NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--Parking and politics aren’t mixing well for Robertson Boulevard businesses, leaving some to question whether retailers have become pawns in the lead-up to the city’s March elections.

The recently opened campaign headquarters on Robertson Boulevard of Jesse Creed, who is running against incumbent Paul Koretz for a chance to represent the fifth district on the Los Angeles City Council, was followed with a surprise for the street’s other tenants: the removal of a two-hour free parking garage program some allege was taken away to stop Creed’s volunteers from using it.

Free parking is gold in Los Angeles, where gridlock and circling blocks to find an open metered spot is factored into all commute times. For Robertson Boulevard, it’s perhaps even more critical as some hope for a revival of the occupancy-challenged street. Offering the first two hours free in the structure — a common carrot in places such as Beverly Hills or Santa Monica — is seen as a way to woo people to the street.

“Free parking on Robertson is imperative to the success of the street and small business owners like us especially,” said Alissa Jacob, the cofounder and ceo of the multibrand concept shop Reservoir.  “We are competing with Beverly Hills’ free parking and have many customers who are incentivized to come here only if there’s available free parking for a portion of their time on the street. The street is really suffering, with many more homeless people than ever, and if the city doesn’t do something now to help businesses, then this street will continue to suffer and more businesses will shut down or relocate.”

At issue is what the city of Los Angeles calls lot 703, the parking garage it owns at 123 S. Robertson Boulevard. Between Dec. 15 and Jan. 15, the structure offered the first two hours of parking free. Business owners reported anecdotally a lift in foot traffic and sales during that time.

A two-week free parking program was approved for the holiday via a council motion, a Los Angeles Department of Transportation spokesman said. The motion was done as an incentive for holiday shoppers and will not be coming back, the spokesman also confirmed.

That’s a different story than what was told to Fraser Ross, the founder of Kitson and owner of the new boutique concept Kitross on Robertson Boulevard. Ross has attempted to work with the city since May beginning with Manav Kumar, deputy counsel to Mayor Eric Garcetti, before being shuttled to Garcetti’s senior director, William Chun. He was passed on to the office of councilman Paul Koretz, who oversees the fifth district where Robertson is located, and has since been working with John Darnell, district director for Koretz.

Darnell, according to Ross, said at the onset the free parking would be extended every two weeks before swinging to full-time in March. Ross had a free parking sign made after he said he was told the city couldn’t afford to make such signage.

“Why do I have to make signs for the city? I’ve got enough to do. I have to pick up the garbage, get the tree [on the sidewalk] trimmed, get the phone booth [on the sidewalk] down. When was the last time Paul [Koretz] has walked the streets of Robertson to see the problems first hand?” Ross said.

Darnell, Koretz and Koretz’s spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.

The sign’s lettering was slashed, by an unknown party, last week with the end of the free parking program.

“It looked like we possibly had his [Koretz’s] attention, but since Creed’s office [opening], I’m having difficultly talking to his office,” said one merchant on the street, requesting anonymity.

Ross on Monday started a petition to bring the free parking back and expects to get to 1,000 within a week. He also, per his style, dressed his store’s window with a hard-to-miss statement accusing Koretz of taking away the parking. “Pay for play. All talk, no action,” part of the window reads.

Creed, the incumbent running against Koretz for the council, said he moved onto the street because he had seen the thoroughfare languish and took up the space as a statement of what he said was solidarity with the other business owners. He called the sequence of events — free parking available when his headquarters moved in Jan. 1 and then no free parking Jan. 15 — “suspicious.” One other observation since his move onto the street few would argue with: “The merchants here are desperate for help,” Creed said.

“There’s no ownership and Mayor Garcetti and Paul Koretz were down at the march on Saturday and they’re saying stand up for your rights and fight the fight. Well, we’re fighting the fight against you [politicians],” Ross said, pointing to American Apparel, BCBG Max Azria Group, The Limited and other retailers shuttering doors. “I mean, come on. You can see there’s a problem in this brick-and-mortar retail business. You’ve got to invite people to stores and make common areas again.”

Instead, what people see are empty and sometimes dirty storefronts, some of that city-owned real estate.

Bob Esho, the owner of the optical and sunglass store Optx, has been on the street for some 15 years. He previously occupied the storefront, owned by the city, located next to the city-owned parking garage. He shared the space with a doctor who decided he wanted to exit Robertson in 2015. Esho said he asked if the city could re-write the lease, removing the doctor from the contract, and was told no one was available to redo the paperwork. He closed in July 2015 and inked a lease across the street a few months later at a building owned by a private individual.

