The short-cutters are well known in Walteria. They veer off Hawthorne Boulevard onto the side streets of this southern Torrance neighborhood in a never-ending search for the perfect commuter route.
For many, the current route of choice is Newton Street, a narrow residential road that runs parallel to traffic-choked Pacific Coast Highway. But up and down once-quiet Newton Street, residents say they've had enough of these fast-driving, short-cutting invaders.
"They whip around and gun the motors and (say) obscene words," says Newton Street resident Toni O'Brien. She describes the flood of traffic as an affront. "This is our home. And we're being assaulted, in our own driveways."
After years of complaints from Newton Street residents, the Torrance City Council on Tuesday approved a compromise traffic-reduction plan that will restrict turns onto the street at certain hours in an effort to dampen Newton Street's allure for commuters.
The council acknowledged that its decision may not be popular.
"Each of you may walk out of here a little bit dissatisfied," Councilman Bill Applegate warned before the vote.
And on Wednesday, few people sounded happy with the new plan. Some Walteria residents say it is too drastic; some say it doesn't do enough.
"I think they shifted the problem onto some other people, unfairly," said Newton Street resident Keith Iaia, who had helped design an alternative plan to make Newton Street one-way. He predicts that the council-approved plan may upset some merchants and increase traffic on roads surrounding Newton Street. "I think, in six months, we'll be back in that (council) building again."
Neece Avenue resident Maureen Moore says the turn restrictions will force traffic onto streets such as Neece, Wilmington and 242nd. She thinks that if Newton Street residents are so concerned about safety, they should build sidewalks on their street.
"You clean up your own front yard before you go and ask everyone to change their streets," Moore said.
Forty people spoke at Tuesday's meeting, the largest crowd to address the council in recent memory. The debate stretched until after midnight. Few speakers agreed.
Those complaining of traffic problems blame residents of the Palos Verdes Peninsula suburbs who commute northward in the mornings toward the freeways and other South Bay cities. Newton Street and other streets in Walteria simply were not designed to handle this influx, residents say.
Some residents have pleaded with the city to help, perhaps by making Newton Street one-way westbound from Hawthorne Boulevard to 242nd Street. That prospect drew cries of protest from others in the area of residences and shops. Some merchants say they count on traffic to bring business to their doorsteps.
"These days, any loss of business, even if it's a couple of percentage points, can be enough to push you over the edge," said John Bauman, general manager of the Palos Verdes Begonia Farm, a garden center on 242nd Street near Newton Street.
City officials have been hearing complaints for years.
O'Brien said that the pace of life was slower in Walteria when she moved there in 1971. "It was small and it was country," she said. "I look back at that now as idyllic times. I talked to my neighbor across the street. . . . We can't talk now, over the noise."
After a series of neighborhood meetings in 1988 and 1989, the City Council ordered a traffic study of Newton Street and nearby Via Valmonte.
The $10,000 report by an independent traffic engineering firm, reviewed at a public meeting in November, suggested a variety of barricades and diverters aimed at routing traffic away from Newton Street.
But that plan drew little city or community support, and the Traffic Commission in February devised a different approach. It recommended a morning ban on left turns from northbound Hawthorne Boulevard at Newton and 244th streets, as well as an evening ban on left turns from Vista Montana onto Newton, a popular turn for southbound commuters.
The commission also called for a raised median in the center of Hawthorne that would prevent northbound left-hand turns onto 242nd Street. And it wanted to ban morning parking on the east side of Hawthorne between Pacific Coast Highway and Via Valmonte, and ban afternoon parking on Hawthorne's west side.
That plan, too, did not win popular support.
Some Newton Street residents devised their own traffic plan to make Newton Street one-way westbound, starting at an alley just west of Hawthorne and continuing to 242nd Street.
But others in the neighborhood objected, gathering 267 signatures on a petition opposing the idea.
"I don't want one-ways, because it would create more traffic on the other streets," said Neece Avenue resident Eleana Besada.
In the end, the council chose not to endorse the one-way plan. It instead approved the Traffic Commission's proposed turn restrictions and will review them again in six months. The council also decided to endorse the commission's parking-ban proposals. But it rejected the recommendation for a raised median on Hawthorne Boulevard at 242nd Street, instead substituting a turn restriction at that intersection.
Amid all the calls for changing traffic patterns in the area, Bauman, the Begonia Farm's general manager, said he favors the status quo. "I think the thing that would cause the least amount of inconvenience is to leave it the way it is," Bauman said. "The bottom line is, the people who are negatively affected (are) a small minority compared to the entire Walteria community."