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Scouting a Main Street for Valley

Cityhood: Would it be Ventura Boulevard or Van Nuys? The former has name recognition, but the latter will have a government center.

October 07, 2002|MASSIE RITSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If the San Fernando Valley aspires to be its own city, where would main street be? Which of the Valley's roadways best summarizes the area's character and commerce?

"Well, it would be Ventura Boulevard. It always has been," said Sam Hodes, picking up his morning paper at a newsstand just off the busy street. "It's the hub of the Valley--Encino, Sherman Oaks, office buildings."

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter used the same words--"hub of the San Fernando Valley"--to describe the area's quintessential thoroughfare. But she was talking about Van Nuys Boulevard, which she thinks could become "a place with a heart and a voice" with an injection of money for economic development.

Ventura Boulevard, which runs east-west, is cafes with twinkly lights, music stores and clothing boutiques. Van Nuys Boulevard, which runs north-south, is car dealerships, bail bondsmen and a satellite office of Los Angeles City Hall.

Talk to people where the two boulevards intersect, and they'll agree: The Valley's main street is Ventura Boulevard.

"That's where the Starbucks are. When somebody says, let's go meet somewhere, it's always Ventura," said Jay Schram, a general contractor who lives in Beverly Hills. Van Nuys also has spots to meet, he conceded, but "it's kind of become the ghetto."

Recognizing that perception, Galanter, whose district includes Van Nuys, wants the city's community developers to use federal money to study how to revive Van Nuys Boulevard. Different Band-Aids have been applied over the years, but the changes need to be more than cosmetic, she said.

"Our goal is to have the street be more than a traffic mover," said Galanter, who has a Yale degree in urban planning.

If the Valley does become its own city after the Nov. 5 secession vote, Van Nuys--the community--stands to become the civic center. And as the main route to courthouses, state and federal offices and a $34-million government building going up to serve Valley residents, Van Nuys Boulevard would be the primary artery of the sixth-largest city in the country. That, said Nancy Hoffman of the Mid Valley Chamber of Commerce, settles the main street debate.

"This is how I look at it," Hoffman said. "When I go into other cities--whether it's San Francisco or Sacramento--the main street revolves around the civic center. And we have a civic center" on Van Nuys Boulevard.

Most recently, the stretch of Van Nuys near the government cluster has been the beneficiary of a Targeted Neighborhood Initiative. Several million dollars in federal grants have gone toward trees, lighting and other improvements.

Along one block of Van Nuys, at Delano Street, one cafe has been painted a peachy orange and the facade of a Chinese restaurant looks like hot mustard. The new looks stopped traffic for a while and some of the colors had to be toned down, but now the area "looks maintained instead of run-down, like it used to be," said Elaine Zheleznyak, a nurse who works nearby. Even with those improvements, she still considers Ventura Boulevard and its trendy shops, offices and restaurants to be the Valley's main street.

But Ventura Boulevard comes up short as an embodiment of the Valley, said Scott Schmidt, government liaison director for the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn. As Ventura cuts through the southern end of the Valley, it hugs mostly affluent, leafy areas.

"Van Nuys really brings together the diversity that you see in the San Fernando Valley, uniquely," said Schmidt, whose agency moved there from Ventura Boulevard last year.

There could be other nominees, of course, for the Valley's main street. In an informal survey last week, there were votes for Sepulveda and Lankershim boulevards. Sherman Way's width and palms give it a nice look. In the West Valley, there's Topanga Canyon Boulevard. The East Valley has Laurel Canyon Boulevard.

Maybe there need not be an answer to the main street question.

"Who cares?" Galanter said. "The Valley is a big place. It ought to have a number of main streets."

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