Not many people would suggest a special tax to help quiet down their neighborhood, but Paul Malykont thinks there might be 40 or 50 families in Cheviot Hills who would pay for a bit of silence.
The large, expensive homes along Northvale Road north of Palms are bombarded by the constant buzz of traffic from the nearby Santa Monica Freeway, and some residents say they have run into trouble selling their houses because of it. A close friend of Malykont moved away last year "because he just couldn't take the noise," Malykont said.
'Our One Blight'
"We have a beautiful backyard and we just look at it. We don't use it," Malykont said. "This is a very nice neighborhood, but the sound is our one blight."
However, state Department of Transportation officials say the Los Angeles neighborhood, which parallels the Overland Avenue off-ramp north of the freeway, does not meet the state's criteria for a sound wall to cut the din.
Sound levels recorded by Caltrans around Malykont's and other homes do not quite reach the 67 decibels--about the level of a vacuum cleaner or loud conversation--required before the California Transportation Commission will consider an area for sound wall funding.
"These people have a valid complaint--they all do--but they just don't qualify," said Bill Minter, director of Caltrans' sound wall program in the Los Angeles area.
Question of Qualifications
"We'd like to do the right thing by these residents, give a sound wall to everybody who has complained," Minter said. "But I spend a lot of my time explaining to them why it can't be done."
According to Minter, hundreds of communities across the state have been found to be in even greater need. Caltrans' statewide priority list includes about 240 neighborhoods. Since 1983, 25 other neighborhoods have received sound walls.
But in scores of communities, residents who have noticed new sound walls going up nearby are increasingly demanding to be included on the list.
Because sound wall funding is an extremely low priority in the Caltrans budget, communities at the bottom of the list face a wait of at least 25 years, Minter said. Neighborhoods that are not even on the list have little hope of ever getting a sound wall, he said.
"When I tell people at the end of the list how long it takes, they say to me, 'I'll be dead by the time we get a sound wall,' " Minter said. "Actually, that's about the size of it."
Caltrans is watching the Cheviot Hills community with great interest, because it could become one of the first neighborhoods to voluntarily tax itself in order to build sound walls. Malykont has estimated that the average cost to a homeowner would be $7,000 to $9,000 if 40 families are willing to pay.
The neighborhood would have to agree to form a special tax assessment district to finance its sound wall, according to Caltrans.
"We'd like to see it work for them because state funds just aren't going to be able to meet all the needs we see," said Minter. "If they can pull it off, maybe other neighborhoods will do it."
Although Malykont believes that most homeowners would get back their investment in a sound wall, and more, because of a resulting increase in home values, he said the project will be a difficult one to pull off.
"We have quite a few retired families here who aren't bringing in big salaries," said Malykont, a tax attorney. "It would be great if the state could pay part of it and we could pay part of it, to make it easier on those who can't afford it. These are things I'll be learning about as we move forward on this project."
Even so, Malykont says he has already received encouragement "from a lot of the neighbors."
Many residents plan to stay in the family-oriented area for several years and say they are worried that the sound will only get worse as traffic steadily increases between downtown and Santa Monica.
Some homeowners complain that the sound causes increased stress and is not good for their children.
"We didn't expect this sound at all when we moved here," said Elana Samuels, a 12-year resident of the neighborhood.
Samuels said that when she and her husband, Zachary, moved into the home with their family, the freeway was hardly noticeable.
But now, she says, "The noise is really incredible. . . . We have two twin sons, who are about to turn 7, and they play outside, live outside. We are worried about what this noise can do to them."
Many residents are also unhappy that a sound wall was built along the Santa Monica Freeway right up to the edge of their neighborhood at Motor Avenue, where it ends.
Residents launched a campaign to get Caltrans to extend the wall west another 800 feet to protect their neighborhood, but Caltrans was adamant that the area did not qualify.
"That was really the killer," said Ellie Malykont. "That sound wall protects a market, a convent and a school. But we live here and we are not even on the list to get a sound wall."