By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
"I think we did an outstanding job in the way of planning and implementation," says Ray Reynolds, community development director, who’s been involved with the project from the get-go. "There was a lot of discussion and a lot of input from all segments of the community, and I can’t see where we could have done any better."
Joan English, head of the city’s Transportation and Public Works Department, which has jurisdiction over the project and traffic control, is equally firm in the conviction that preparation at all levels was thorough. She is optimistic about the progress that’s being made, and praises what she calls the "phenomenal" efforts being put forth by all departments in the city to help out. "But," she adds, "there have ä been some problems that have come up; obviously you never know as much before something happens as afterward."
Nowadays, strolling down Santa Monica Boulevard is often easier and less nerve-wracking than driving. Walking the street also gives one a stark, eye-opening perspective on the enormity of the job still ahead, and the hardships that have been imposed on commuters, residents and businesses in the area.
Traffic flow on the boulevard, which has always been something of an ordeal for motorists, is a nightmare, particularly during rush hours. Along the street there are huge sections of sidewalk ripped out, with new, freshly poured ones in some areas adjacent to old ones; open dirt trenches, street barricades, warning signs and orange tape are everywhere you look; and nearly all of the residential side streets are blanketed with automobiles. Not that parking has ever been trouble-free in West Hollywood, especially on the weekends when the party crowd hits the streets. But construction has severely exacerbated the situation. "That is our fault," muses Guarriello. "We should have built more than one parking garage for the public.
"But," Guarriello adds, "the naysayers and the detractors should remember that as bad as things are, they would have been far, far worse if Caltrans had finally gotten around to doing this work and not the city of West Hollywood."
There are some encouraging developments with regard to parking and access, which the businesses in the area claim are significant factors in their declining revenues. The city has freed up restrictions during the day, and has created additional metered spaces on a number of cross streets east of Fairfax Avenue. The Department of Transportation and Public Works has added 40 non-metered spaces on the west side, located on cross streets at 11 locations north and south of Santa Monica Boulevard, and is in the last stages of leasing a small parking lot at Santa Monica and Westbourne Drive. In addition, according to Interim City Manager Paul Arevalo, a valet parking program will soon be up and running for nighttime use. Stations will be set up where motorists can drop their cars off, shop, dine, enjoy the city’s alluring nightlife, then go back to retrieve their cars. Arevalo says the city is currently negotiating with the Pacific Design Center for the use of its parking facilities for the program.
One of the most appealing characteristics of Santa Monica Boulevard is the grand, picturesque mix of new and old shops, restaurants and businesses that line both sides of the street. Not surprisingly, there is no scarcity of opinions and grievances coming from those who operate or work in these establishments about life in West Hollywood today. More pointedly, it’s the imperatives of day-to-day survival that concern them, and what the pages of the future hold. Some people interviewed expressed contempt and anger toward City Hall, and Shawnan, the contractor, for what they assess as shabby workmanship, inept planning and an overall lack of consideration.
Guerry Pirtle, manager of the Tango Grill, says that his biggest problem is with the contractor. "They [Shawnan] are supposed to be limiting the noise and debris that is created, and they’re supposed to be spraying water to keep all the dirt and dust down, but they only do it if we call and complain after things are really bad." Repeated calls to Shawnan for comments were not returned.
"It’s kicked the living shit out of our business," says Herb Dempsey, an employee of Koontz Hardware, a fixture on the boulevard since 1938. Owner Russ Wilson, a well-respected and active member of the city’s business community, is sympathetic with both the merchants who are suffering financially (though he adds he’s better off than many others), and the "big picture" benefits of the project. He is effusive in his praise of Interim City Manager Arevalo, who, since coming on the job seven months ago, has been outstanding in trying to solve problems and interacting with the owners, Wilson says.
But like others, he expressed doubts about the extent to which the city’s leadership was prepared for all of the difficulties. "[The council] unleashed this $32 million juggernaut on us, and I really don’t think they anticipated the devastation that would follow. But," he adds, with a sigh of resignation, "the train has left the station, and there’s nothing we can do about it."