In an attempt to quiet a controversy and heal a deep rift between two groups of merchants, the Pacific Palisades Community Council has reversed itself and voted to recommend to the City of Los Angeles that two-way traffic be reinstated in the commercial district of Swarthmore Avenue.
Cindy Miscikowski, a deputy to City Councilman Marvin Braude, said that Braude received the council's recommendation--the result of a vote on Feb. 25--last Wednesday and that it would take "about a month, depending on the Department of Transportation," to restore two-way traffic to the Palisades' main shopping district. The department is responsible for the mechanics of the change, such as signs and street striping.
"I'm sure that by the beginning of (this) week or so we'll get the wheels rolling," she said.
'Business Will Improve'
Judy Elliott, a boutique owner who led the effort to end one-way traffic, said: "I'm elated. Now our business will improve."
One-way traffic was implemented last year on the block-long strip of Swarthmore between Sunset Boulevard and Monument Street as the first step in a plan to perk up the commercial center and make it more convenient for pedestrians and competitive with other shopping centers.
The Swarthmore Avenue Improvement Plan began in 1985 as a community effort to save the avenue's 13 beloved bay laurel trees, whose roots had fractured the sidewalks and posed a danger to passers-by. Money for the beautification was to be raised privately.
Although the proposal also called for wide promenades, outdoor cafe tables and diagonal parking, traffic flow caused so much dissension that it stymied further progress in the plan.
Some merchants along the thoroughfare contended that one-way traffic has hurt their businesses, and they appealed to Robert D. MacDonald, who owns most of the block in question, to take a stand. MacDonald ultimately wrote a letter to the community council, saying that the plan had been "jammed down the throats" of merchants.
Subsequently, the council voted to abandon the entire plan and start anew. It appointed a volunteer ombudsman, Randy Young, to research new options. Young discovered, among other things, that the bay laurel trees are diseased and probably cannot be saved.
Some council members seemed to believe that, with the latest vote, the fate of Swarthmore and its laurel trees would be determined by MacDonald.
"Mr. MacDonald himself requested that the plan be reverted back. It should in fact be in the hands of the landlord," council Vice Chairman Flo Elfant said. "If he (MacDonald) would take care of the trees and repair the sidewalks, it would be a wonderful gift to the community."
MacDonald, contacted by phone, said he was pleased by the council's vote but that he has no plans to deal with the trees or the sidewalks.
"I have no idea what will happen to the trees," he said.
'Welcome Back to Reality'
Doug Uhler, a member of the Community Council's parking committee, said of the council's recommendation, "I see it as 'Welcome back to reality.'
"We were trying to do something we couldn't. Now that it seems the trees have a limited life anyway, we should put everything, including overall traffic flow and a new parking structure, into one big hopper and start over."
Ira Winn, a professor of urban studies at California State University, Northridge, who lives near the Swarthmore district and who attended many of the community meetings, said that the issue was far from resolved.
He said the merchants who oppose the beautification plan are being shortsighted in underestimating the competition that Swarthmore can expect from new developments in Santa Monica and from Westside shopping malls, such as Century City.
"Those people who understand the dynamics of a successful pedestrian mall and are concerned about revitalizing the district as a place for people to gather are behind the plan," he said.
But Winn said that advocating a pedestrian-friendly center to the opposing merchants "is like trying to tell people the earth is not flat. They won't understand it until someone sails around the world.
"The real problems will come when the merchants that claim they're losing business because of one-way traffic fail anyway."