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Boulevard brouhaha

Westside businesses fear a city plan to ban rush-hour parking on Pico and Olympic will devastate them, but officials insist drivers need relief.

February 02, 2008|Martha Groves | Times Staff Writer

Customers hoping to savor challah at their Shabbat dinners know that the line often trails out the door of Delice Bakery on West Pico Boulevard. The purveyor of French kosher breads and pastries sells hundreds of its creations every Friday.

That's why owner Julien Bohbot said he "went berserk" when he read about Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's plan to eliminate rush-hour parking on Pico and Olympic boulevards as part of a three-phase program to reduce travel times on the busy roads, especially at congested points on the Westside.

"If they want to synchronize the lights, no problem," Bohbot said. "But removing the parking makes no sense whatsoever. If it passes, it will kill every business on Pico."

Bohbot and several other like-minded Pico Boulevard entrepreneurs have joined with neighborhood groups in a coalition called Pico-Olympic Solutions, a project of the West Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce that opposes the traffic plan and is looking into alternatives to ease traffic bottlenecks. Among the ideas floated: building a monorail and replacing body shops with parking structures.

Much of the opposition to Villaraigosa's plan emanates from the Pico-Robertson area, a heavily Jewish enclave that features a mix of auto body shops, dental offices, bakeries by the dozen, Israeli and Persian markets, Thai eateries, Catholic churches, synagogues and Chinese restaurants, including a kosher place with mezuzas on the doorways. The elements of this urban hodgepodge have set aside any cultural and ethnic differences to battle City Hall with a united front.

"The opposition is across the board from La Brea to Centinela," said Scott McNeely, co-chairman of the Pico Neighborhood Council. "They're going to do this at the expense of local businesses." McNeely said he surveyed local businesses and found that many feared a loss of several hundred dollars a day in sales if rush-hour parking was eliminated.

Los Angeles transportation officials have said the plan would provide consistency for drivers along two important thoroughfares where rush-hour parking restrictions are intermittent. Despite that intention, officials last month suggested that they might allow some rush-hour parking on the north side of Pico to assuage opponents.

Meanwhile, residents are worked up about another issue that they say is related to the traffic plan. The city has been quietly considering extending the hours that nonresidents could park in "preferential parking" zones in neighborhoods. Residents of many neighborhoods in the Pico-Olympic corridor have resorted to permit-only parking to prevent restaurant valets and business customers from parking cars for extended periods on residential streets.

Some critics of the city's no-parking plan see a connection. If the city eliminates peak-hour parking, more restaurants would have to use valet services, "which means they will have to encroach on residential areas," said Jay Handal, chairman of the West Los Angeles Neighborhood Council. "To do that they would have to amend preferential parking."

Confusion about the traffic initiative abounds. Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky last April proposed making Pico and Olympic mostly one-way from the ocean to downtown. In a July report to the City Council, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation rejected elements of that proposal as unworkable. The agency objected because it said the plan would encourage drivers to cut through neighborhoods and because Pico is not wide enough in spots to accommodate traffic going mostly one-way, with a bus lane heading the opposite direction.

Villaraigosa's initiative -- supported by Councilman Jack Weiss, whose district would be most affected -- focuses on alleviating rush-hour traffic on both boulevards along the 7-mile stretch between Centinela and La Brea avenues. Transportation officials say easing that congestion would reduce commuter cut-through traffic on neighborhood streets. By including stretches on both sides of the 405 Freeway, Weiss said, the program would improve the flow to and from the freeway throughout the day and speed movement through Century City and Beverly Hills.

Beverly Hills Mayor Jimmy Delshad said his city has not yet heard details of the plan. "I would very much like to cooperate to move the traffic faster out of Beverly Hills," he said. "But we need to vet the plan. We need to take it to our residents."

He added that Beverly Hills had independently extended by one hour the morning rush-hour period during which parking is not allowed on the north side of Olympic. That period now runs from 7 to 10 a.m.

Weiss acknowledged that some people were upset about the proposed changes. "It would be unrealistic if I didn't acknowledge that there will inevitably be some impact" on businesses, he said. "But hundreds of thousands of people travel through this area on a daily basis, and they're asking for relief and we're trying to give it to them," he said.

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