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Parking plan a threat to hipness?

Silver Lake merchants contend street meters would open up spaces for shoppers. But some residents say that would change the area's funky character.

September 13, 2007|Rong-Gong Lin II | Times Staff Writer

First came the trendy clothing boutiques and vintage furniture stores that opened next to laundromats and liquor stores on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake.

Then came the upscale eateries and patio cafes.

Now comes the parking enforcement officer.

The city is moving forward with a plan to quadruple the number of parking meters in all of Silver Lake, mostly along the burgeoning business districts of Sunset, Glendale and Silver Lake boulevards.

Some merchants cheer the idea of adding 500 meters, saying it will help customers find parking in an area notoriously short on spaces. But some residents worry that the meters will mean less parking for them -- and pressure on the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.

"It seems like it is becoming like every other place that becomes bourgeois," said Tristan Saether, 24, a bartender who lives and works in the meter-free Sunset Junction neighborhood in the heart of Silver Lake. "It's one more step toward high rent."

Merchants and residents say parking problems have reached unbearable levels in Silver Lake. Along Sunset Boulevard, the competition for parking is fierce, causing motorists to travel up residential side streets in search of spaces.

"Parking is so bad already," said Kelly Van Patter, who opened an environmentally themed home and garden shop in Sunset Junction two weeks ago. "It's tough to find a spot as it is."

Sean Eisele, 22, said he had to park 10 blocks from his home on Sunday. He arrived home at 9 p.m., forcing him to compete with visitors to the area's restaurants.

"You have to dance around with your car," said Eisele, a recent transplant from Philadelphia.

There's a lot to attract shoppers to the new Silver Lake, with its heart in Sunset Junction -- so named because it served as the rail car junction that once connected Sunset Boulevard and Santa Monica Boulevard.

On a recent evening, next to a Salvadoran pupuseria, a line of people filled Pazzo Gelato, with its huge windows and bright facade acting as a beacon for Sunset Junction. Farther east were boutique shops filled with shoes and a comic books store with shiny hardwood floors that doubles as an art gallery.

Diners chatted at an upscale microbrewery, an Indian restaurant that offers valet parking, and a packed organic vegan restaurant and deli.

Store owners say the problem is that workers or residents sometimes park on Sunset Boulevard for hours, making it difficult for customers to find street parking.

"These cars end up sitting for hours on end," said David Ritchie, a co-owner of Secret Headquarters, a comic books store and gallery.

He admits he also has sometimes parked for several hours on Sunset.

But for the customers' sake, he said, "It'd be nice if we got some turnover out there."

That's why merchants say they asked the City Council to add parking meters. The city's transportation committee approved the idea Wednesday, with the council to vote on it in coming weeks. Under the proposal, the meters would operate from 8 a.m. to 8 or 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

Peter Choi, a past Silver Lake Chamber of Commerce chairman and owner of Serifos, a gift shop, said he often hears customers say, "I meant to stop by the other day, but I couldn't find a spot, so I just went home."

One- or two-hour parking limits aren't rigorously enforced by the city. Parking meters are expected to make it easier for shoppers to get a shot at street parking, Choi said.

"They'll have a better chance of stopping in front of a business and picking up a gift, a bottle of wine or a hunk of cheese," Choi said.

In Silver Lake, much of the parking crunch is caused by new shoppers and new residents who, Choi said, are living in homes built in the 1920s or '30s that might have only a one-car garage.

When the neighborhood was built, he said, most residents took the now-defunct Red Car trolley line to jobs in Hollywood because automobiles were unaffordable.

"You have all these little cottages packed in Silver Lake and there's no parking for a lot of them," Choi said. "Now you have exponentially more cars coming in as the neighborhood got more gentrified after the '90s. It went from bus riders to gentrified couples with cars.

"The neighborhood was not really designed for cars. It was designed for Red Car trolley-riding 1920s Angelenos and not for the post-millennial double-car garage culture," Choi said.

But the prospect of meters worries Fred Davis, a 60-year-old apartment manager who has lived in Silver Lake for 12 years.

"I don't go for the parking meters; that's like downtown, the Westside, Hollywood or around Santa Monica," Davis said, adding that he enjoyed the area's laissez faire attitude toward parking.

Sarah Dale, who runs Pull My Daisy, a clothing boutique in Sunset Junction, agreed. She said there is something to be said about Silver Lake as an off-the-radar neighborhood, an alternative to the glitz of the beach culture -- home to gay businesses, musicians and eclectic, independent stores.

"The less the parking meters, the better the world," Dale said. "I do think our little drag is really sweet. . . . I think there's something great about parking your car, going to get lunch," and then browsing at shops along the street -- "without being under the gun to come back and feed the meter."

Whatever may come, resident Anja Gardner fears that the neighborhood is losing its edgy distinctiveness.

"It's not quite as quaint as it used to be," said Gardner, 25, as she headed into a gelato shop on a recent warm night. "More money means less hip. That's the way it is."

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ron.lin@latimes.com

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