Traffic disaster towers over L.A.

"I no longer go to Dodger games, or the L.A. Philharmonic.... I only go out to dinner at restaurants within two miles of my house."

That was Michael Gale, who lives in Pacific Palisades.

"I'd rather stick hot pokers in my eyes than drive downtown from Santa Monica on a weeknight. Saturday nights are almost as bad. Therefore, I go to Disney Hall only on Sunday."

That was Kim Nicholas of Santa Monica.

"We learned fast how hard it is to go east in the evening. The first few times we tried it, we assumed there was a big rig overturned somewhere .... We were then, and remain still, incredulous that an entire major American city has allowed itself to become paralyzed every evening."

That was Maryland transplant and Santa Monica resident Laurie Brenner, who has given up on downtown L.A. cultural attractions and scratched Skirball events because of northbound evening traffic on the 405.

This is but a tiny sampling from the traffic jam of angst that clogged my mailbag after last Sunday's column. Although my focus was Westside insanity, readers from Orange, Ventura and San Bernardino counties joined the cry-fest, insisting a historically annoying problem has reached the level of catastrophe.

But many readers saved their best work and sharpest barbs for those they hold responsible for an irresponsible explosion of residential and commercial projects erected without adequate consideration of the horrors they generate.

"Our problems can be traced directly to the development community, lobbyists, attorneys and the elected officials," said Sandy Brown, a Westside activist.

"If you think the Westside traffic is bad now, just wait until all the condo and office projects currently in various stages of development in Beverly Hills and Century City get completed!" wrote Jaycie Ingersoll of Beverly Hills. "I cannot understand how these projects get approved without more realistic consideration of traffic impact, but they do. I always have the feeling that if the right palms get greased, the projects get approved."

No project drew more fire than two 47-story condo towers proposed for traffic-choked Century City. A coalition of hopping-mad homeowner associations has sued the city over the skyscrapers, and residents are doing battle with City Councilman Jack Weiss, who represents the area, for control of $5 million the developer has offered for traffic planning, parks and other city services.

Homeowners feel like the deck is stacked against them. They point out that the project developer's Chicago affiliate ponied up $100,000 for the school takeover campaign by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who just happens to support the condo tower project.

The developer, JMB Realty Co., is represented by Latham & Watkins, an international law firm with lots of juice at City Hall that has written thousands of dollars in campaign checks to Weiss.

Is it any wonder, homeowners ask, that city planners approved an environmental impact report paid for by the developer that claims the skyscraper condo project will actually decrease rather than increase traffic?

"It's not underestimation, it's willful avoidance of looking at the data," says Mike Eveloff, president of the homeowners coalition. The group hired its own traffic engineer, who concluded that it was pure hokum to suggest that 483 new condominiums would make for less traffic than now exists at a bank and an over-the-hill nightclub.

"It doesn't pass the smell test," said Eveloff.

He was being too kind. It stinks to high heaven.

I put in a call to Villaraigosa's office, asking for an explanation of massive campaign contributions that came at roughly the same time his office was making public its support of the JMB project as a great example of smart growth. Villaraigosa spokesman Matt Szabo promised me late Friday that he would look into the matter and get back to me, and I assured him readers would look forward to the response.

Weiss told me he supports the 47-story condo towers because they're just what's needed in an area that now has an overabundance of offices. He describes a reimagined Century City in which people walk from home to work, shop and go to dinner and a movie without ever getting into a car.

Sounds wonderful, but is he kidding?

The people who work in the expanding Century City service economy aren't going to be able to afford one of those condos in the clouds, so they're going to commute to the area each day and add to the congestion. The people who actually live there are not going to lock themselves into the compound as far as I know, so they'll help jam the streets as well. And if the commercial expansion of the new Century City is a success, what will it draw?

Exactly. More traffic.

The city needs more high-density housing, but the only sensible projects are mixed-income developments near transit corridors. The Century City sky towers are neither.

"I really think you have to be fair here, that there is a property owner who has owned the property for, I think, decades, and there are certain legal rights," Weiss said.

Yeah, and if you're a councilman, you have certain obligations -- namely to make sure a developer helps solve any problems he creates.

"What my vision is, is a subway stop in Century City, and then to connect that subway stop with the Exposition line stop just south of Century City," said Weiss. Only problem with that is, last time I checked there was no subway on the drawing boards.

Here's a different vision worth considering: BUILD THE BLASTED TRANSIT OPTIONS BEFORE YOU APPROVE THE DEVELOPMENT!

Trust me, people have had it. They're steamed about lost hours and productivity, frayed nerves, narrowing orbits and missed time with family.

I asked for ideas and got them by the dozens, big and small, new and old. Monorails. Traffic cones to add contra-flow lanes on Olympic. London-style congestion fee-charging. Dedicated bus lanes on the 405. Declare a transit emergency and hit up the new Democratic-majority Congress for aid.

Join the fray. Post your traffic gripes and ideas for solutions at

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www.latimes.com/bottleneck.

Reach the columnist at steve.lopez@latimes.com and read previous columns at www.latimes.com/lopez

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