Editor’s Note: The Buzz is honored to have played a role in organizing and reporting on the Larchmont 2021 Community Conversations. We are also pleased to share the results of the survey which grew out those conversations. Our thanks to John A. Kaliski, architect, urban designer and resident of Windsor Village, for his assistance in organizing the Larchmont 2021 Community Conversations and preparing the following summary of the survey results. Kaliski and the rest of the Larchmont 20201 team will present the results on Wednesday, March 30 at 7 p.m. at a community conversation. Click here to register for the Zoom and join the conversation.
A year ago, myself, an architect and urban designer, Patty Lombard, the publisher of the Larchmont Buzz, Heather Duffy Boylston of the Larchmont Village Business Improvement District (BID), and Gary Gilbert, a member of the Windsor Square Association Board, got together at the invitation of Patty to talk about Larchmont Village. (Larchmont Village or “the village” refers to the commercial district of Larchmont Boulevard from 1st Street to Beverly Boulevard.) After discussing Village concerns– vacancies, a declining tree canopy, lack of everyday conveniences such as a hardware store or grocery, sidewalk cracks, etc. – we decided we wanted to reach out to outside experts for their opinions, invite participation by the greater community in Larchmont affairs, and stimulate a conversation about its present and future. Our hope was that a new generation of volunteers would emerge to support and foster the continued vitality of the street.
First, we organized two Larchmont conversations with knowledge leaders regarding the future of retailing, main streets, and place-making. Then, to a third public meeting we invited the community to contribute their ideas. Over a hundred people attended each of the three virtual sessions. The mix of concepts explored by both professionals and locals was illuminating. We heard about “Main Street” trends towards more food-serving uses, how alcohol financially supports sit-down restaurants, the importance of quality architecture and streetscapes, the need to better manage curbsides for uses such as shared vehicle drop off and pick up, and the role of parklettes in fostering street activity and economic vitality.
We also heard lots of ideas. Some wanted to relax existing restaurant regulations. Others spoke for and against the existing parklettes and the consequent loss of parking. Advocates for trees, improved sidewalks, and more trash service expressed their concerns. Strong opinions both for and against the selling of mixed drinks were heard. And bike lane and periodic street closings were explored. Given the wide range of interests, those of us that organized the three get-togethers felt the next best step was to undertake a community survey about the topics discussed, and find out more about what people in the community think.
Constructing the Survey
The Larchmont 2021 survey was developed using SurveyMonkey, a popular internet application. In addition to asking basic questions about where people live and how they get to and from Larchmont, the questions were based on the topics that experts and neighbors spoke most about during the community conversations; parking, restaurants, parklettes, serving of alcoholic beverages, trees, sidewalks and trash, community needs, and potential improvements. After preparing a draft version, we invited ten local leaders to review the questions and incorporated their revisions.
Though we were using simple survey tools, we felt if enough people took it, we might modestly reveal the community’s sense of the opportunities that should shape the street. Released by the Larchmont Buzz on December 3, 2021, we also distributed the survey to local homeowner associations as well as businesses up and down Larchmont Boulevard. Committee members Patty Lombard and Gary Gilbert passed out flyers at the Sunday Farmers Market and posted flyers with QR codes linking to the survey in Larchmont Blvd. store windows.
The response was much greater than anticipated; 1,024 people completed the survey by its closing on January 14, 2022. Of this number, 881 came from unique Internet Provider or IP addresses. The other 141 responses came from duplicate IPs. These latter responses were likely a combination of multiple people taking the survey within single households or at public locations such as Starbucks or another venue with a public router. Per an examination of the duplicate responses by an independent third party, TSA Research, there was no pattern of similar answers within the duplicate addresses. As well, different age and travel modalities were evident within duplicate addresses. Additionally there was no substantive response difference between the main group and the duplicates groups.
We asked Tom Smith of TSA Research, and Windsor Village resident to review the survey and give us his assessment of the validity of our effort.
