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Boulevard brouhaha

Times Staff Writer

Customers hoping to savor challah at their Shabbat dinners know that the line often trails out the door of Delice Bakery on West Pico Boulevard. The purveyor of French kosher breads and pastries sells hundreds of its creations every Friday.

That’s why owner Julien Bohbot said he “went berserk” when he read about Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s plan to eliminate rush-hour parking on Pico and Olympic boulevards as part of a three-phase program to reduce travel times on the busy roads, especially at congested points on the Westside.

“If they want to synchronize the lights, no problem,” Bohbot said. “But removing the parking makes no sense whatsoever. If it passes, it will kill every business on Pico.”

Bohbot and several other like-minded Pico Boulevard entrepreneurs have joined with neighborhood groups in a coalition called Pico-Olympic Solutions, a project of the West Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce that opposes the traffic plan and is looking into alternatives to ease traffic bottlenecks. Among the ideas floated: building a monorail and replacing body shops with parking structures.

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Much of the opposition to Villaraigosa’s plan emanates from the Pico-Robertson area, a heavily Jewish enclave that features a mix of auto body shops, dental offices, bakeries by the dozen, Israeli and Persian markets, Thai eateries, Catholic churches, synagogues and Chinese restaurants, including a kosher place with mezuzas on the doorways. The elements of this urban hodgepodge have set aside any cultural and ethnic differences to battle City Hall with a united front.

“The opposition is across the board from La Brea to Centinela,” said Scott McNeely, co-chairman of the Pico Neighborhood Council. “They’re going to do this at the expense of local businesses.” McNeely said he surveyed local businesses and found that many feared a loss of several hundred dollars a day in sales if rush-hour parking was eliminated.

Los Angeles transportation officials have said the plan would provide consistency for drivers along two important thoroughfares where rush-hour parking restrictions are intermittent. Despite that intention, officials last month suggested that they might allow some rush-hour parking on the north side of Pico to assuage opponents.

Meanwhile, residents are worked up about another issue that they say is related to the traffic plan. The city has been quietly considering extending the hours that nonresidents could park in “preferential parking” zones in neighborhoods. Residents of many neighborhoods in the Pico-Olympic corridor have resorted to permit-only parking to prevent restaurant valets and business customers from parking cars for extended periods on residential streets.

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Some critics of the city’s no-parking plan see a connection. If the city eliminates peak-hour parking, more restaurants would have to use valet services, “which means they will have to encroach on residential areas,” said Jay Handal, chairman of the West Los Angeles Neighborhood Council. “To do that they would have to amend preferential parking.”

Confusion about the traffic initiative abounds. Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky last April proposed making Pico and Olympic mostly one-way from the ocean to downtown. In a July report to the City Council, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation rejected elements of that proposal as unworkable. The agency objected because it said the plan would encourage drivers to cut through neighborhoods and because Pico is not wide enough in spots to accommodate traffic going mostly one-way, with a bus lane heading the opposite direction.

Villaraigosa’s initiative -- supported by Councilman Jack Weiss, whose district would be most affected -- focuses on alleviating rush-hour traffic on both boulevards along the 7-mile stretch between Centinela and La Brea avenues. Transportation officials say easing that congestion would reduce commuter cut-through traffic on neighborhood streets. By including stretches on both sides of the 405 Freeway, Weiss said, the program would improve the flow to and from the freeway throughout the day and speed movement through Century City and Beverly Hills.

Beverly Hills Mayor Jimmy Delshad said his city has not yet heard details of the plan. “I would very much like to cooperate to move the traffic faster out of Beverly Hills,” he said. “But we need to vet the plan. We need to take it to our residents.”

He added that Beverly Hills had independently extended by one hour the morning rush-hour period during which parking is not allowed on the north side of Olympic. That period now runs from 7 to 10 a.m.

Weiss acknowledged that some people were upset about the proposed changes. “It would be unrealistic if I didn’t acknowledge that there will inevitably be some impact” on businesses, he said. “But hundreds of thousands of people travel through this area on a daily basis, and they’re asking for relief and we’re trying to give it to them,” he said.

“The mayor and I both believe that in a city where traffic is the No. 1 quality-of-life problem, we have to impose peak-hour parking restrictions along our major boulevards. We do it on Wilshire and Ventura Boulevard and on most of Pico and Olympic,” Weiss said.

The traffic program’s first phase was designed to complete the elimination of “peak period” parking on the two boulevards. On Pico, curbside parking would be prohibited from 7 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. On Olympic, the restrictions would run from 7 to 10 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m., the hours when parking is now restricted along other portions of that boulevard. The parking limits would open an extra lane to drivers in each direction during the morning and afternoon rush periods.

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The second phase calls for synchronizing green lights for westbound travelers on Olympic and eastbound drivers on Pico.

In a Nov. 19 report to the City Council, the Transportation Department asked for $600,000 to complete the first two phases. John Fisher, the department’s assistant general manager, said the changes would probably attract more westbound travelers on Olympic and eastbound drivers on Pico.

Should congestion increase again, he said, the department will consider a third phase calling for re-striping both boulevards. Pico would have four lanes for eastbound motorists and two lanes for westbound motorists, with a lane for left turns. On Olympic, four lanes would head west and two lanes east, with a lane for left turns.

Transportation engineers said they re-timed lights for two days on Pico and Olympic in a trial run in October. The results suggested that travel time between Centinela and La Brea would be cut by seven minutes, to 19 minutes.

In neighborhood meetings, Fisher has told merchants and residents that they would adjust to the changes, as their counterparts have when parking restrictions have been imposed on other streets. He and Weiss have also said the plan is flexible and can be readily adjusted or rescinded, if need be. Fisher said talks were underway with merchants to allow rush-hour parking on the north side of Pico between La Brea and La Cienega Boulevard and between Gateway Boulevard and Centinela.

Pico merchants say allowing parking on one side would be unfair to merchants on the other. Restricting parking at all, they say, would kill their street, where parking is already tight in places, and send the neighborhood spiraling back into the blight from which it has spent years emerging. The parking issue is less problematic on Olympic, where many shops are in mini-malls that have parking spaces on-site.

Bohbot said he had invested $750,000 in a restaurant that was set to open soon next to his bakery. “I’ve been waiting three years to get my permits,” he said. “If there’s no rush-hour parking, what will happen to my investment?”

Carmen Salindong, co-owner of La Maison du Pain, a French-style bakery on Pico between Fairfax and La Brea avenues, said her portion of the boulevard already had a severe parking problem. “If you take out the parking, you have not solved our problem,” she said. “You’ve added to our problem.”

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Salindong said she and other businesses had helped create a Pico renaissance that had boosted the once-shabby neighborhood’s housing prices and livability. She added that the mayor and Weiss appeared to be trying to push the Westside’s traffic burden onto another group. The solution, she said, lies in planning a robust mass-transit system that would get people out of their cars and into buses and onto light rail.

Weiss countered that such a solution is a long way off. “People are asking the mayor and me to improve their lives today,” he said. “This is a plan that when we flip the switch will improve hundreds of thousands of lives a day.”

martha.groves@latimes.com


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