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It's unanimous, president's visit leaves L.A. boiling

President Obama's Monday evening ride from the Beverly Hilton to Hancock Park caused havoc as roads across the city were closed. Tuesday, he wisely chose to helicopter back to the airport.

August 18, 2010|By Carla Hall, Los Angeles Times

We have one word for you, Mr. President, the next time you want to sweep into Los Angeles late on a weekday afternoon: Helicopter. That way, you can avoid the streets the rest of us mere residents must use to get around.

President Obama's fundraising mission in Los Angeles on Monday evening may have been a whirlwind trip for him, but it was a tedious slog for the thousands who found themselves in gridlock from the Westside to downtown.

A Brentwood resident's two-mile jaunt took 45 minutes. An Echo Park couple who left home at 5:30 p.m. found their usual 20-minute drive west to Olympic and Rimpau boulevards took a whopping hour and 15 minutes. An attorney left his Miracle Mile-area office at 5:45 p.m. and sat unmoving in traffic for 45 minutes.


FOR THE RECORD:
Obama's visit: An article in Wednesday's LATExtra section about how President Obama's visit to Los Angeles this week caused major traffic problems for some said public relations professional Karen Diehl had a lengthy commute to her Santa Monica office. Diehl's office is in West L.A. —

No matter their politics, Los Angeles residents found themselves united. "It was a beautiful thing," said Brentwood resident Myles Berkowitz, commiserating with his neighbors on Montana Avenue. "Young, old, black, white — everyone was pissed off."

All this traffic angst was stirred up by street closures as the president made his way from the Beverly Hilton hotel to the Hancock Park home of "West Wing" and "ER" producer John Wells to raise $1 million for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Frustrated motorists took to websites — including that of the Los Angeles Times — to vent.

"If you want an investigation, start with John Wells and everyone at his fundraiser who thought this was a good idea," wrote one man on The Times' website. "Yes, I understand that the actions yesterday were at the Secret Service's direction, but you'd think the president should know by now that when he travels, this is what happens. He could have easily said no or done it at a hotel near the airport. All of that yesterday for a million bucks, just phenomenally inconsiderate."

Indeed, raising money may have cost Obama some goodwill, mused one public relations professional who had her commute Tuesday morning to her Santa Monica office lengthened by 15 minutes as authorities cordoned off streets for the president's departure.

"This probably won't affect people's view of Obama long term, but it's not a very good P.R. move," said Karen Diehl.

Deprived of his straight-shot commute east on Wilshire Boulevard, physical therapist Chris Hisamune had to wind his way from Santa Monica east then north then south and even briefly backtracking west before heading east again to his Beverly Hills office.

"It did sweep through my head: I'm never voting for Obama again," Hisamune said. "My next thought is: It's the president, and if anyone deserves the security, he does. If only there were a way to minimize it, warn us and give us a buffer."

The U.S. Secret Service puts together the routes for motorcades along with local and state law enforcement agencies, said Secret Service spokesman Edwin Donovan.

The agency tries to be mindful of traffic disruptions. "We always look at those issues," he said. "We want to make as small an impact as possible on a community. That's always a consideration."

But in this instance, officials had to get Obama across town without benefit of an easy freeway route. Residents trying to navigate their way — at rush hour, no less — from Beverly Hills to Hancock Park know that the drive requires a patchwork of surface streets.

Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese, who helped coordinate the Los Angeles Police Department's work on Obama's visit, said the department avoided any significant overtime costs by pulling in officers who were in the middle of regular shifts. About 150 officers were positioned along the motorcade route, manning street closures and fixed posts, Albanese said.

In addition to rank-and-file officers, an undisclosed number of officers from the LAPD's elite Metropolitan Division assisted the Secret Service — a task the division performs whenever the president or other high-profile dignitaries come to Los Angeles.

At least Obama availed himself of his Marine One helicopter to travel to and from LAX to Beverly Hills on both days, thus sparing drivers from having to share the 405 Freeway with the president.

carla.hall@latimes.com

Times staff writers Martha Groves, Joel Rubin, Andrew Blankstein and Jim Tankersley contributed to this report.

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