigned on a pro-business platform and had pledged to his business backers that he would favor removing the parking restrictions.
Business owners said they are gratified by Lagerquist’s support and expect this vote to be the first of many in favor of creating a more congenial climate for businesses in the city.
Also expected to come before the council later this month is a proposal to restore city funding to the Lawndale Chamber of Commerce. The council withdrew funding support in 1986 because of concerns that the chamber had been “too political.” In July, the council deadlocked 2 to 2 on restoring chamber funding, with Norman and Johnson in favor and Rudolph and Hofmann against it.
“The business community is a major revenue producer for the city,” said Lawndale Chamber of Commerce President Abdo Jahshan, who personally supported Lagerquist, although the chamber itself backed no candidates in the election. “That’s why (Lagerquist) is not going to forget about businesses.”
Lagerquist replaced former Councilman Dan McKenzie, who often voted with Rudolph and Hofmann.
That previous council majority voted in 1987 in favor of restricting parking in the hopes of easing traffic flow off the San Diego Freeway’s Hawthorne Boulevard ramp. A year later, council members voted to create a tow-away zone along the same stretch, which extends from 162nd Street to Redondo Beach Boulevard.
Rudolph, who supports restricted parking, said Thursday that one of his concerns in allowing cars to park on Hawthorne Boulevard at peak hours is that impatient drivers would be more likely to use residential side streets, creating a safety hazard.
“We probably have 7,000 residents who live in the (area),” Rudolph said. “The more cars that get on residential streets, the more danger there is for kids.”
Although businesses objected to the restrictions, they didn’t begin pushing the matter again until a few months ago, when it became clear that Lagerquist’s campaign for a seat could represent a realignment of the council.
Two weeks ago, Jahshan presented the council with a petition urging reconsideration of parking restrictions. The petition, which was signed by more than 30 business owners and managers, said sales have been down because customers can’t park between 4 and 6 p.m. and that lifting the parking restrictions would raise city sales tax revenue.
A city report presented to the council Thursday tried to refute those claims by showing that sales tax revenue actually has risen in the years since the parking restrictions went into effect. But Johnson, Norman and Lagerquist disputed the validity of the report, saying many other factors, including inflation, were not taken into account.
After the vote to consider repealing the parking restrictions, Dan Cohen of Panel-It Discount stores commended the council, saying, “This could be the beginning of more well-known businesses coming into Lawndale.”
Before cutting into a chocolate cake celebrating his first day with the council, Lagerquist said he believes the creation of good development standards and improving the city’s financial footing are among the biggest challenges facing the city.
“This past year has been a period of dramatic change to the political landscape of Lawndale,” Lagerquist said. “We are being watched by our neighbors to see if we can emerge from the turmoil of the past. I believe we can.”