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Disputes Plague Plan for Ventura Boulevard : Growth: A deadline for resolving problems is set.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As confidence in an ambitious blueprint for growth along Ventura Boulevard wanes, the Los Angeles City Planning Commission this week vowed to resolve by February disputes over the plan’s scope and funding.

City planners and transportation experts agree they must take quick action to restore the credibility of the 2-year-old Ventura Boulevard Specific Plan, which has come under fire in recent months as too optimistic and too expensive.

At a raucous hearing Thursday in Sherman Oaks, opponents of the plan urged commissioners to scrap it while supporters pleaded to keep it in place--at least until something better can be worked out.

“Our initial opinion is that the plan is a 20-year plan and it is too soon to abandon the plan,” said Allyn Rifkin, a traffic engineer for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.

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But commissioners made it clear they supported at least some changes to the plan, and on Thursday, for the first time, gave themselves a deadline to make such changes.

Commissioner Robert Scott said, “If I was to locate a quality business, I wouldn’t give a second thought to Ventura Boulevard under the circumstances.”

Although even critics of the plan support its long-term vision for the San Fernando Valley’s “Main Street,” they complain that the fees it levies on new development discourage business and may actually end up killing the 17-mile strip instead of saving it.

The plan seeks to manage growth along the boulevard by imposing design standards, controlling the amount of traffic, improving mass transit and encouraging pedestrian activity by making commercial districts more inviting. How to pay for it all has become the sticking point.

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“We are looking for a way to make it work,” said Jeff Brain, chairman of the plan’s public review board that has recommended a series of changes on how money is collected for the $222-million plan and how it is spent.

Brain and others want to eliminate the plan’s complicated fee structure, which is based on the number of vehicle trips a project creates. Some business owners have been billed as much as $800,000 in so-called trip fees.

Instead, Brain supports creating a benefit assessment district to pay for traffic improvements such as street widenings. Such a district would spread the costs more evenly among all the boulevard’s property owners, not just among newcomers.

On top of complaining that the fees are complicated and expensive, some critics contend that they are just plain wrong. Fred Gaines, an attorney representing businesses appealing their fees, told commissioners that the traffic increases predicted by the plan are too high. Consequently, the number of improvements needed to handle increased traffic is also too high.

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“You should not be charging people fees when you know they are in error,” Gaines said. “We don’t have to spend $222 million.”

Traffic engineer Rifkin and city planners agreed that the plan might need adjustments, but they cautioned commissioners against making wholesale changes without careful study. Rifkin said his department is considering ways of making the fees less onerous by spreading payments out over time or by creating some form of benefit assessment district.

But Gerald A. Silver, president of Homeowners of Encino, reminded commissioners that the current plan was the result of more than five years of work and cost more than $500,000 to prepare. Silver said he sticks by the current plan “until a qualified consultant can tell me otherwise.

“We either need to rely on these folks,” Silver said of the consultants who helped prepare the original plan, “or we need to get our money back.”

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