Esho’s former space is still empty.

Nathan Sager, who owns Sager French Salon, has expressed interest in leasing Esho’s previous space on Robertson. It would have been a homecoming of sorts, with Sager French on the street for 17 years before relocating to Beverly Hills after losing its lease when the building underwent major renovations. Sager was told by Darnell he would have to apply for the space via a request for proposal process through the Department of Transportation.

The city expected the RFP to post by mid-August, according to e-mails between Darnell, Chun and parking and LADOT analyst Rene Sagles. Darnell followed up with Sagles in November, at which time he was told the RFP would be released the first week of December. On Dec. 2, a follow-up e-mail between Darnell and Sagles indicated what Sagles called a “small setback we need to resolve” and that the RFP would be out the following week. The RFP has not yet been posted.

“I don’t understand it,” Esho said. “Why wouldn’t you lease the space and have a tenant there paying … There’s no accountability. Who are you going to hold accountable for it? They will blame each other [at the city].”

And even as lease deals get inked, merchandising of the street’s tenants needs to be done with a more careful eye, Sager added, factoring in services and lessons learned from the street’s past boom and then bust.

“The street’s lost so much of the retail and we understand that you cannot support retail without services,” Sager said.

It didn’t help that big brands — Chanel, Ralph Lauren and Lululemon, among others — moved in years ago, boosted rents and later left with the recession and rise of competing streets offering cheaper prices. It wasn’t good for real estate and it wasn’t good for a street aimed at trendsetters and neighborhood shoppers, some would say.

“These people [big brands] don’t really look at recessions,” Sager said. “These people have an agency that is looking for them and what is the hottest location. None of these owners stand on the street and see what people are walking them. They have location scouters.”

“I’ve been here for 20 years. This street, I’ve never seen it so bad,” said Sylvia Diaz, owner of the restaurant Cuvée. “Any little thing we can get that would increase our business, I’m shocked that the city doesn’t get it.”

Diaz said longtime customers come in and regularly ask her what happened to the street, referencing the heyday when celebrities shopped there and tour buses rolled through. Today, she’s contemplating whether she should relocate following a rough six months capped by a November and December that were the worst months the business has had during its run on the street.

“It’s never been this bad,” she said. “I’m working harder. I’m trying to come up with new ways of drawing in business and it’s hard. I’ve never had to cut [employee] hours before. These employees of mine, it really breaks my heart.”

(Kari Hamanaka writes for WWD.com … where this piece was first posted.)

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NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS-----The effort to legalize street vendors is moving forward at City Hall.  The proposal has proven controversial in the past, with many residents as well as brick-and-mortar business owners opposed to the idea.  But most of the business owners and managers who were interviewed by The Eastsider were open to but cautious about the measure

“If it’s a taco stand, of course it’s competition,” said Miguel Perez, the manager at Acapulco restaurant on Sunset Boulevard, near Virgil Avenue in East Hollywood. But, “as long as [vendors] keep it nice and clean, that would fine.” 

Perez’s answer was typical among [business owners] but so was his surprise to hear that the city was considering the matter; Perez, like most of the other businesses owners and employees who were interviewed, had not heard about the renewed efforts to legalize vendors. 

The latest push comes as advocates are concerned that undocumented immigrants who are cited for illegal vending may face deportation under a Trump presidency. Under a proposal that came out last week from a Council committee, each block could have up to four vendors – two on each side of the street. Adjacent businesses owners would also have the power to approve their presence. The plan goes to the full City Council for review next spring. 

“I know people who are against vendors,” said Meghan Dhaliwal, a manager at Caffe Vita in Los Feliz. “But I think cheap street food is great.” 

Dhaliwal said vendors nearby probably wouldn’t create much competition with her store, since Caffe Vita doesn’t serve hot food. 

Christian Chavez, owner of Echoes Under Sunset on Glendale Boulevard in Echo Park, had heard of the recent vendor proposal and unabashedly supported it. 

“I got no problem with street vendors. They’re convenient,” said Chavez, whose business is primarily a comedy venue – selling drinks, but not much food. “So it’s kind of cool for us to have the street vendors.” 

He added that the vendors are clean and don’t take away from other businesses, since his neighborhood sees so many people. 

“Some people come out of a club or bar get something to eat and keep running,” he said.

The City Council is scheduled to take up the most recent street vendor proposal early 2017.

 

(Barry Lank posts at The East Sider where this report originated.)  Photo of Boyle Heights Vendor by Ana Facio-Krajcer.

