Several big – or potentially big – community issues raised their heads at this month’s meeting of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, held on Wednesday, February 12. The hot-button topics included a new proposal for special traffic signals that would be part of a new 4th Street Bike Greenway project, whether or not Metro should be allowed an extension to continue use of a large street opening that supports subway construction at the intersection of Wilshire Blvd. and Sycamore Ave., and concerns about the fate of the Larchmont Farmers’ Market if construction of a new playground proposed for part of the Larchmont parking lot proceeds as scheduled.
4th Street Greenway Traffic Control Systems at Rossmore and Highland Intersections
The first of these issues, which the GWNC board spent close to half of its 2 hour, 45 minute meeting debating, was a proposal to add bike-centric traffic signals at the intersections of 4th Street and Highland and 4th Street and Rossmore Avenues, as a part of a larger proposed “4th Street Greenway” bike route.
The proposal, designed to increase bike and pedestrian safety, would restrict westbound automotive traffic on 4th Street at both Rossmore and Highland Avenues to right-hand turns, while adding a signal light that would allow both bikes and pedestrians to cross those larger intersections on demand. The configuration would be similar to one installed a while ago at Rosewood and La Brea.
As the discussion proceeded, three main threads emerged in the debate – whether or not the bikeway/greenway itself should be created along 4th Street, whether or not this particular signal configuration is appropriate or needed at the two intersections proposed, and whether or not the community was adequately consulted before formulating the plan.
On the first of those points, GWNC board member John Gresham contended that 4th Street is not a wise choice for a dedicated bikeway, because it dead-ends at Park La Brea, and could not carry riders straight through to desireable destinations such as Fairfax Ave. or La Cienega Blvd. Several other speakers noted, however, that the Los Angeles Department of Transportation has been proposing such a path along 4th Street for many years, and seems to consider it a good route. Also, one resident from the Park La Brea area noted that the Mid-City West Community Council is working on a plan to extend the Greenway around Park La Brea and to points west, so the 4th St. terminus won’t be its final destination.
The thorniest of the issues, however, was whether this particular signal is the most appropriate way to handle safety issues at these two specific intersections. Board Member Jen DeVore, who represents the Hancock Park area, noted that a similar plan was proposed in 2011, when it was overwhelmingly opposed by Hancock Park residents, with more than 200 people weighing in on the issue. Back then, DeVore said, the GWNC also voted to oppose the plan, requested that a formal study be done on actual traffic and bike use along the route, and made a formal request to the city to be included in future traffic planning efforts for the area. DeVore said the studies were never done, however, and neighborhood residents remain opposed to the new signals. According to DeVore, residents believe the signals are not necessary (bikers and pedestrians can cross both Rossmore and Highland fairly easily at 4th St. now, and there are also traffic lights and crosswalks at both 3rd and 6th Streets). Also, she said, installing the new signals would encourage more cut-through traffic along the neighborhood’s north/south residential streets, as well as restrict southbound vehicle egress from the neighborhood. DeVore said she received 115 emails about the proposal just this week…with 110 of them in opposition. (GWNC administrator Shirlee Fuqua said she, too, had received about 200 emails from neighbors this week, also mostly opposing the plan.)
Other board members, however, expressed support for the plan. GWNC Transportation Committee chair Conrad Starr said that as the city increases density and tries to reduce reliance on cars, making roads safer for bikes is increasingly important, as is reducing both noise and carbon emissions. Board Member Tucker Carney also expressed support, saying the opposition letter submitted by the Hancock Park Homeowners Association is “a turducken of misinformation.” He also said that a study of current bike ridership along 4th Street wouldn’t provide the kind of information necessary to evaluate the signal plan, because the goal is to build bike ridership and serve more bikers than are using the route now. Board Member Hayden Connor Ashworth also expressed support for the proposal…and letters of support from the Sycamore Square Neighborhood Association and the La Brea Hancock Homeowners Association were also presented.
