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Up a Creek : Residents Fear Tie-Ups, Disruptions From Huge Storm Drain Project

June 04, 1995|TOM JENNINGS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It will stretch from Sunset Boulevard downhill to Ballona Creek.

It will cost $43 million.

And over the next four years, it could make driving in numerous Westside neighborhoods hell.

Starting in July, county workers will begin digging the Hollyhills storm drain, a project to alleviate flooding in West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and other communities at the base of the Hollywood Hills. Although residents in those communities will no doubt welcome improved drainage of local streets during the rainy season, those living in less affluent areas downstream are bemoaning the disruptions that will come with construction of the huge conduit.

"I'm concerned about access to my home," said Ellie Schnitzer, whose Dauphin Avenue house near La Ballona Creek is already surrounded by heavy machinery. "And what about when it's finished? Then we have everyone's garbage flowing into the creek right next to our homes."

In the first phase of the project's eight stages, a trench 25 feet deep and 15 feet wide will be dug just east of La Cienega Boulevard from La Ballona Creek to Pico Boulevard. On the way, the trench will pass through the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center parking lot and along a half-mile portion of Crescent Heights Boulevard.

Subsequent stages will bring the drain north to San Vicente Boulevard and west to the Beverly Center mall. The last leg, scheduled to be completed by the end of 1999, will stretch north from the mall to Sunset Boulevard.

Besides causing traffic tie-ups, the work will create parking problems--some of them major. From July to November, for instance, residents of about 50 homes near La Cienega and Venice boulevards will have to ride shuttle buses to and from their houses if they don't have driveways, leaving their cars in a lot several blocks away.

About 30 of the residents met last week with city and county officials to complain about, among other things, the parking plan, holes being dug in front of their homes by utility companies preparing for the July trenching and construction workers having lunch on their front yards.

"How are you going to control traffic through here?" asked one resident.

"Very carefully," responded Shari Afshari, a supervising civil engineer with the Los Angeles County Flood Management Group.

Afshari and other flood control officials say the Hollyhills drain has been on the drawing board since the early 1970s, but it wasn't until recently that funding became available.

County flood control officials say the Hollyhills project is long overdue because many main streets on the Westside, including the northern section of La Cienega Boulevard, face severe flooding virtually every time it rains. Public hearings on the project were held a year ago, and residents were told of its impact, they point out.

"This is a project that has to go in," Afshari said of the drain, which at peak flows will be able to carry up to 5,000 cubic feet of water per second. "Flooding in these areas can be severe. This drain will correct the problem."

Still, the project has a decided downside for those who live--and drive--in its path.

In the first stage of construction, which is expected to last seven months, parking along the southern portion of Crescent Heights Boulevard will be prohibited and two-way traffic will be confined to the western side of the street. Drivers will be encouraged to use alternate routes such as La Cienega Boulevard.

Traffic alternatives have not yet been worked out for future sections of the project, including the heavily traveled areas around Beverly Center, city traffic officials say.

The most immediate concerns over the drain project are being expressed by residents of the small, largely blue-collar neighborhood near La Cienega Boulevard, just south of Venice Boulevard.

Residents say the timing of the drain construction could not be any worse. One year ago, they suffered through 24-hour reconstruction of the collapsed Santa Monica Freeway. Tens of thousands of cars were rerouted off the earthquake-damaged highway onto their streets.

"We're just now recovering," said Joe Quesenberry, who has lived in the neighborhood for 12 years and who has hosted a series of neighborhood meetings on the storm drain project with city and county officials.

Quesenberry and other residents also worry about the large volume of storm water that will pour into the creek. Already, storm runoff sits in the creek for days when the rains are slow, leaving debris ranging from pools of motor oil to tires to refrigerators.

"This is a huge storm drain bottoming out in a very small neighborhood," he said. "You wonder how much we can take."

Responding to such concerns, flood-control officials have promised to cut a new channel in the center of the concrete-lined creek to make water move more easily. City officials, meanwhile, say well-marked alternate routes will alleviate some of the traffic congestion caused by the project.

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