President Obama's swing through Los Angeles is expected to bring significant traffic problems to the Westside on Thursday afternoon — though it remains unclear whether his visit will cause the same kind of lengthy gridlock conditions that occurred last year.
Officials, citing security reasons, have not released any detailed information about Obama's motorcade route or which streets will be blocked off.
So L.A. commuters may be in for some surprises.
This much is known: Obama will arrive at Los Angeles International Airport at 2:45 p.m. He will spend some time at a fundraiser at the Sony Pictures lot in Culver City. He is scheduled to dine at the Tavern restaurant in Brentwood. It's unclear where he will spend the night, but the president is scheduled to depart from LAX about 9 a.m. Friday, at the heart of the morning commute.
Obama's visit to L.A. last summer closed numerous streets from downtown L.A. through the Westside, turning 45-minute commutes into three-hour-long ordeals. In his next visit in the fall, he used a helicopter for some stops, and the traffic situation improved.
"I am hoping the president learned his lesson," said L.A. City Councilman Bill Rosendahl. "Last year, when he came to West Los Angeles to go to Hancock Park, he took surface streets and truly paralyzed the Westside."
Rosendahl said he believes a helicopter will be used for part of the visit. But others said there will still be major road closures, and some "No Parking" signs have already been posted on certain streets. UCLA issued an alert to students and workers warning of major traffic issues Thursday.
The president's visit threatens to disrupt Holy Thursday activities at St. Augustine Catholic Church, which is across the street from Sony Pictures in Culver City. Trish Gusman, the parish business manager, said she has heard — but has been unable to confirm — that police will be closing off streets in a wide area around the church. That would make it difficult for parishioners to reach St. Augustine's on one of the holiest days of the year, commemorating Jesus' Last Supper.
"We haven't been able to get information from the Police Department or City Hall to find out what times and what areas will be blocked," Gusman said. "That's kind of the hardship at this point."
She said the parish has closed its school for the day as a precaution. But the Holy Thursday events, which include a Mass and a Liturgy of the Lord's Supper, will go on as scheduled in the church. "The celebration still continues, and the doors will be open," she said.
For all the uncertainty, Gusman seemed to be taking the problem in stride. She said she understood the concerns of the Secret Service and did not begrudge the president, but just wanted to know what to tell parishioners.
Father Kevin Nolan, the pastor of St. Augustine, said he first learned of the president's visit from parishioners who work at Sony. "We were never notified officially," he said. He added: "It is a great concern for us because our parishioners won't have any access to the church.... This is the holiest time of the year, and to have no access to the church, that's total insensitivity to the faith."
Nolan said he served as a chaplain with U.S. military forces in Iraq, and that among his duties was reporting to the commander about the potential effects of military activities on religious events. He questioned whether Obama was receiving similar counsel. "It's ridiculous," he said. "Obviously, they didn't have anyone who knew anything about the Catholic Church."