The caller simply wanted to know what the various painted lines on the sidewalk running past a dozen or so trees in the vicinity of Hill and 1st streets indicated.
He was concerned that the trees there that are lending shade and grace to the otherwise raw street might be scheduled for destruction, as many others have surreptitiously been, by the city's Department of Transportation.
I did not know anything about it, but concerned also about the frail quality of life downtown, promised to find out, with the help of aide Marilyn Kelker. For all they do to improve the city, trees just do not seem to have as many friends as they should in Los Angeles.
Though I receive many calls and letters from readers bringing to my attention some abuse or other of the cityscape, I tend to write only about a select few that have general interest and that make a point on how the city is shaped and misshaped, and by whom.
With this in mind, and in sympathy for others who must deal with our bloated bureaucracy, the following is a chronology covering about two weeks of what I eventually labeled the Hill Street sidewalk blues:
The first call after touring the area in question was to the city's Department of Transportation (485-2265). An anonymous person there said we should call the department's central district office (485-2284), then abruptly clicked off.
A person there, identifying himself as a Mr. Barrios, a transportation engineering aide, said the district office had nothing to do with the markings, and suggested we talk to someone in the coordination section of the street maintenance bureau of the Department of Public Works (485-5693).
Margaret Lee in the section suggested we speak to someone in the engineering bureau (485-5143).
Nancy Mackey in engineering said we should speak to someone at the "one-stop counter" (485-3885).
That number turned out not to be the "one-stop counter" but the "sewer counter," where we eventually spoke to a Mr. Chin. He did not know what the markings were and suggested we speak to an investigator in the street use inspection division (485-3711).
Charles Graham Sr. of the division said that a private contractor was working in the Hill Street vicinity, but was not sure who for, and suggested that we speak to Greg Scott, chief coordinator of the street maintenance bureau but at a different number (485-5691) than we had called previously.
Scott was not in the two times we called, so Margaret Lee of the coordination section, to whom we had spoken to before at a different number, suggested that we speak to Scott's assistant, Bob Johnson.
Johnson said he was not aware of anything going on in the Hill Street vicinity, and suggested that we speak to someone in the sewer maintenance division, noting that its new name is waste water management and is in the sanitation bureau. He did not have a particular number, but suggested for one we call the sewer and storm drain division (485-5884).
There a Chris, who did not want to give her last name or title, abruptly transfered us back to the street maintenance bureau.
Not wanting to get on that merry-go-round again, we called the Transportation Department's central number and pleaded for help. This time we were not clicked off, but were transfered to a Gary Hoppe.
Hoppe said several projects were going on in the area, including the department's conversion of Hill Street to one-way. This explained the markings in the street, but not on the sidewalk. For those, he suggested we call the Department of Water and Power (481-4211).
Transferred to the public affairs office there, we were told by Ed Freuenberg, who gave his title as supervisor of the media, that if the marking were made by the DWP, it could be for more services. He promised to find out and call us.
Calling back was DWP public relations specialist Sandra Tanaka, who wanted more information from us about the markings. Given it, she promised to find out what they meant and to call us back.
Tanaka did indeed call back, informing us that the markings were for the Metro Rail project for which the Southern California Rapid Transit District had the master plan. For more exact information concerning the fate of the trees, she suggested we call RTD (972-6235).
Connected to customer relations, we spoke to a Mrs. Langley, who said she knew nothing. However, if the trees were going to be removed, we should call the city. Informed that we had gone that route in vain, she suggested we call Metro Rail community relations (972-6622), but cautioned that whatever we did, we should not have them transfer us back to customer relations.
A person identifying herself as Ria in community relations said we would have to speak to a Mr. Hendrix, who was in a meeting but would call us when it was over. He never did. When we called Ria a few days later, she said Mr. Hendrix was out of the office and would not be back until the next week, and that we should speak to a Manny Hernandez. She added that he was on the phone and would call us back.