“The Larchmont 2021 Community Conversation Survey was conducted over a six-week period that ended mid-January, 2022. Created to measure opinions about the future of Larchmont, the survey’s administration heeded a thoughtful and credible research process. It followed three well documented community meetings, held in the summer of 2021, that helped hone the objectives and language used in the survey. Wording of the questions was tested and adjusted in a pilot survey the responses to which were not included in the final set of results. The language of the survey is specific, unambiguous, and objective, neither leading respondents in desired directions, nor presenting issues in an unclear way,” wrote Smith.
“It was conducted on the SurveyMonkey platform which has been demonstrated to deliver results that are both valid and reliable. The survey was pushed out to the community through multiple channels, resulting in a dataset of responses that is robust in size, over 1000, with a correspondingly small margin of error.
“The sample’s key demographics serve to substantiate its validity. Geographically, respondents come from local and adjacent ZIP codes, and primarily from the home ZIP of 90004. Sample ages skew slightly older, reflecting the slightly older ages of residents in the Larchmont-adjacent communities compared to Los Angeles as a whole (source: 2019 data compiled by The Los Angeles Almanac). Further, reflecting the known walkability of Larchmont, a sizable number of respondents report that they walk to the street.
“Overall, the Survey’s methodology meets the requirements for an effective survey of community issues,” concluded Smith.
Who Took the Survey?
About 60% of the people who took the survey live within zip code 90004, which extends through Hancock Park, Windsor Square, and the entirety of Larchmont Village. The next largest group of individuals who participated, about 15%, live in the 90020 area, which again crosses portions of Hancock Park and Windsor Square. Other clusters were found within the 90036 zip code, 8%, inclusive of a sliver of Hancock Park and points west to Fairfax. The 90019 area constituted 5% of the responses – Fremont Place, Wilshire Park, Windsor Village, and neighborhoods south of Wilshire. 90% of the people who participated identified themselves as living within a Larchmont-adjoining zip code.
A wide and mostly balanced range of age groups responded to the survey. Approximately 24% of the participants were older than 65. The largest group that took the survey, 26%, was between the ages of 45 and 54, followed by 23% between the ages of 55 and 64. Similarly, 26% of the survey takers were aged 25 to 44. Unfortunately, though not completely surprising, very few young people (2%) and no teenagers took the survey.
Given that almost 50% of the people that took the survey were older than 55, one of the most surprising findings of the survey was the number of people who stated that they walk to Larchmont. Almost 42% said they arrive by foot; another 3% by bicycle, a very few by public transit or shared vehicle, and the rest, 54% drive. Interestingly, a deeper dive into the numbers reveals that the older one is, and the closer one lives to Larchmont, the more likely you are to walk to the Village. Almost 60% of people who stated they lived in the 90004 zip code also noted that they walk to and from Larchmont. As these individuals also made up 60% of the survey takers, the survey results may be reasonably interpreted as being biased towards local stakeholders and local opinion.
How Often and Why do People Come to Larchmont?
Just over 50% of the people who responded to the survey noted that they come to the street two to six times a week. Almost 15% stated that they come once a day, and 6% said more than once a day. There is clearly a loyal constituency who use the Village.
When ranking reasons for visiting Larchmont, the number one response was shopping for daily needs (33%), followed closely by visits for “Take Out and Coffee”(26%). In third, 17% stated that their main reason for visiting Larchmont is sit-down dining. Together, take-out and sit-down dining could be construed as the number one reason for visiting. Notwithstanding this food-oriented popularity, the combination of “Personal Services:” (hair beauty, yoga, fitness, therapy, etc.), “Specialty Shopping” (books, clothes, shoes, toys), and “Daily Needs” (farmers, market, food, drugs, etc.) totals 48%, suggesting that the community sees the street as more than a food court.
