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Westside and Valley businesses are preparing for Carmageddon

The weekend closure of a 10-mile stretch of the 405 Freeway through the Sepulveda Pass will force restaurants and hotels to operate with fewer workers, offer greater discounts to attract customers and still face the prospect of revenue losses.

June 28, 2011|By Andrew Khouri, Los Angeles Times
  • Oscar Morel, manager of Spumoni Italian Cafe & Pizzeria, prepares the Brentwood restaurant for the lunch hour. During the 405 closure the Canoga Park resident will be sleeping at a friends house a few blocks from the cafe so he can make it to work.
Oscar Morel, manager of Spumoni Italian Cafe & Pizzeria, prepares… (Mariah Tauger, Los Angeles…)

For three nights on a mid-July weekend, Oscar Morel will be away on business. The Canoga Park resident, however, won't be traveling out of state or to a faraway country.

His destination? Just 19 miles away in Brentwood.

The closing of a 10-mile stretch of the 405 Freeway through the Sepulveda Pass will shut down the commute of many employees and force businesses — especially restaurants and hotels that rely on weekend customers — to operate with fewer workers, offer greater discounts to attract customers and still face the prospect of losing thousands of dollars in revenue.

Westside and Valley businesses near the 405 are reshuffling work schedules and seeking other accommodations for employees to keep operations moving during the July 15-18 weekend.

And some shopping emporiums are putting out the welcome mat especially for residents in their areas. Santa Monica Place and the city of Santa Monica are declaring the weekend a time to "stay local," urging area residents to take advantage of the city's attractions.

Officials hope that 70% of the 500,000 motorists who travel on the freeway through the Sepulveda Pass on a typical July weekend will stay away from the area during the 53-hour shutdown. But whether they will is unknown.

"The truth is we just don't know the answer to that," said Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA. Traffic "could be devastating or it could be shockingly mild."

For Morel's part, the father of three plans to stay at a friend's home in West Los Angeles instead of battling the doomsday gridlock predicted when his normal route from home to work closes. Conversations with his wife and children, he said, will be by phone.

"It's kind of like camping out," said Morel, manager of Spumoni Italian Cafe & Pizzeria on San Vicente Boulevard. "I have to be here.... The weekends are when we are busy."

George Chammaa, who manages Sunnin Lebanese Cafe, his family's Westwood restaurant, is taking a more straightforward approach: "Anyone who takes the 405 won't work."

The bustling establishment plans to trim staffing by a third during the closure weekend, which has earned the foreboding moniker "Carmageddon." Slow business, Chammaa said, could translate into at least $10,000 in lost revenue.

"We're pretty much going to treat it like an average weekend, even though we expect a 30% to 40% decrease in business," he said. "There is not much we can do. They need to expand the freeway."

The closing is part of a $1-billion freeway improvement project by the county's Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the California Department of Transportation. Half the Mulholland Drive bridge will be demolished over the weekend and rebuilt over the next approximately 11 months, after which the scenario will be repeated for the other half.

Starting late July 15, northbound lanes of the 405 will be closed for 10 miles between the 10 and the 101 freeways; southbound lanes will be shut down for four miles between the 101 and Getty Center Drive. The 405 is expected to reopen at 5 a.m. July 18.

At Spumoni, Morel is planning for congestion: Any restocking will be done before the freeway closes, he said. The manager expects a busy weekend, possibly better than usual if local residents stick to businesses close to home.

"Most of our clients always tell me they live just around the corner," Morel said, lounging at an outdoor table at Spumoni while pedestrians strolled along San Vicente Boulevard. "So for us, I don't think we are going to have less business. Probably we are going to have more."

On the other side of the hills, Valley employees of Cucina Bene will replace those who live on the Westside, but overall staffing is likely to drop for the weekend anyway, said Barry Jay, co-owner of the Sherman Oaks restaurant.

"It is going to be hell," Jay said, predicting that he could lose at least $3,000 because his Westside customers won't be coming to eat.

Hotels also are taking action to combat the closure's possible negative effects.

Hotel Carmel in Santa Monica will offer its employees a bed for the weekend if vacant rooms exist, said Mario Dichoso, executive manager of operations.

Courtyard by Marriott Sherman Oaks will provide a "405 Freeway Closure Special" — rooms for those who must work in the Valley that weekend but live elsewhere. The rate will be as low as $109 a night, discounted from $159, said David Cornish, the general manager.

"We actually have seen some pretty good booking for that weekend because they need to be here to work," Cornish said.

For his own employees, Cornish said he expected those who live on the Westside to work. If needed, they may sleep in the hotel's rooms — even if that means losing potential customers.

"I can't take the risk of providing poor service if somebody is delayed in traffic," Cornish said.

To try to generate business, cities and trade groups are coming up with efforts to get folks to go out in their own communities.

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