Thu, Aug

Taco Bell Expansion Plan has San Pedro Neighbors Fuming

MY TURN - It seems like a betrayal of sorts. Somehow, don’t ask me how, a proposal to double the size of a Taco Bell on Gaffey Street quietly slipped through the Community Redevelopment Agency in San Pedro and moved its way to planning in downtown Los Angeles – before any nearby residents, who’ve complained about the eatery for years, even heard the news.

The next thing neighbors knew:  they had two weeks’ notice to gear up, set off the alarm bells and to drive downtown Los Angeles to fight the project  on 11th and Gaffey streets.

For years-- in fact as far back as I can remember-- neighbors have complained historically and repeatedly about the eatery. They call it a haven for loud teens and adults where frequent fights occur along with crime, piles of trash, occasional gang skirmishes – and a place that offers no security to deal with the mayhem.

“The reality of Taco Bell for one is the patrons,” complained Mike Boke, one of the neighbors at a meeting on Monday night. “They’re a beacon of crime for our neighborhood. They urinate everywhere.

“It’s like a bad bar. We are completely off their radar.”

Besides wanting to double the eatery’s size, Taco Bell officials want to cut the parking nearly in half, stay open until 4 a.m. in the summers and remove one currently existing access route off Gaffey – leaving only two ways out of the parking lot – Gaffey and the alleyway.

Frustrated residents fumed with anger at a Monday meeting at the Omelet and Waffle Shop and really can you blame them? They complained to Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn’s staff, Gordon Teuber, the economic development director, that their numerous woes have gone unheeded.

Neighbors added that they deal with copious trash, drug deals, defecation, loud music and the arrival of delivery trucks at 4 a.m., waking up neighbors. Despite repeated complaints to the restaurant, they said, and many to the council office little if nothing, has changed. It’s been an unsatisfactory way of life for more than twenty years, they add.

“We’ve put up with them for decades and decades and it’s gotten really bad,” said resident Sal DiConstanzo, who’s been leading the resident’s cause and said he’s complained to Hahn’s office. “We confront (Taco Bell). They behave better for awhile and then they just go back to where they were.”

City officials say Hahn’s office encouraged the new building because it was better than the “status quo” and an improvement for San Pedro overall since it will be a brand new facility.

But I find it peculiar and extremely perplexing that no one warned residents early on. Megan Hunter, a city planner with the Community Redevelopment Agency, said at the meeting that the agency didn’t have enough money to warn residents to send out notices. She asked Taco Bell to do the duty.

She didn’t know, she added, that eatery had not done so.

“It just shows how much the city is disconnected,” said Leslie Jones who owns the Omelet and Waffle Shop with Mona Sutton across the street from Taco Bell, both of whom spend time picking up trash from the facility. “They are just making it more and more difficult. I feel it’s a betrayal, us not being told and we are neighbors.”

Despite that, Mona Sutton said both her and her partner support the remodel, but without conditions, will  lean toward helping their long time neighbors.

"I'm very excited that the Taco Bell will spend it's million for a new store in our community," Sutton explained. "However, with that said, if we small business owners were remodeling, we'd be held to the fire if the community had complaints. Also, we being the community supporters that we are,  would never not consider the greater good. Taco Bell should be a good community partner and should be held to a high standard to prove it."

Taco Bell, however, believes it has worked closely with both neighbors and city officials.

"To better serve both our customers and the community, we have been working closely with San Pedro city officials, local residents, and businesses on the plans to redevelop the Taco Bell restaurant on Gaffey Street,” said Rob Poetsch, an official spokesman for the restaurant chain. “The renovation, which is supported by city officials will improve traffic flow, discourage loitering, and bring in several hundred thousand dollars in construction jobs and new jobs to the local economy.

“It is our hope that by investing in the community, other businesses will be encouraged to do the same."

If the current plans are approved, the facility will be torn down and expanded to more than double its size – from 627 square feet to 1,474 – and most of the seating – possibly  due the residents’ complaints– will be inside. Parking spaces will drop from 17 to 10, so Taco Bell is asking for a variance. City officials said its likely Taco Bell will not be allowed to stay open until 4 a.m.

Neighbors still have deep fears creeping in – especially what will happen in the alley.

They fear – and rightly so – that cars will start to stack along the alleyway and back up drivers along  both 10th and 11th streets – not to mention Gaffey.

What surprises me the most is that the Councilwoman  – who is running for the 36th Congressional District against Craig Huey in July and is in her third term in the council office  – didn’t take this long list of complaints early on – or frankly long before that -- and use the project to the city’s advantage – before it even got to the Los Angeles zoning offices. This is the time Hahn’s office could minimize most complaints since the project needs a Conditional Use Permit.

“It is a golden opportunity,” said Hahn’s Chief of Staff, who added that he wasn’t aware of any complaints coming into Hahn’s office prior to the project about Taco Bell.  “Generally speaking, it’s an opportunity for us to put in stricter conditions. I think obviously this is something we will have to do.”

Since I live in San Pedro, and to me what hampers the lifestyle of one set of residents can trickle down to the rest of us, I’m encouraging the neighbors to come together and demand at least the following just to make the area more livable, besides having no outdoor seating, ask for:

  • A full time security guard all hours that the eatery is open.
  • Security cameras that are running 24 hours a day and are fed publicly for anyone to access
  • Taco Bell to close at midnight; open at 9 a.m.
  • Maintain the two entrances and exits along Gaffey as it is now – to keep the alley from being disastrously clogged
  • In a long grassy area planned for the front of the eatery that fronts Gaffey, plant cactus and other drought succulent plants so the vegetation doesn’t die (as the grass there is dead now) and it doesn’t become a seating area for teens
  • Help provide and seek a long, sought after signal for 11th and Gaffey where many of the youth cross a dangerously busy street with cars speeding faster than 40 mph.
  • Besides offering a six foot wall between the alley and the residents, use vegetation to help buffer the noise
  • Ask for Taco Bell to do a traffic study
  • Make sure the bathrooms are always open to patrons, even if only the drive-through is open.
  • Display signs that surveillance is ongoing and to ask  patrons to turn down radios and keep voices low as not to impact neighbors
  • Clean up graffiti quickly and clean sidewalks of gum and other muck

(Diana Chapman has been a writer/journalist for nearly thirty years. She has written for magazines, newspapers and the best-seller series, Chicken Soup for the Soul. You can reach her at: [email protected] or her website: theunderdogforkids.blogspot.com) –cw

Tags: Taco Bell, CRA, San Pedro, Janice Hahn, Gaffey Street

Vol 9 Issue 47
Pub: June 14, 2011