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Festival of Lights dims DWP’s ‘green’ credibility

Times Staff Writer

Every once in a while, there’s a sentence in a city report that seems so patently ridiculous it should be put in a museum.

Take the recent report on the Festival of Lights, which is held at Griffith Park every holiday season. How it works: you drive to Griffith Park and then sit in a long line of idling cars for the chance to drive past a mile-long display of twinkling lights erected by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Attentive readers may recall that some residents of nearby neighborhoods have suggested that it is mildly stupid. Their beef is that the DWP has made a lot of hooey about going “green,” yet the same agency is sponsoring another traffic jam in a city that has too many already.

The residents want the entire event to be pedestrian-only. Festival-goers do have the option of walking now, but they have to share the road with idling cars. So the DWP studied the issue for months.

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And the Hall of Fame sentence the report contained was what?

“Transportation officials did voice strong concerns that the walking-only event could generate more traffic and congestion, due to established car-driving patterns and the limited number of parking spaces that are available in the immediate festival area,” the DWP report stated.

Huh?

As a result, the DWP is allowing the festival to be pedestrian-only on the first five nights, Nov. 21 to Nov. 25 -- when the light show has the fewest number of visitors.

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It should be noted that Councilman Tom LaBonge, whose district includes the park, agrees with the DWP.

Walking creates traffic jams?

The DWP contends that the Los Angeles Zoo parking lot -- adjacent to the festival route -- and other places in the area have just 1,300 parking spaces, but 2,500 to 4,500 cars visit the festival each night.

That’s a recipe for a traffic jam, the DWP says.

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The zoo’s marketing department said last week that the zoo actually has fewer parking spaces: about 1,100. So how come three other recent city reports have pegged the number at 2,635, 3,150 and 3,782?

Bernadette Soter, who lives near the park, believes there is plenty of parking at the zoo. In fact, she went out this week with some friends and counted 2,600 spaces.

She is especially livid that the festival’s walk nights are only on a trial basis.

“You’re asking someone to come walk in a park,” she said, “and the city responds by calling a walk in the park a pilot program.”

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Soter let out a deep sigh. And we sighed right along with her.

Quiz time! What did Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa say to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger during a news conference last week to announce that the city’s traffic signals would be synchronized?

A) “When it comes to traffic-busting measures, I give nothing but green lights!”

B) “Good job synchronizing your hair color with your suit today, Mr. Governor.”

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C) “The governor knows full well in our sleepovers over the years that I don’t wear pajamas.”

The answer is below. As for the photo from the news conference: If you can think of a better caption than the one we’ve offered, e-mail it to the address below.

Why did LaBonge hold two news conferences recently to inform the world that hydro mulching was underway at Griffith Park?

Because hardly anyone showed up at the first one.

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LaBonge wanted to explain the spraying of a bright green mulch on the park’s burned hillsides to prevent soil erosion. The mulch can be seen from miles away -- so wanting to inform the public was understandable.

But only one television station showed up for the first news conference Oct. 12. So LaBonge -- who never met a camera he didn’t like -- scheduled a second news conference Oct. 15 to announce that hydro mulching was in its third day. It didn’t work. Fog shrouded the park, and not one member of the media took the bait.

Any news in the thrilling world of urban parking requirements?

The council’s planning committee last week took up a proposed law that would make it easier for developers to get a break from the city’s onerous parking requirements. The idea is to provide an incentive to developers whose projects are near mass transit or who offer transit alternatives.

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The logic goes that people who live near bus or rail lines have less need for a car -- and a parking space -- and traffic becomes at least fractionally less congested.

Residents from across the city showed up to testify and, to put it mildly, most gave the ordinance a giant thumbs down. Joan Luchs, president of the Federation of Hillside and Canyon Assns., said she understood the intent -- to get people out of their cars.

“The problem is the infrastructure doesn’t exist,” she said. “There is no mass transit to get there. This ordinance is putting the cart before the horse.”

The two council members present deadlocked on whether to recommend the ordinance to the full council.

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Jack Weiss envisioned people having cars anyway and parking them in already congested neighborhoods. Ed Reyes said he believes that easing restrictions on parking in some cases will lead to the construction of housing that is less expensive because parking is often costly to build, particularly when it involves constructing garages.

The council will consider the ordinance in the next few weeks, and the mini-debate in the planning committee will likely grow to an all-out smack down. We look forward to it.

What’s the latest on that developer’s Westside subway financing plan?

A few weeks ago, developer Ken Kahan proposed paying for construction with the additional tax raised when properties on Wilshire Boulevard are sold and reassessed -- as Proposition 13 allows -- at current rates.

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We’ve been asking various elected officials to respond, and last week Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) dropped by our City Hall office. Feuer also is the chairman of the Assembly budget subcommittee on transportation.

Feuer said he’s intrigued. He has even scheduled a meeting with Kahan.

Feuer also said that he’s researching ideas to help cities raise money for mass transit and to protect state money that is supposed to go to transportation but often gets spent elsewhere. That’s what happened this year when state lawmakers approved a budget that diverted $1.3 billion in sales tax money that was supposed to go to transportation.

“I’m looking for allies across the aisle,” Feuer said. “I haven’t committed to any of these ideas yet. I’m just trying to find the best one or two ideas of things that can be signed and on the ground in the next year.”

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One idea he mentioned is to make it easier for bonds to be passed by removing the requirement that they be approved by a two-thirds supermajority of voters. Readers will recall that’s exactly what happened before the BART rail system went to Bay Area voters in 1962.

“More money is going to have to come locally” for transit projects, Feuer added. “I think there’s a sentiment out there that it’s about time to do something.”

Answer to quiz: C. Villaraigosa traveled to Sacramento last year to lobby for his school bill and then joked that he intended to stay as long as it took -- and that he even brought his “jammies and toothbrush.”

Schwarzenegger and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) couldn’t resist the jammies joke at last week’s news conference, and Villaraigosa couldn’t resist offering a visual.

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Something else worth noting: Villaraigosa had three traffic-related news conferences last week, including two with the governor. Hmm. Perhaps someone out there is feeling guilty about diverting those transportation funds in the state budget?

Next week: wiener time.

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steve.hymon@latimes.com

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