A plan to improve four blocks in Westchester -- hailed by former L.A. City Councilman Bill Rosendahl and Congresswoman Maxine Waters as they posed at its "groundbreaking" last March -- has completely stalled, leaving severely buckled sidewalks that a gymnast might have trouble safely negotiating.
Rosendahl and Waters praised the $1 million "Westchester Streetscape Improvement" project, in which 16 big shade trees, blamed for ruining the sidewalks, were chopped down. And then, nothing. The roots were left exploding from the ground, but no improvements ever came.
Today, on the west side of Sepulveda Boulevard, from 80th Street to 84th Place, the scene is bleak and dangerous -- and officials admit that nothing is on the boards until sometime next year.
They just don't know when next year.
The Sepulveda Boulevard sidewalk is crumbling as large, protruding tree roots left by the city crews elevate and snap the remaining concrete. Trash has caught in spaces between the buckled concrete and the roots beneath.
The office of L.A. City Council District 11, the Westchester Streetscape Improvement Association, the Bureau of Engineering and the Bureau of Street Services all collaborated on the project. Waters secured the $1 million of federal funding to restore the battered stretch through a beautification plan involving "meandering" sidewalks.
A May newsletter from the Department of Public Works in the Bureau of Engineering described the project:
"The Westchester Streetscape Improvement project will construct approximately 1,600 linear feet of meandering sidewalks (with variable widths of 7 to 10 feet), plant 42 trees (16 trees were removed by WSIA from sidewalk areas), and install approximately 17,000 square feet of landscaping and irrigation system along the front and back of the meandering sidewalks."
The 11th District's longtime councilman, Rosendahl, left office in June, placing the project in the hands of his successor, City Councilman Mike Bonin.
But a representative from Bonin's office was unable to explain why the walkways are being left in dangerous condition, by what date somebody is going to restart the orphaned project or when the mature shade trees the city chopped down will be replaced.
Bonin's spokesman, David Graham-Caso, pointed to the Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering, saying the engineering office is thinking of a date well into 2014, or beyond, to clean up the situation and make the promised improvements.
"The Bureau of Engineering is handling the west side [of Sepulveda] and will bid the project out in the spring with plans to start groundbreaking in May -- but that is still up in the air," Graham-Caso said.
Westchester pedestrians think it's a terrible situation.
"People cannot walk here. People can fall," said Gigi Costa, who lives in the area with her boyfriend. "Oh, and the elderly, forget about it. No one can walk in L.A. That's a shame."
In a March press release, Waters declared:
"Until this project began, when tourists, businesspeople and Angelenos arrived at LAX, and came into the city via Sepulveda, they were greeted by the out-of-control ficus trees and the buckling sidewalks."
They still are -- minus the deep-green shade trees.
A consultant for the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden said that although the trees' roots are not continuing to grow, the rotting remains of these sizable roots can continue to cause further damage to the sidewalks.
"If the root rots out, it can create a cavity," botanical information consultant Frank McDonough explains. "That cavity can cause whatever structure it is underneath to sag."
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The city has responded to the worsening situation by pouring asphalt between the growing cracks and depressions. But the asphalt patches have cracked and decayed as well, leaving a jumble that no wheelchair or stroller could negotiate.
No word on how much of the $1 million in federal funds, if any, has already been spent.
Meanwhile, Caltrans and the federal government plan to fix the stretch of sidewalks on Sepulveda Boulevard's east side, which are also buckled and cracked. They say they'll start chopping down the remaining shade trees, on the opposite side of the street, this winter.
For at least the next several months, the word is: Residents of Westchester who are on foot, proceed with caution.