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Meeting Focuses on Proposal for Ventura Blvd.

About 40 community activists, business leaders and homeowners from Woodland Hills to Studio City shared their opinions with city planners Friday on proposed changes to the Ventura Boulevard Specific Plan that would cut in half fees paid by new developers.

The changes--proposed by the Los Angeles city planning and transportation departments--also would reduce the budget for boulevard improvements from $222 million to $77 million. The improvements include intersection widenings, more parking and additional landscaping along the 17-mile commercial strip.

Some community leaders urged officials to widen fewer intersections--required to add turn lanes to improve traffic flow--because such improvements would lure more drivers onto the already congested boulevard.

But others, such as Encino activist Gerald Silver, said such work is necessary to ameliorate traffic congestion.

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The planning and transportation departments propose reducing the plan’s budget as well as the developer fees that finance it for several reasons. First, they want to correct an arithmetic error that inflated costs by $73.6 million. Second, lower growth projections along the boulevard mean fewer improvements will be required. And finally, they want to make the developer fees--which offset the negative impact of a project--more equitable.

Community leaders from Sherman Oaks and Woodland Hills recommended that benefit assessment districts be created along the boulevard to help pay for such improvements as beautification. Such districts would levy charges against property owners to pay for improvements.

Jeff Brain, chairman of the Ventura Boulevard Specific Plan Review Board, pointed to such reinvigorated neighborhoods as Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica and Old Town Pasadena as evidence that costs would be repaid several times over when property values increase as the area is beautified.

A benefit assessment district can be established only if most property owners within its boundaries agree to it. Bob Gross, president of the Woodland Hills Homeowners Organization, said his group will begin a campaign to create an assessment district in Woodland Hills.

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But others were not convinced.

“You cannot say, ‘It worked in Old Town, it’ll work here,’ ” said Polly Ward, vice president of the Studio City Residents Assn. Ward pointed out that Old Town Pasadena and Third Street Promenade are strictly commercial districts that are considerably smaller than Ventura Boulevard.

After the meeting, Silver complained that people could not give city officials appropriate input on the proposed changes because financial details were not available until the beginning of the meeting.

He said he wants the planning department to hold another community meeting after the residents have had time to study the documents.

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