Five Key Survey Takeaways
Review of the survey suggests that there is interest in maintaining the parklettes along the Larchmont sidewalks. These open spaces were initially placed along the sidewalks to support restaurants and food establishments by providing safer outdoor eating areas. 41% of respondents described themselves as supportive, even though the parklettes resulted in a loss of about 20% of the metered curbside parking spaces. An additional 33% went even further, stating that they would support more parklettes with additional loss of street side parking spaces. Regarding the design of these mini-parks, 43% of the people who took the survey suggested that more landscaping should be provided within these outdoor areas.
The number of sit-down restaurants between First Street and Beverly Blvd. is limited to about ten by a City Ordinance. When asked about this limitation, 23% of respondents noted that this existing restraint on the number of sit-down restaurants is correct. However, just over 40% of those surveyed stated that they would support some relaxation of these regulations. An additional 29% stated that there should be no limitations imposed on the number of restaurants. The majority feel that the existing limitations on sit-down restaurants are too constraining.
The topic that stirred the most passion during the three Larchmont 2021 conversations last summer was the potential introduction of mixed drinks along Larchmont Blvd. between First and Beverly. Traditionally, the community has supported beer and wine licenses only south of Beverly. All of the outside experts described the critical economic support that alcohol in general provides for restauranteurs. Locals expressed both support for expanded beverage choice or concern that serving of liquor, as opposed to beer and wine only, would lead to disruption in the surrounding neighborhood.
When asked, two thirds of respondents supported the serving of alcoholic mixed drinks at food-serving establishments. Just under one-third felt the existing accommodation of beer and wine only was appropriate. The community of survey-takers also weighed in on the establishment of venues whose primary business would be primarily the serving of wine, beer, or mixed drinks. The largest percentage, 36%, supported wine bars, breweries, and cocktail lounges. A slightly smaller percentage, 35%, were also supportive, but only if the hours were limited. 27% were not supportive of introducing these types of drinking establishments to the boulevard.
Trees and Trash
When asked about the condition of Larchmont Village sidewalks and trees, 24% of respondents picked the statement that they are “ok”. However, the number one response, at 34% was that both the trees and sidewalks need attention, followed by 26% stating a first preference for sidewalk repair.
48% of people had the view that while there is some trash seen up and down the street, it is not an everyday problem. 25% of the participants were less sanguine, preferring to note that trash was a problem, and the street dirty. However, this latter group was seemingly counterbalanced by another 20% who felt trash is being picked up and the street is clean.
What is Needed?
The survey asked people to express their opinion, “important”, “neutral” or “not important”, regarding a list of eighteen Larchmont needs that were talked about during the 2021 summer conversations. These ranged from bike lanes to street closures, and from an expanded farmers market to no restaurant regulations. The greatest desire expressed was for a Larchmont Village grocery store. 67% of survey respondents said this was important. The next most supported need at 66% was street beautification. This was followed by a stated wish for more trees and shade at 59%. When these same outcomes are subjected to a “ranked choice” analysis where the cumulative impact of all choices are accounted for (not simply the number one choice of survey takers), street beautification emerges as the number one Larchmont need, followed by the introduction of a grocery store. (see graphic at the bottom of the story — it’s very long!)
What Does It All Mean?
The survey suggests that there is support for the careful evolution of the street. Survey takers were generally supportive of looser constraints on the number of restaurants and the serving of alcoholic drinks, but still supported regulation in both areas. The condition of the street was described as ok, but was also noted as needing care and beautification. Most surprising was the revelation that a significant number of the people who use the street get there on foot.
Larchmont has served as the main street of the surrounding community for just over 100 years. In this time the uses along the street, and indeed the design of the street itself, has adjusted to best serve the local community. This survey suggests that the street should evolve again. It can become more pedestrian oriented, a place to continue to gather along sidewalks and under the shade of trees, and as well, a locale that better serves local daily retail and food needs, but only with careful retail curation and patronage by the surrounding communities that continue to be its best supporters.