By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
The most searing invective regarding the Santa Monica Boulevard Project came from Brad Craft, manager of A Different Light Bookstore. "I’ve had to reduce my hours and my staff because of the construction, and I’ve been involved in the process of trying to get the people in city government to address our concerns. But what they tend to do is send out very nice people who can’t provide ä answers, and instead show us pretty pictures of what it’s going to look like when it’s all done and we’re all out of business."
Phyllis Ayres is the soon-to-be 90-year-old owner of the Big White Elephant, a small antique shop and haberdashery on the boulevard, in business 42 years. Like many, she wonders how long she’ll be able to hang on. "As soon as this started, I lost all of my customers. They just don’t come in anymore, and I’m months behind on my rent."
Then there are voices like Liama Leko’s, owner of Eat Well Café, and Robaire Boisvert, co-owner of Trash With Class, an antique store, who have adopted a stoic attitude about things, and even expressed gratitude and admiration for the assistance that City Hall has provided. Says Boisvert, "I understand the position [the City Council] is in, and they’re doing the best they can."
Arevalo concedes that this enormous undertaking has caused a lot of unforeseeable problems. "Part of the learning process is that you are going to make mistakes. One of the things I should have done much earlier is to go out and meet with the merchants, which would have helped enormously."
One issue that repeatedly emerges among business owners and operators is that of compensation. The city should reimburse them, they say, to make up for lost revenues, or at least provide some sort of monetary assistance while the project is in process. A Different Light’s Craft mentions that there is talk of a lawsuit. Arevalo says so far there have been no discussions about money, but there have been continual, developing efforts at mitigation, lauded by some, scoffed at by others.A shop was set up in August on the boulevard to provide information and assistance to the public, and meetings are regular and ongoing to allow business and community members to vent, address construction-related concerns and keep abreast of developments. Parking and access are areas that are constantly being looked at for improvements. A tax program begins in July 2000 that will rebate all or part of the business-license tax to businesses during ä reconstruction. This has provoked a chorus of derision among owners and operators, who say the money saved won’t come close to equaling what they stand to lose, or what they have already lost.
Executive director and CEO of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce Hillary Selvin says that she has hired a part-time employee, Barbara Hirschorn, to negotiate problems with city staffers and the community, and has developed a direct-mail and media-marketing campaign to help business in WeHo during construction.
"I think we all knew that there would be some impact, but we just didn’t know to what extent until things got started. What matters is that we all went into gear trying to come up with programs to help out, and we’ve done that, and are continuing to do so. Yes, we are doing construction, but there are places for people to park, and we want the public to know that they can still come to the city and enjoy themselves," Selvin says.
Contrary to what some have stated or might believe, it appears that Arevalo and his office, as well as others in city government (which in this case is just about all departments), have been reasonably forthright and responsive in their efforts. That they have fallen short in many instances is not surprising, given the complexity and magnitude of the job. At this juncture, the issue of whether or not things could have been done or planned better is a moot point, because the train has left the station. Perhaps there is a bit of economic Darwinism at work here: There is the likelihood that some businesses might not survive, while others will.
Back in the late ’80s a similar project took place along Third Street in Santa Monica, where approximately 70 percent of the original businesses closed. The Third Street Promenade is today one of the busiest, most bustling, prosperous districts in L.A. Longtime merchants like Margie Ghiz of the Midnight Special Bookstore, who survived the massive reconstruction, never dreamed a revamped street would ever become the commercial powerhouse that it has. "It’s great," she says. The end result should be no less gratifying or surprising for West Hollywood, a city with a charmed life and a gift for reinvention.