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Dispute Taints Sidewalk Cleanup

Downtown: Officials say loft developer must stop washing garbage and human waste from in front of his buildings.


If one downtown Los Angeles neighborhood is going to have clean sidewalks, somebody is going to have to clean up their act.

That much is certain in the dispute over sidewalk-washing between city officials and developer Tom Gilmore, who is converting abandoned office buildings near skid row into trendy loft housing.

Gilmore sends workers each morning to scrub sidewalks in front of his refurbished buildings. But the city has countered by dispatching inspectors there to enforce municipal laws against water runoff.

Last week, an inspector caught a worker wet-handed in front of the refurbished Farmers and Merchant Bank Building on 4th Street between Spring and Main streets. Drop that hose, he commanded the startled sidewalk cleaner.

An angry Gilmore has refused to quit cleaning, however, all but daring street inspectors to cite him.

In a letter to Mayor James K. Hahn's economic development office, he offered to put away his hose only if "every morning before 8 a.m., the city will agree to clean my sidewalks of urine, human waste, vomit, alcohol, cardboard, clothing, hypodermic needles, crack pipes and bullet casings." Then, he said, "I will cease and desist from maintaining my properties as any human being would have a right to expect."

Otherwise, he'll keep washing the walkways used by 500 residents of the newly converted buildings, Gilmore pledged Tuesday.

City officials wish they could wash their hands of the problem. But they stressed that federal law requires them to prevent pollutants from being carried by street gutters and storm drains into San Pedro and Santa Monica bays.

"We definitely support Mr. Gilmore's efforts to bring more vibrancy to downtown with mixed-use development. He's in a Catch-22 situation we're hoping to resolve," said Jonathan Kevles, deputy mayor for economic development.

Cora Jackson-Fossett, a spokeswoman for the city Department of Public Works, said street and sanitation officials will meet with representatives of Hahn and downtown-area City Councilwoman Jan Perry in hopes of reaching a compromise with Gilmore.

Joe Cornish, a high school English teacher who has lived for two years on the eighth floor of one of Gilmore's buildings, described the standoff as "crazy."

"I know the radical difference between clean sidewalks and dirty sidewalks. Here we have someone trying to make the place better. Why shouldn't he be able to improve the quality of life downtown?"

But Steve Fleischli of Santa Monica BayKeeper, who has jurisdiction over Santa Monica and San Pedro bays, said that though Gilmore's "intentions are good ... runoff from the urban environment is the No. 1 cause of pollution of our waters."

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