A simmering controversy in Pacific Palisades over the flow of traffic in the Swarthmore business district is threatening to halt the street's planned improvement project and will be the subject of a town meeting tonight called by the Palisades Community Council.
The community's central business district, a one-block strip of shops and restaurants on Swarthmore Avenue between Sunset Boulevard and Monument Street, was to be transformed into a "pedestrian-friendly" area featuring one-way traffic, diagonal parking, wide sidewalk promenades and outdoor cafe tables as an outgrowth of the Pacific Palisades Commercial Specific Plan.
The Specific Plan--developed in cooperation with a citizens advisory committee appointed by Councilman Marvin Braude and adopted by the Los Angeles City Council in 1985--was designed to restrict growth and preserve the area's village character.
The proposal for Swarthmore Avenue--which is not an official part of the Specific Plan ordinance and would have to be privately funded--seeks to save the street's ficus trees, repair sidewalk damage caused by the trees, and in general perk up the district so that it can withstand competition from new shopping areas in the Palisades, as well as from other Westside shopping and gathering spots.
One-way traffic flow on Swarthmore was begun last February as a first step. Now, nearly a year later, some merchants say that the change has hurt business, and they want two-way traffic back. Others say that business has been largely unaffected and that the plan should not be judged on the basis of piecemeal implementation.
"It all boils down to majority rule," said Judy Elliott, a boutique owner. "The merchants voted in October and December to go back to two-way traffic."
Ever since that vote, Swarthmore Avenue merchants have been squabbling over the validity of the vote count.
Elliott, who distributed 300 handbills encouraging Palisades residents to voice opposition to the original plan at tonight's meeting, said she will propose an alternate arrangement that would restore two-way traffic and incorporate some beautification measures.
Other merchants, as well as representatives of the Palisades' numerous civic groups and homeowners' associations, also plan to be heard tonight.
"The one-way controversy clouds the issue," said Bobbie Farberow, a delicatessen proprietor, who supports the plan. "The community expressed a desire for an aesthetic happening . . . a street where they could stroll, where they could eat outside, sit down and see some pretty flowers. Those kinds of things take years and years."
Bob Benton, a former Palisades Chamber of Commerce president and a supporter of the improvement plan, said: "The one-way project went into effect well before it should have. Now a lot of people are saying, 'Are you one-way or two-way?' I don't think that's the issue."
'It Saddens Me'
Benton believes that the controversy has been inflamed by a few small establishments, "hanging on by their fingernails to stay in business, who blame the one-way thing for their businesses going down the drain.
"It saddens me," Benton said. "Anything like this (the improvement project) needs public support. Now when we're airing our dirty laundry in public, it's going to be harder to get support."
Joan Graves, chairman of the 15-member Community Council, which represents a variety of civic groups, agrees that one-way traffic implementation was premature. "We should have been able to go to stage two, but unfortunately, we weren't ready," she said. "We just didn't get it together financially or as a community."
Graves, who was a Braude appointee to the citizens advisory council for the Specific Plan, said that she does not have a position on the Swarthmore issue. "As chairman of the council, I have to moderate," she said. "I just want to get this resolved so that we can be a united community again."
Cindy Miscikowski, chief deputy to Braude, said that the councilman will attend the town meeting, mostly to listen. "We are not promulgating," she emphasized. "We do think it is a good plan, but it is a project that has to be community-generated and community-funded. We will go along with what the majority wants," she said.
The meeting, open to the public, is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in the community room of the Pacific Palisades branch library, 861 Alma Real.