Why Can’t the Miracle Mile Be More Like Beverly or 3rd Street?

Why Can’t the Miracle Mile Be More Like
Beverly or 3rd Street…or Melrose
or La Brea?

When the Miracle Mile Residential Association 2013 Annual Survey asked “Would you like to see a broader variety of retailers along Wilshire Boulevard?” over 80% of the respondents answered yes. New mixed-use development has brought additional businesses, particularly chain restaurants, to the Miracle Mile – but residents often wonder why we don’t have the number and assortment of independently owned retailers and restaurants found on Beverly or 3rd Street…or Melrose or La Brea? There are many answers why:
 
Unlike those popular shopping and dining areas, there are no height limits on development along Wilshire Boulevard in the Miracle Mile. Hence, older storefronts here are more vulnerable to being razed to make way for new and higher developments. Dozens of these older storefronts have been demolished in the past 20 years to erect new buildings – and more face impending demolition for the construction of the subway portals at La Brea and Fairfax: the southern blocks of Wilshire between La Brea and Detroit and between Ogden and Orange Grove will be torn down this summer, displacing Albertson’s Wedding Chapel, the Yamaha Music School, the A+D Architecture and Design Museum, and other galleries and small businesses.
 
These sorts of older buildings are best suited to starting a new shop or restaurant. They offer smaller and more affordable spaces. The commercial spaces in mixed-use buildings are typically too large and too expensive for start-up businesses and new entrepreneurs. The landlords of some mixed-use buildings demand “shopping mall” type leases that extract a percentage of gross sales on top of the monthly rent payment. Also, newer buildings prefer dealing with large corporations and national franchises with triple-A credit ratings.
 
This is why tenants of the new buildings tend to be a matter of round up the usual suspects: such as Chipotle, Subway, Starbucks, Five Guys, and bank branches. Not that these businesses aren’t needed and welcomed in the Miracle Mile, but when the annual survey asked what kind of retail outlets residents would like to have in the area they replied: book stores, clothing and shoe boutiques, gourmet food and wine shops, art galleries, card and gift stores, and other specialty retailers.
 
An obstacle to attracting these types of businesses is that critical mass is difficult to achieve along many blocks of Wilshire in the Miracle Mile. Small retailers congregate on streets like Beverly and 3rd Street because the large concentration of such businesses attract customers – and foot traffic is critical to the success of these enterprises. Customers will check out new retailers on their way to another known store. And the number of restaurants, pubs, and independent coffee houses keep the streets lively well into the evening.
 
Street life and foot traffic has improved along Wilshire in the past few years. But many restaurants in the Miracle Mile are completely dependent on the lunch trade for their survival. Customer traffic significantly diminishes on weekdays after 5 PM – and is nearly nonexistent on certain blocks of Wilshire during the weekends.
 
Despite these challenges, throughout the Miracle Mile there are unique and independent businesses, retailers, and eateries operated by talented and hard-working owners. The best way to preserve the shopping and dining diversity we do have – and to encourage new businesses to locate here – is for all of us to support and patronize Miracle Mile businesses.
 
The Miracle Mile Residential Association will continue to encourage developers and property owners to think outside the box when seeking retail tenants ­– and this newsletter will do its part, beginning with this issue, to shine a “Miracle Mile Spotlight” on local businesses and restaurants. Please send in your favorites [newsletter@MiracleMileLA.com] and we will feature them in future issues.
 
– This article first appeared in the April 2014 edition of the MMRA newsletter.

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Miracle Mile Bike News:

CicLAvia Returns to the Miracle Mile
Sunday • April 6th

On Sunday, April 6th, CicLAvia repeats its Iconic Wilshire Boulevard route from downtown to the Miracle Mile. The popular car-free event allows people to explore the sights along Wilshire by foot, bike, or any other non-motorized means. This will be the last CicLAvia to visit the Miracle Mile until the completion of major street level construction of the Purple Line Subway extension, which is scheduled to begin work later this year.

Once again Fairfax Avenue will serve as the western terminus of the route from One Wilshire Boulevard in downtown. Wilshire between Curson Avenue and Fairfax will be a pedestrian zone featuring activities sponsored by the cultural institutions along Museum Row. The event runs from 9 AM to 4 PM.

Click on map to enlarge.

Last year’s CicLAvia attracted thousands of cyclists and pedestrians to the area and introduced many to the museums and the historic art deco architecture of the Miracle Mile. Here’s a link to a terrific walking guide of Wilshire Boulevard architecture prepared for last year’s event by Catherine Gudis.

Additional information:

CicLAvia.org: Iconic Wilshire Boulevard – 4/6/24

LAist.com: CicLAvia’s Wilshire Takeover Will Be The Last For a Few Years

Councilman LaBonge Delays
Proposed 6th St. Bike Lanes

In January 2014 the Los Angeles Department of Transportation [LADOT] announced Phase 2 of their ongoing efforts to add new bike lanes throughout the city. LADOT will begin traffic and safety assessments on these proposed bike lanes and will then hold public hearings to gather community feedback on the routes.

The city approved the Los Angeles Bicycle Master Plan in 2010. LADOT will evaluate approximately 40 miles of potential new bike lanes each year. The goal is to install 1,600 miles of new bike lanes over the next 30 years.

Two new bike lanes on the Phase 2 list would directly impact the Miracle Mile: San Vicente Boulevard from Venice to Wilshire [2.3 miles] and 6th Street between La Brea and Fairfax Avenues [1 mile]. The San Vicente Boulevard bike lanes would not require the removal of any parking spaces or traffic lanes and have generated little opposition or controversy – but the 6th Street bike lanes are a different story.

