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Neighbors Bid Farewell to Checkpoint Bliss as Work on Streets Ends

August 04, 1988|BOB POOL | Times Staff Writer

They hated to see them come. And they hated to see them go.

That's the way thousands of Sherman Oaks residents felt Friday as workers withdrew from a $1.8-million construction project that had shut down some of the community's busiest streets since June 20.

The storm drain and street resurfacing project on Beverly Glen Boulevard ended three weeks ahead of schedule last Friday afternoon. Officials immediately removed roadblocks and round-the-clock guards that have sealed off the neighborhood since June 20.

That signaled the end of six weeks of unexpected bliss for 675 families living on 20 hillside streets a mile south of Ventura Boulevard.

As the project ended, residents who used secret code numbers to pass roadblocks to their homes were showering the guards with gifts, food, soft drinks and coffee.

"I hate to see you guys go," one man shouted as he was waved through the barricades a final time.

The homeowners had been braced for the worst when the project was started by separate crews hired by the Los Angeles County Public Works Department and the Los Angeles City Department of Transportation.

Predictions of Chaos

There were widespread predictions of chaos and gridlock on the south side of Sherman Oaks as the barricades went up. Beverly Glen is used by as many as 25,000 commuters a day as a major cross-mountain route between the San Fernando Valley and the Westside.

The doomsayers were wrong.

Commuters were eased onto alternate routes by transportation officials, who spent weeks publicizing the pending Beverly Glen shutdown with billboards and flyers passed out to drivers.

Officials imposed temporary parking bans on some nearby streets to provide extra traffic lanes for the displaced Beverly Glen motorists. They also assigned traffic-control officers at key intersections to keep cars moving.

Hillside dwellers were directed to and from their homes by 21 private security guards hired to staff roadblocks 24 hours a day.

Homeowners were issued individual secret code numbers and windshield decals that allowed them to pass through roadblocks at key intersections surrounding the project. They could also give the codes to friends and delivery people who needed to travel into the construction area to reach their homes.

Decrease in Crime

As a result, congestion plummeted for five weeks in the hillside area between Valley Vista Boulevard and Mulholland Drive. So, according to talk in the neighborhood, did crime.

"It was lovely," Oakfield Drive-area resident Joan Willis said. "It was nice having the roads to yourself--a divine feeling. It was wonderful."

"We had a nice month's respite from the usual bumper-to-bumper traffic," said Bob Balocca, who lives on Beverly Ridge Road. "Left turns are normally impossible from Beverly Glen to our street in the evening. We don't look forward to the resumption of the thoroughfare."

Richard Close, president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn., was among those who had predicted that the project would jam neighboring thoroughfares. "The closing of Beverly Glen--a traffic nightmare," was the headline Close wrote for a homeowners newsletter in advance of the project.

New Route to Work

But he admitted Friday that his group has received no complaints about the closures. He said he personally has benefited from it.

"I used to take Beverly Glen every day to work, but I've switched routes," he said. "I've found in the past few weeks that it takes me less time with my new route. I may not switch back."

Police would not supply comparative crime statistics for the neighborhood before and during the closure, but some homeowners credited the roadblocks with controlling criminal activity. Capt. Tim McBride, patrol commander for the Los Angeles Police Department's Van Nuys Division, said that could have been because of the assignment of extra officers to Sherman Oaks during part of July, however.

Well Planned

The extensive planning was praised by City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, who represents the Sherman Oaks area. He conducted a symbolic ribbon cutting at Beverly Glen and Valley Vista boulevards Monday morning.

"That paved the way for an unprecedented model program," Yaroslavsky said. "This is really a great day."

County public works spokeswoman Jean Granucci said the storm drain contractor will earn an $18,000 bonus for completing the project ahead of the project's announced Aug. 20 ending date.

She said the K.E.C. Co. of Corona worked six days a week to bury the 5-foot drain. Salaries for the private guards were included in the drain project's $1.4-million cost, she said.

"We're pleased," Granucci said. "This is the first time we've ever given secret access codes to residents. We'll consider it again for major road closures."

The guards who operated the barricades said use of the secret codes kept traffic in the project area to a minimum. That allowed construction crews to work faster, they said. The guards praised the residents' cooperation.

"People's politeness up here was amazing," guard Charles Price said. "Very few weren't friendly. A lot of the people made a point of telling us they'd like to have us here permanently."

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