Elected city officials are critical of Los Angeles building inspectors for failing to force the developer of the Beverly Connection shopping center to install left-turn pockets and other traffic improvements at the chronically clogged intersection of Beverly and La Cienega boulevards.
"The issue is bigger than the Beverly Connection," said City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, who wrote the Department of Building and Safety to demand that it revoke the temporary certificate of occupancy that was issued when the shopping center opened in January.
The Beverly Connection is on La Cienega Boulevard between Beverly Boulevard and 3rd Street, across the street from the huge Beverly Center shopping mall and diagonally across from the newly opened Ma Maison Sofitel Hotel.
Conditions imposed by the Board of Zoning Appeals required that both Beverly and La Cienega boulevards be widened by five feet to allow for extra left-turn lanes, and that new signals be installed to regulate traffic in and out of both shopping malls, but construction did not begin until last week.
Music, Video Stores
"Either Building and Safety is going to have to police better or there's going to be a radical transformation of who does what in the city," he said. "You cannot have conditions imposed by the Planning Department and totally ignored by Building and Safety."
Jane Blumenfeld, Mayor Tom Bradley's planning aide, said that Bradley's office was also concerned about the Beverly Connection, where a supermarket and music and video stores have been open since January.
With automobile congestion already a chronic problem in the area, she said that new stores in the Beverly Connection will only worsen traffic if the street-widening and double left-turn lanes required by the Board of Zoning Appeals are not installed.
"This could have citywide implications if temporary certificates of occupancy are given pending completion of very significant improvements that have not been done," Blumenfeld said.
Site Was Occupied
Despite the protests, the head of the city's Building Bureau said that little could have been done to prevent the opening of the Beverly Connection once construction was completed, especially because the site was previously occupied by another retail store.
"In the legal sense they had the legal right to occupy the building," said Tim Taylor, chief of the Building Bureau. "That was a retail store and this is a retail store. There was really no need for a temporary certificate of occupancy, but they (the developer) wanted one. If we revoke it they can fall back on the existing certificate of occupancy from years ago."
He also said that the growing tendency to require that developers take steps to deal with traffic and other disruptions before they can occupy their buildings has overburdened his department.
"It becomes a very difficult enforcement problem for the Building Department to deal with," he said. "There's no question that conditions were imposed in this case. The question is, are they legally enforceable? That has not been tested right now."
Russell Lane, the city's chief building inspector, agreed, saying that the municipal code allows him to issue a certificate of occupancy when a building is substantially completed.
"That basically says there's no hazards involved," said, adding that he has only 46 inspectors to monitor construction and remodeling of all major commercial buildings and large apartment houses in the city.
"The street improvements are not under my jurisdiction," he said. "We're internally fighting that battle now as to who should enforce those off-site provisions. If I go out and inspect those street improvements, I'm broadening my authority by a great deal. My people don't have that expertise."
But Yaroslavsky said that building inspectors will have to broaden their scope if the city is to limit its development.
Police the Conditions
"This (the Beverly Connection) is the straw that broke the camel's back," he said. "Either we're going to find a way for the Building and Safety Department to police the conditions (set by the Planning Department) or we're going to find some other department to do it, and I don't think it's an insurmountable task for any bureaucracy."
Blumenfeld of Bradley's office said that planning conditions are the best vehicle to regulate growth.
"You'd need to have hundreds of people to make it mistake-free," she said.
The comments by Bradley and Yaroslavsky came after two residents' groups protested the decision to let a supermarket and video and music store open in the Beverly Connection in January.
"We're gratified and pleased that the city takes this seriously," said Harald Hahn of the Burton Way Homeowners Assn., which has been working with the Beverly Wilshire Homeowners Assn. to limit development in the area.
The two groups have temporarily blocked a liquor license for Ralphs market by arguing that there are already more than enough liquor outlets in the area.
Since the stores opened, "the traffic is horrendous. There are traffic jams for a mile in every direction," he said. "In a sense I feel sorry for (developer) Avi Lerner because he's got his money on the line and people can't get into his shopping center. Not very sorry, but a little bit."
A spokesman for Lerner said that work on the required improvements has started and that it should be finished within two months. He also said there was no reason not to open the stores in January.
"I ask what's better, closing Ralphs and displacing its patrons, or letting them shop at the store?"
Referring to protests from the two residents' groups, he said, "This whole thing is nothing more than a cheap, spiteful shot . . . to basically make noise."