NEIGHBORHOOD P­­OLITICS--ECHO PARK – A cluster of classic, Spanish-Revival style bungalows on Echo Park Avenue could be demolished to make way for as many as a dozen new homes, according to city records. 

An application filed by the developer with the Planning Department seeks permission to carve up the property at 1456 Echo Park Avenue to build up to 12 single-family homes under the city’s small-lot development ordinance, which allows for more dense development of single-family homes. The project, proposed by Bixel House LLC, would require the demolition of 7 apartments and the removal of nearly 4,000 cubic feet of earth. 

This project of 3-story homes would have a big impact on this section of the avenue, where most of the surrounding one- and two-story buildings date back to the 1920s or earlier and there has not been much in the way of new construction during the past 30 years. 

The request to subdivide the property would be subject to public hearings and additional reviews. Stay tuned. 

Update: In response to the developer’s application, Councilman Mitch O’Farrell issued the following response through his spokesman, Tony Arranaga: “This proposal flies in the face of historic preservation and the Councilmember’s efforts at revising the Small Lot Subdivision ordinance …. In addition, the proposal does not align with the Councilmember’s goals to maintain the historic character of our Echo Park neighborhood.”

 

(This report was first published at The Eastsider)

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NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--According to Greg Monfette, of Tree Case Management, an arborist hired by the Larchmont Business Improvement District (BID), the ficus trees planted on Larchmont almost sixty years ago have outlived their welcome (photo above) on the street, and it’s time for them to be replaced through a process of rotational management.

The BID, a consortium of property owners on Larchmont, is trying to address the broken plumbing and sidewalks caused by the tree roots for several years. According to BID Co-spokesperson Rebecca Hutchinson, the BID needs to replace the ficus trees because it will lose its insurance if it gets sued one more time by someone who has been injured falling on a broken sidewalk. (Read the rest.

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NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS—Vernon--State environmental regulators issued guidelines Thursday that will allow expedited cleanups of high-risk homes near the shuttered Exide Technologies battery-recycling plant in Vernon even before a full mitigation plan and environmental review are completed. 

The Department of Toxic Substances Control released a draft cleanup plan and environmental impact report for public review in December, with cleanup operations to mitigate lead-contaminated soil and properties near the plant anticipated to begin this summer. 

That schedule, however, sparked criticism from some residents and area officials who said some properties near the plant are at particularly high risk. 

DTSC officials said Thursday they will move forward with cleanups on a “case-by-case basis” at a limited number of properties “with high levels of lead in the soil and the greatest exposures to sensitive populations.” 

“We are utilizing all of the resources at our disposal to ensure that we are able to take action to protect the most sensitive populations impacted by the presence of lead in the soil from the Exide operations,” DTSC Director Barbara Lee said.

The agency plans to consider for expedited cleanup properties that have soil with lead levels of 1,000 parts per million or more. 

The agency will also consider cleanups at properties where a resident “has a blood-lead level at or above five micrograms per deciliter, which is the level used by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify children with elevated blood-lead levels.” 

The Exide plant permanently closed in March 2015. When Exide agreed to close the lead-acid battery recycling plant, it committed to pay $50 million for cleanup of the site and surrounding neighborhoods. Of that amount, $26 million is meant to be set aside for residential cleanup. 

Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this year signed legislation providing $176.6 million in funding for environmental testing and cleanup work in neighborhoods surrounding the now-shuttered plant. 

State officials said the funding would pay for testing of residential properties, schools, day care centers and parks within a 1.7-mile radius of the plant, and fund cleaning of as many as 2,500 properties with the highest lead levels.

 

(This report originated at City New Service.)

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--LA City Council candidate Jesse Creed hosted a press conference to call for safety improvements on Westwood Boulevard. Creed is running for the Westside’s Council District Five. 

Creed declared that, due to more than 300 injury collisions over the past five years, Westwood Boulevard is “virtually a deathtrap.” According to Creed, despite Westwood being among the 15 mayoral Great Streets Initiative sites for the past two years, “virtually nothing” has changed. Due to high rates of collisions and death, Westwood Blvd. is part of the city’s Vision Zero High Injury Network, streets that experience more than their share of deadly crashes. Creed stressed that his priority is to “make Westwood Boulevard safe for everyone” and pledged that “one of his first actions as councilmember” will be to commission a safety study for Westwood. 

