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Westside Wakes Up and Doesn’t Smell the Coffee

Times Staff Writers

From Bel-Air to Holmby Hills it was hard to get a cup of coffee Thursday.

Stan’s Donuts had to use bottled water to make its famous doughnuts. And Noah’s Bagels was forced to sell non-bagel sandwiches.

And so it went, as a warning over possible water contamination sent coffee shop owners, hoteliers and residents on Los Angeles’ Westside scrambling to find other ways to satisfy their breakfast needs.

“It’s just another aggravation you have to deal with,” said Westwood resident Lisa Cameron, who woke up at 6 a.m. to go to the grocery store for bottled water. “But it’s better than a mudslide.”

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The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which had detected a leak Wednesday in a main line of a reservoir, cautioned its 25,000 customers in the area to boil tap water before drinking it.

The all-clear was expected to be issued sometime today and posted on the agency’s website, www.ladwp.com, after test results were returned.

“It’s a cautionary step,” said DWP spokeswoman Gale Harris.

“The pipe was fixed, but the system was compromised by the break. It leaves a remote possibility of contamination,” Harris said.

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Customers in the area, which stretched from the L.A. Country Club to Sepulveda Boulevard and from Santa Monica Boulevard to Sunset Boulevard, were either grumpy or resigned.

“As much as it is an inconvenience, I’m glad they took the extra step to close,” said Westwood resident Meghan Stawitchke, 23, after discovering her local Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf was closed. “I feel it’s more respectful.”

The manager of the cafeteria at UCLA Medical Center learned about the warning when he arrived at 5 a.m.

Sabri Sazi immediately began to boil water for the breakfast rush, while an employee bought two new coffee machines for $220.

“My coffee machines are attached to the pipes on the wall, so I couldn’t use them,” Sazi said.

By the time he opened at 6:30 a.m., a line had formed in the cafeteria, which serves about 1,000 doctors, nurses and patients from the medical plaza complex.

“Some people got impatient and left,” he said. “But some people were happy because they knew we were boiling their coffee right.”

At 8:30 a.m., Sazi got a call from the UCLA facilities manager, who told him not to use china, silverware and the ice machine.

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By 2:20 p.m., he said he had purchased about 100 gallons of purified water. But he estimated that he lost about $800 in business.

At UCLA, dining halls were operating fairly normally by Thursday, but on Wednesday they had closed for about 1 1/2 hours.

“A lot of people ordered pizza,” said student Eddie Lee, 21.

At all 12 residential halls, portable toilets were brought in after the water was shut off for three hours.

Thousands of bottles of water were distributed in the dorms and placed in large bins at cafeteria entrances.

“We had enough water in storage because we had emergency contingency plans,” said Jack Gibbons, associate director of residential education at UCLA.

The campus’ seven cafeterias swapped silverware for plastic utensils and replaced hot dishes on the menu with cold items such as sandwiches.

Portable hand-washing stations were brought in, and water was boiled around the clock, said cafeteria manager Steve Jones.

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“As long as I get the temperature right, the Health Department says I’m good to go,” said Jones, who estimated he lost about 1,000 diners Wednesday evening.

At the exclusive Hotel Bel-Air, resident manager Roland Venturini said he bought an extra 350 cases of bottled water and 75 10-pound bags of ice to get through the crunch.

On a normal day, the hotel would have about 100 to 120 cases of bottled water on hand, he said.

“We’re taking it to the extreme, because we can’t take a chance with our guests,” he said.

Hotel guest Judith Solomon, who was on a business trip with her husband, said she was a little concerned about the tap water she had consumed in the morning with her vitamins.

“If I was going to be sick, I’d be sick already,” she said.

At the Noah’s Bagels in Westwood Village, customers looking for their regular morning java and bagels left hungry.

Officials at the company’s headquarters in Golden, Colo., issued an order before the store opened at 7 a.m. not to bake bagels or serve coffee, tea and fountain drinks, said Ron Vail, vice president in charge of quality assurance at the New World Restaurant Group, which owns Noah’s.

The store’s primary use of tap water is to make bagels, he said.

Across the street, Stan Berman, owner of Stan’s Donuts on Weyburn Avenue, also stopped selling coffee and making ice and planned to use bottled water to make the shop’s supply of doughnuts.

The Starbucks on Lindbrook Avenue stopped serving coffee until 10:30 a.m., when a Health Department official gave the go-ahead to serve hot drinks but not iced beverages, said a store supervisor who did not want to be identified.

Starbucks locations stopped serving all iced and tap water beverages, and all ice machines and bins were emptied and sanitized, according to a company statement.

Many early customers who couldn’t get their Starbucks coffee flocked to City Bean Coffee, according to store manager Austin Lee.

The 19-year-old Santa Monica College student said his store took the extra step of boiling its water an additional 4 to 5 minutes.

That reassured many customers.

“They were happy that we were still serving coffee and taking extra precautions for their health,” Lee said.

Times staff writers Amanda Covarrubias and Erica Williams contributed to this report.


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