Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley toured the Fairfax Avenue shopping district this week, shaking hands and sipping fresh-squeezed carrot juice as officials there prepared to begin work on the second phase of a revitalization program.
Bradley told representatives from the Vitalize Fairfax Project that he was impressed with the work being done to upgrade the economically depressed area, which is dominated by Jewish delicatessens, butcher shops and retail stores.
As he stopped and chatted with merchants along the three-block stretch, Bradley said he fully supported the revitalization effort.
The Fairfax area is represented by City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, who pushed the effort to acquire federal funding for the restoration work and is expected to challenge Bradley in the 1989 mayoral race.
Bradley said his visit was not politically motivated.
"I am in and out of this community on a regular basis and have been for 14 years," Bradley said Monday. "There's no difference in my approach today."
Yaroslavsky responded to news of Bradley's tour with some skepticism. The councilman said he hoped Bradley had learned something from his visit.
"We are pleased to have the mayor see all we have done," he said. "I don't think it's going to get him any votes, but it may get him educated."
The Fairfax shopping district is regarded as one of the more colorful areas of West Los Angeles. The stores, which cater largely to the area's Orthodox Jewish population, have an Old-World atmosphere that harks back to the days before supermarkets and shopping malls. Merchants sell vegetables on the street. There are several kosher meat markets, delicatessens and bakeries, and the aroma of fresh baked goods and deli food usually permeates the air.
The area is also fairly poor, however. Surrounded by run-down apartment buildings and retirement homes, it tends to attract shoppers who cannot afford high-priced products. Yaroslavsky said the revitalization is designed to improve the look of the area while preserving its character.
"People don't like to come to places that are unpleasant," he said. "And they don't like to come to streets that are dirty and stores that aren't kept up. What's happened to Fairfax is good for the street and good for the community."
The Fairfax face-lift has been under way for more than a year. Phase 1 was completed last fall, when officials planted palm trees along the street and placed new awnings and signs on the freshly painted stores on the western side of Fairfax between Beverly Boulevard and Clinton Street.
Under Phase 2, about 40 stores along the eastern side of Fairfax will receive the same treatment. Dave Tuttle, the director of the Vitalize Fairfax Project, said the work will cost $270,000. The federal government provides the funds under a community development block grant program and the money is distributed to Tuttle's nonprofit organization by the city.
"The construction will take about 120 days," Tuttle said this week. "And all of the merchants and property owners have agreed to the new design."
Fery Harnoian, the owner of Sidney's Fine Shoes, said she was happy with the restoration work and the look of the store's facade, which has a new awning advertising "Shoes for Wide Feet." She said business has been good in the 10 months since the work was completed.
Other merchants and customers have complained about the presence of graffiti on some of the freshly painted storefronts. Yaroslavsky said "kids, gang members and punk rockers" are constantly defacing the property.
The councilman called the problem "frustrating," but said the city already has programs aimed at eradicating graffiti. Officials provide free paint to property owners and merchants who want to paint over their defaced property, according to Yaroslavsky. There is also a citywide program in which young people wipe out graffiti on public and private property.
"It's a constant battle," Yaroslavsky said. "But it needs to be like brushing your teeth in the morning. If there's graffiti you have to paint it out."
Tuttle conceded that graffiti has been a problem, especially on the newly restored side of the street. He said that merchants should take more pride in their property.
"Their response to graffiti is to just kind of leave it there," Tuttle said. "We have done everything we can (to wipe out the graffiti), but in the end it's really up to the property owners and merchants."