Creed was joined by Westwood residents, academics, and business leaders, all of whom called for greater safety features, including bike lanes, on Westwood Boulevard. Residents and business leaders criticized a lack of representation. UCLA professor Michael Jerrett, a bicycle commuter himself, criticized bike lane opponents as “putting peoples’ lives at risk.” Many speakers emphasized connections between UCLA, which is implementing a bike-share system this year, and Metro rail stations, including the existing Expo Line station and the future Purple Line subway station.

Creed is drawing a clear distinction between his platform and the record of Fifth District incumbent Councilmember Paul Koretz. Koretz quashed an earlier study of designated bike lanes for Westwood Boulevard,  and further undermined the city’s Mobility Plan by yanking Westwood from the city’s Bicycle Enhanced Network

(Joe Linton is the editor of StreetsblogLA ... where this perspective was first posted. He founded the LA River Ride, co-founded the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, worked in key early leadership roles at CicLAvia and C.I.C.L.E., served on the board of directors of Friends of the LA River, Southern California Streets Initiative, and LA Eco-Village.)

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NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--"Do you hear me ... Do you hear me now?" How many times did one hear the Verizon ad man ask that question in response to obtaining adequate service? The Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC) is now asking this of Councilman Mike Bonin.

Projects affecting Venice are being approved by the City and they have never been thru the Venice Neighborhood Council. (Photo above: Ira Koslow, president of the Venice Neighborhood Council.)

In August the VNC sent a letter to Councilman Mike Bonin asking him to present all current projects to the VNC rather than skirting the system. They did not receive an answer to the letter. In the December meeting, Matt Shaw presented a motion that all projects affecting Venice, in whatever state, be presented to the neighborhood council and "stop taking any actions until such time as our council and stakeholders have had a chance to voice our opinion on any and all proposals."

Councils Created to Provide Grassroots Input

The neighborhood councils were created by Charter amendment in 1999 to provide grassroots vetting and input to the governing bodies. "To promote public participation in government and make government more responsive to local needs by creating, nurturing, and supporting a citywide system of grass-roots, independent, and participatory neighborhood councils."

There are 96 councils and Venice, one of the first 4 or 5 to be certified, has outshone all councils with its professional participation and voting record at the polls. The VNC has the largest turnout of any neighborhood council each year.   Last year the governing body had to print extra ballots three times.  Other neighborhood councils visit the Venice council to see how it is done. Former Land Use and Planning committee (LUPC) Chair Challis Macpherson wrote the book on LUPC and taught other councils how it should be done.

The Board is Heavy with Talent

The people on the board are businessmen, attorneys, architects, professionals and some are retired professionals. They have all been trained to address a problem and provide solutions. Because of their broad backgrounds, many times the suggestions, solutions are varied prior to consensus. 

Ira Koslow, president of the Venice Neighborhood Council, says "I have been on the board a long time before becoming president. These people who have never served before just do not understand the lack of cooperation from the CD11 council office," he said. "I don't understand it."

Koslow, now retired, is no lightweight in the field of accomplishments. He worked 25 years in the music business as a talent manager with Peter Asher management. Before that he was an associate professor at California State University, Long Beach for four years. His last job was with the LAUSD where he was a math teacher for 10 years and taught economics for 12 and for five years was Dean of Discipline.

Examples of No Vetting

Koslow started reciting in rapid fashion the latest instances he could remember regarding the preempting of the Venice Neighborhood Council.

"Bonin brought an "ice rink" to be put at the park on Windward to the neighborhood council," he said. "No one wanted it. Then he wanted to bring it back thru the Venice council again. Normally, we do not hear a case twice but he said he had altered the plans enough for it all to be considered new. The Venice council voted it down again. Bonin then went over the Venice council to the California Coastal Commission and got it approved in spite of the Venice council members testifying against the project at the Commission hearing. Whatever happened to the project after that, we do not know.

"The three homeless projects--Westminster Senior Center, Venice Median, and Thatcher Yard have never been thru the Venice Neighborhood Council. Bonin claims that he had a town hall and that was sufficient. Hardly. Telling Venetians what he plans to do is not vetting a case.

"The Business Investment District (BID) that was so controversial and had to be redone, It never went thru the Venice council. Had Bonin not thrown in 25 percent of the city land, it would never have passed. Now the City has to pay $480,000 in fees.

"Lava Mae, the mobile shower service, was new to us. It was mentioned as a project but never presented with details until our December meeting when everything was a fait accompli. There are Board members who live on Third who could have given valuable input at some point.

"This is why we are here."

(Reta Moser writes for Venice Update] … where this perspective was first posted.) Photo credit: Yolanda Gonzalez.

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