During public comments, eight people – mostly frequent bikers concerned about safety issues – spoke in favor of the proposal, with only two opposed. (The two opponents were both longtime residents of Highland Ave., near 4th Street, who said bikers and pedestrians currently have no problems crossing that street as it is now. )
The third point of contention in the discussion, however, was whether or not sufficient neighborhood outreach about the proposal has been done, and whether Hancock Park residents have had an adequate role in the discussions so far. Starr noted that a public presentation about the signal proposal was made at the October meeting of the GWNC’s Transportation Committee, and notices that it would be on the board’s agenda this month went out in November. But other board members noted that the GWNC has a long-standing tradition of reaching out directly to communities affected by specific issues, and also that the traffic studies requested nine years ago were never done, so residents still don’t have the data they requested many years ago.
In the end, this was the part of the discussion that carried the most sway. Board members agreed to return the matter to the Transportation Committee for further research and outreach, and more direct discussion with Hancock Park residents. No votes were taken or official positions stated.
Extention of Permission for Metro to Maintain Wilshire/Sycamore Subway Construction Opening
Another rather lengthy topic of discussion at Wednesday’s meeting was a motion to request that City Council District 4 oppose Metro’s latest application to once again extend the life of the Purple Line Subway Extension construction project’s center opening and enclosure, in the middle of the street at Wilshire and Sycamore. Metro initially won community support for the opening – which the agency said was needed to facilitate hauling supplies and dirt into and out of the underground Wilshire/La Brea station construction site – in 2017. At the time, neighbors were told that the opening would only be there until late 2018. Since then, however, Metro has requested that permission for the opening be extended several times, and the latest application does not specify an end date. Also, members of the Sycamore Square Neighborhood Association and representatives of local businesses reported that Metro is not just using the opening and enclosure for hauling, as originally agreed, but also as parking for construction vehicles, location of portable toilets and hand-washing stations for construction workers, and also as an official “emergency exit” for the construction site’s crews, none of which were part of the original agreements with the community. After an extensive discussion, including documentation of complaints from local businesses negatively affected by the obstructions, loss of street parking and loss of visibility, as well as presentation of opposition letters from both the Sycamore Square Neighborhood Associaion and the La Brea Hancock Homeowners’ Association, the GWNC Board vote to support those groups and request that City Council District 4 oppose Metro’s extension request.
…And then there’s the Larchmont Playground Project
Introducing the third big – or in this case, potentially big – topic of discussion on Wednesday, the Board heard from local resident (and former GWNC board member) Gary Gilbert, who requested the board’s help in getting the city to temporarily pause plans to build a new children’s playground along the southern edge of the surface parking lot on Larchmont Blvd. Gilbert said he’s not trying to stop the project altogether, but simply postpone it until the future of the hugely popular Larchmont Farmers’ Market, which uses the lot on Sundays, is guaranteed. (As the Buzz reported last month, the park’s construction will almost certainly disrupt the Market’s operations, especially during the construction phase, and neither short- nor long-term alternate locations have yet been secured.)
Gilbert contended that some community members pushing to build the park as soon as possible are not motivated by concern for the area’s children as much as they are by the hope of preventing a marijuana dispensary from locating on the Boulevard (such businesses cannot be located within 500 feet of playgrounds and other “sensitive uses”). But Gilbert warned that starting construction too soon (it’s now scheduled for March) could actually kill the Farmer’s Market, which is one of the community’s best-loved and most heavily patronized institutions.
Board Chair Caroline Labiner Moser pointed out that it would be best for the matter to be discussed in greater depth by one of the Board’s standing committees (either Land Use or the new Quality of Life committee (see below)), and also noted that the GWNC itself, because of the advance public notice required for agenda items, crowded committee agendas, and lengthy turnaround time before an item can make it through a committee and back to the board for a final vote, does not make the body an ideal entity to deal with especially urgent matters, as this might be. In the end, because the item was not agendized for action at this month’s meeting, no official votes were taken or recommendations made.
