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Will Metro’s Big Plans Hurt Small Retailers on La Brea?

DEEGAN ON LA—One thing is for certain in a simmering concern in the Mid City area:

Metro and the Mid City West Neighborhood Council are the objects of finger-pointing by others over how effectively they are perceived to be communicating a transportation proposal to extend priority bus lane hours on a stretch of La Brea Avenue from Coliseum Street to Sunset Boulevard. 

That proposal, like others already enacted in the city, would add one additional hour of ”no parking” in both morning and afternoon rush hours, and that concerns retailers on La Brea Avenue and some community members.  

Balancing those in the community who are questioning the scope of the outreach are the two strong institutional voices of Metro, itself, and the Mid City West Neighborhood Council. Both assert robust outreach efforts. 

A Metro spokesperson told CityWatch that “Metro staff has been conducting community engagement efforts for the La Brea Avenue Bus Priority Lanes Project.” It has provided the following examples that include three waves of outreach:

  • “A mailer containing an overview of the project, the project map, and information on the virtual community meeting scheduled for 11/16/21 was distributed on 10/29/21 to 35,340 residents, businesses, and property owners within a 1/4 mile of the La Brea Avenue corridor between Sunset Boulevard and Coliseum St.”
  • “Staff also hand-delivered brochures containing information on the bus lane project and the upcoming 11/16 virtual community meeting to businesses along the corridor on 11/03/21 and 11/04/21."
  • “A virtual community meeting took place on 11/16/21 where staff provided an overview of the project and its benefits, as well as answered questions and documented community feedback. The Project Team is in the process of reviewing and incorporating the feedback into the project design.”
  • “More information on the project, including the fact sheet, map, PowerPoint presentation and video recording of the virtual community meeting, please visit metro.net/labrea"

The Mid City West Neighborhood Council’s Michael Schneider says Metro is the proposal’s explainer in chief, and that the NC has been augmenting those efforts with its own community outreach. 

Says Schneider, “There was community outreach by both Metro and Mid City West, with Metro in charge of the outreach effort overall. The community was well papered. The bus lanes topic was also included in the publicly posted agendas for both the MCW Transportation and Sustainability Committee and the General Board. It was also publicized in the MCW newsletter and social media. We publicize marquee issues: this was well publicized.” 

Schneider is the Chair of the Mid City West Neighborhood Council’s Transportation and Sustainability Committee. He is also the First Vice Chair of the Mid City West Neighborhood Council, and serves as a Business Representative for MCW. 

“Metro thinks they did significant outreach”, said Shelby Blecker of the Melrose Village Neighborhood Alliance. “Several of us walked La Brea to get petitions signed by 45 businesses. All but one of the businesses were opposed to the Metro Plan. Most said they didn’t even know this was going on and the few that had heard about it just said that Metro dropped brochures but never mentioned that their plan would eliminate some parking hours. It’s obvious to me that Metro did a poor job of outreach to businesses and to the commuters who use La Brea for transit”. 

At a recent Mid City West board meeting, these public comments by stakeholders were added into the public record on the Metro issue. 

  • “Owner” Matt Tomer - walked the neighborhood and spoke with owners along La Brea who were opposed to the proposed 24/7 bus lane. 
  • Doris Raymond is a longtime business owner along La Brea and believes her business would be devastated because there aren’t other parking options available. 
  • Shelby Blecker questions how this came to the attention of the MCW Transportation Committee and complains that the Transportation Committee didn’t do outreach to the community and businesses. 
  • Adr2 iPad (Aaron) believes taking away parking along La Brea is bad for businesses and the residential streets. 
  • Chris Dower is in support of the expanded bus lanes along La Brea. 
  • Caller ending in *305 is a salon manager along La Brea with current customers who complain already that they don't have anywhere to park. She is concerned about the impact on her business. 
  • Caller ending in *212 is a business owner on La Brea who states there is already a noticeable business interruption between 4-7pm when there are current parking restrictions. He is concerned that businesses will close if additional parking restrictions are implemented. 
  • Barbara Gallen states drafting a letter on behalf of the community isn’t appropriate when you haven’t done the appropriate community engagement. She believes the impact on parking for the neighboring streets will be significant. 
  • David Shafer questions where additional parking would come from. 
  • Anna Dower supports the bus lanes along La Brea. She is a disabled person who depends on the efficiency of the bus.

 

The Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, which has jurisdiction for the east side of La Brea—MCW’s territory includes the west side of La Brea—had a presentation by Metro at its November meeting. Transportation Committee Chair Cindy Chvatal reported that the committee will be looking into the issue. 

Public comments at the GWNC board meeting “were largely favorable toward the project, though there were a few people who were adamantly opposed, and a number of others who expressed specific concerns and questions”, as reported in the Larchmont Buzz coverage of that session. 

Tied to this proposal is the implementation of a transportation policy that helps modernize how a big city like Los Angeles transitions to a multimodal system for how we get around. In addition to owner-driven vehicles, that mobility includes walking, biking, ride sharing, ride hailing, rapid transit, and autonomous vehicles. 

The Los Angeles that was built on the car is emerging into a new transportation culture where a car in every garage is being superseded by alternative means of transportation. 

Retail is also undergoing a metamorphoses, in an age where Amazon gratifies practically every shopping need with quick and free delivery. Gig-economy workers can deliver a vast range of products from every imaginable local store. Home deliveries exploded as a Covid-inspired service that is now as much a part of shopping as visiting a store. 

That’s hardly a solution for all shoppers. As Shelby Blecker says, “Families shop on La Brea - it’s our neighborhood shopping center, just like Melrose is.” 

One thing that will not change is a futuristic view expressed by MCW’s Schneider. “I reject the framing of this as if you implement a bus lane you hurt merchants on the street. Not everyone that goes to a store arrives by car. That assumption damages the city’s ability to become a more multimodal city. We have seen from other cities around the world and even examples here in Los Angeles that when street space is reconfigured to be multimodal and feel less like a highway, foot traffic and commerce actually increases.” 

“It’s a perceived issue about merchants. Our council is business friendly and we care if businesses survive and thrive on La Brea. The whole idea if there’s a bus lane for an extra two hours that businesses are going to fail is false and is fear mongering. Facts should matter.” 

“The City of West Hollywood just unanimously passed support for the La Brea bus lane part of the route that goes through West Hollywood. Other peak hour bus lanes are already operating on Wilshire Boulevard, in Downtown on Olive and Flower, and soon on Lincoln Boulevard, Santa Monica Boulevard, and others.” 

Schneider concludes by saying This isn’t a foreign concept, even for Los Angeles.”

For their part, Metro continues to be open for community feedback and engagement. Comments can be sent to Julia Brown, Senior Community Relations Manager at 213-922-4869, or [email protected] No date has been set for implementing the new plan. 

Shelby Blecker adds “What are our next steps? Continued outreach to the La Brea businesses and neighbors in the area to let them know about this plan and how to communicate with Metro." Supporters can reach the Melrose Village Neighborhood Alliance at www.melrosevillage.org

 

(Tim Deegan is a civic activist whose Deegan on LA weekly column about city planning, new urbanism, the environment, and the homeless appear in CityWatch. Tim can be reached at [email protected])