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Residents' Concern Is No Mere Bump in the Road

Q&A / CITY GOVERNMENT

September 18, 2006|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

This column has a sweet tooth for tasty neighborhood disputes -- particularly ones that are relevant to anyone in Southern California.

So here's one from Western Heights, an old neighborhood just west of downtown Los Angeles that borders the Santa Monica Freeway and is filled with stately Craftsman homes, some in better shape than others.

A few years ago, responding to residents' concerns, then-Councilman Martin Ludlow started the process of getting barriers built to keep outside traffic from using neighborhood streets as a shortcut between the Santa Monica Freeway and Washington Boulevard.

Herb Wesson, who was elected last year to replace Ludlow, inherited the issue and supports the building of three permanent barriers to replace the temporary ones put in place. About 82% of Western Heights residents want the barriers, Wesson says.

Now, you may be thinking that most residents would set up TSA security checkpoints at entry points to their neighborhoods if they could.

Not Dianne Lawrence, a Western Heights resident, and that raises the question ...

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Question: Why is Lawrence hopping mad about the barriers?

Answer: Hit it, Dianne:

"These people love it because they have nice, quiet streets, and it makes their property values go up," said Lawrence. "But it's like taking a sledgehammer to solve a problem.

"If people were speeding, why not put in speed bumps? What Wesson did is say all you have to do is get your neighborhood together, get a majority vote and come on down. He just lowered the bar for every other neighborhood in town."

Among her complaints, Lawrence is angry that Ludlow got the council to approve the barriers without the city doing a full study to document the problem.

And she thinks the barriers will slow down response from the police and fire departments, although only one barrier blocks the entire width of the street.

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Q: And what do barrier supporters say?

A: "People go right off the freeway at full-speed mode, and we have people speeding through our neighborhood at 50 mph," Dan Hakes, a member of the Western Heights Neighborhood Assn., said in an interview. "The neighborhood is gentrifying, and kids are on the streets -- life is so much easier since the temporary barriers went up."

As for Lawrence, Hakes said "her tactics are deplorable. Her arguments have changed many times. We have a neighborhood e-mail group that she has ruined. She's an e-mail bully."

He made another point: Lawrence doesn't live on a street used by shortcutters.

"I'm not surprised there are people who don't like it because it makes the neighborhood seem elitist," said Brian Jett, a co-president of the association, "but getting out of the driveway at 9 a.m. was a scary proposition."

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Q: And Wesson's response?

A: Wesson said that street barriers are often the most emotional issues he's seen in his 20 years in government. He also defends his handling of the issue.

"I feel comfortable with our approach and I know there are still 18 or 20% of the people who don't like it," Wesson said. "I also know that other neighborhoods are going to want the barriers now too. So we'll put criteria in place, and I don't want to put any more of them up unless we know that 75% of the residents are supportive and there are exhaustive studies."

It's a fascinating issue. There's no denying that cut-through traffic is a problem in many parts of the region. Up to now, most cities -- Los Angeles included -- have often settled on speed bumps as a solution.

Installing more barriers seemingly would improve life for neighborhoods that have it bad -- and vital neighborhoods make for better cities, right? -- and put traffic back where it belongs, on the major streets.

The policy question is what, if any, are the unintended consequences for traffic if barriers go up willy-nilly across town?

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Q: What's the city's beef with roosters?

A: In an effort to crack down on cockfighting, the city might outlaw roosters.

Such a rule also would help the city deal with the 700 or so complaints it receives each year about noisy roosters.

"This would not affect people's ability to have chickens," said Ed Boks, the general manager of the Animal Services Department, the agency pushing the new policy.

"You have these professional cockfighters who have hundreds of roosters that can be used for nothing more than cockfights, and we can't do anything about it if we don't see them fighting."

If the City Council approves the rooster ban, Boks said, the city would consider a waiver for those who have roosters for the purpose of fertilizing chickens for reproduction. This isn't the first time the city has set its sights on roosters and other animals. In 1997, then-Councilmen Richard Alarcon and John Ferraro introduced a motion to set noise limits for roosters, turkeys and other sing-songy livestock. The motion died after no one else wanted to pursue it.

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Q: If John Trask were king, what would he do?

A: Find a cheap and easy way to build more bike lanes across the city.

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