In other business on Wednesday, the Council:
- Heard an introduction from a stakeholder who would like to become the Board’s liaison to the senior community.
- Voted to create a new Quality of Life Committee, which will hear issues that don’t fit under the umbrellas of the Board’s other standing committees (Land Use, Transportation, Sustainability and Outreach). The new committee will address issues such as homelessness, DWP matters, renters’ rights, street trees and lighting, and more.
- Voted to approve the appointment of Conrad Starr, currently the board’s Resiliency Liaison, as the board’s new Emergency Preparedness Liaison.
- Heard an introduction from Joe Suh, who is interested in filling the current vacancy for the Area 12/Western-Wilton seat on the board. (A vote to confirm Suh will be on next month’s board agenda.)
- Heard from the GWNC Outreach Committee that it has voted to grant a Citizen Recognition Award to Jeff Burtt, of Hope Lutheran Church, for his many years of service in helping with the local Homeless Count.
- Voted to supply GWNC Board Members and Alternates, on request, with LA City ID badges for official visits to City Hall and other locations.
- Voted to increase the Board’s social media presence by adding an official Instagram account.
- Voted to hold the GWNC’s 4th Annual Water Wise Garden Tour on Sunday, May 31, and to provide funding for the event.
- Voted to hold a GWNC Biodiversity Bioblitz at Robert Burns Park on Saturday, April 4.
- Voted to register GWNC as a National Wildlife Federation Certified Community Wildlife Habitat.
- Voted to request that the Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering extend the comment period for its Draft Environmental Impact Report for it’s Safe Sidewalks LA Sidewalk Repair Program by 60 days.
Finally, in land use matters on Wednesday, the Board voted:
- To support an application for a proposed 6-story, 10-unit residential condominium building at 643-645 N. Rossmore Ave.
- To support an application for a new 17-unit, 6-story apartment building, built under Transit Oriented Communities Guidelines, at 933 S. Gramercy Pl.
- To oppose a 5-unit Small Lot Subdivision project located at 506 N. Sycamore Ave. (When this project was discussed at the January meeting of the GWNC’s Land Use Committee, committee members suggested some design modifications, to upgrade the building’s style and materials, and invited the developer to return with another take on the project for further consideration.)
- To support an application for the proposed demolition of a garage behind a single family residence at 334 S. Orange Dr. (The property owner explained at the January Land Use Committee meeting that her family is planning to replace the garage with a new, two-story garage and dwelling unit; the main house on the property will not be affected.)
- Voted to oppose the renewal of a Conditional Use Permit to sell beer and wine at the Gon Ji Am restaurant at 4653 1/2 W. Beverly Blvd., pending further neighborhood outreach by the applicant.
- Voted to oppose a Conditional Use Permit for the sale of wine and beer at a new restaurant at 4001 W. 6th St., also pending further neighborhood outreach by the applicant.
Note that an application for a 4-story, 15-unit Transit Oriented Communities apartment project at 371-377 N. St. Andrews Pl., which the GWNC Land Use Committee recommended support for at its last meeting, was not agendized at this meeting, and will be voted on at a future GWNC Board meeting.
Upcoming GWNC Meetings
Board: Wednesday, March 11, Ebell of Los Angeles, 743 S. Lucerne Blvd.
Land Use Committee: Tuesday, February 25, 6:30 p.m., Marlborough School, 250 S. Rossmore Ave.
Transportation Committee: Monday, March 23, 7:00 p.m., Marlborough School, 250 S. Rossmore Ave.
Sustainability Committee: Tuesday, March 3, 7:00 p.m., Marlborough School, 250 S. Rossmore Ave.
Outreach Committee: Saturday, March 7, 9:30 a.m., Bricks & Scones Cafe, 403 N. Larchmont Blvd.
Quality of Life Committee: TBD