Plans for 6th Street involve a “road diet” where one lane of traffic in each direction would be removed and street parking would be eliminated in order to create bike lanes. The Miracle Mile Residential Association [MMRA] has staunchly opposed any plan that would remove traffic lanes or parking on 6th Street and further exacerbate congestion in the area. The MMRA issued a statement in March 2013 detailing our position on 6th Street bike lanes [click here to read].

Councilman Tom LaBonge recently informed the Park La Brea News/Beverly Press that he would not support bike lanes on 6th Street until the Wilshire Bus Rapid Transit project is completed next spring. He then went on to state that he thought it would be better to delay the bike lanes until the “heavy construction” is completed for the Purple Line Extension, which would be many years in the future – well after LaBonge is termed out of office.

“Right now, we have been closing the boulevard [Wilshire Blvd.] for a number of nights and there has to be alternative routes,” LaBonge was quoted in the Park La Brea News/Beverly Press. “I want to look at the whole picture. Right now, I want to make sure it’s safe for everybody.”

Increased congestion generated by the Wilshire Bus Rapid Transit project – which will create bus-only curb lanes during rush hour periods ­– and by a decade of subway construction are principal reasons why the MMRA opposes the 6th Street bike lanes. The MMRA is pleased that Councilman LaBonge agrees that this is not the time to consider a radical restriction of such a key east-west route.

Additional information:

LADOT Bike Blog: LADOT announces Priority 2 list of planned bikeways

Park La Brea News/Beverly Press: Local streets identified as possible bike lane sites

Mid City West Community Council
Makes Recommendation
 for a New
North/South Bike Lane through
the Miracle Mile

 Mid City West Community Council [MCWCC] has submitted recommendations to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation [LADOT] for two new bike lanes. Their proposal selects Rosewood Avenue as an east/west route and Cochran Avenue, Alta Vista Boulevard, and Formosa Avenue as a north/south route [see map below].

LEGEND
Red: Existing bike lanes on Burton Way and Hauser Boulevard
Yellow: Existing and future bike route on 4th Street
Blue: Proposed Rosewood and Cochran/Alta Vista/Formosa bike route

These proposed routes for “Bike Friendly Streets” will be evaluated by LADOT for possible inclusion in Phase 5 bike lane projects scheduled for 2017.

The Miracle Mile Residential Association [MMRA] has not yet taken a position on these recommendations. Although, the MMRA did oppose original plans to use Hauser and Martel as a north/south bike route on the grounds that it would be too dangerous due to the volume of traffic and the narrow bends in Hauser south of Olympic.

The MMRA will wait to see if LADOT endorses MCWCC’s proposal before taking a position on this matter. The input of residents along Cochran Avenue will be an important factor in any decision made by the MMRA.

To read the full Mid City West Bicycle Friendly Street Proposal click here.

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Petition Drive to Stop Nighttime Subway Construction Going Strong


Hundreds of Miracle Mile Residents Join the Fight
to Stop Nighttime Subway Construction

Last month the Miracle Mile Residential Association [MMRA] launched a petition drive to stop nighttime, Sunday and holiday construction for the Purple Line Subway Extension – which is scheduled to begin major work in August. In January 2014 the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority [Metro] applied to the Los Angeles Police Commission to be exempted from municipal noise ordinances for subway construction in the Miracle Mile.

MMRA members and volunteers from the community have been distributing petitions every Saturday within the boundaries of the MMRA [see map]. So far about 60 % of the area has been canvassed and the remaining blocks should be completed by March 22. The response has far exceeded expectations and the online petition has proved to be a very effective means of collecting signatures.

The Police Commission has not set a date as to when they will render a decision on Metro’s applications to be exempted from noise ordinances, so the petition drive will be an on-going campaign until further notice. The petition effort has also received significant support from residents in neighborhoods adjacent to the Miracle Mile, who will be equally impacted by nighttime, Sunday and holiday construction. The MMRA has received a number of requests to expand the petition campaign beyond our boundaries and this be will taken this under serious consideration once the canvassing of the MMRA area is complete.

The petition campaign has attracted media attention and MMRA President James O’Sullivan and Vice President Ken Hixon have been interviewed by the Los Angeles Times for a story they are preparing about the impact of subway construction on the Miracle Mile. The Times also interviewed the owner of an apartment building located near the Fairfax subway station construction site, as well as a long-time resident on nearby South Orange Grove Avenue.

Metro is battling our efforts to stop around-the-clock construction by accusing the MMRA of being “against the subway.” This allegation could not be further from the truth. The MMRA whole-heartedly supports the extension of the Purple Line. Our issue with the subway expansion is solely about nine years of constant nighttime, Sunday and holiday construction noise and disturbances.

The Miracle Mile is one of the most densely populated urban corridors in the nation; we must stand together to remind Metro that we are a residential community and not a full-time construction zone.

CLICK HERE TO SIGN THE ONLINE PETITION

On March 3, 2014 the MMRA sent a letter to the Los Angeles Police Commission clarifying our position. The MMRA believes the burden should be on Metro to demonstrate why the residents of the Miracle Mile are unworthy of the protections of a well-established ordinance that protectsall residents of Los Angeles from 24/7 construction activities. We encourage you to read this letter; it makes a concise and strong argument why it is premature for Metro to seek to be exempted from the noise ordinance at this time [click here].

If you would like to help out with the petition campaign please contact us at: petition@MiracleMileLA.com.

Additional information:

MRA Newsletter – February 2014: MMRA Launches Petition Campaign to Stop Nighttime, Sunday, and Holiday Subway Construction at the Fairfax and La Brea Stations

The Subway Construction page on the MMRA website contains a lot of details and information with maps of the Fairfax and La Brea stations and construction staging sites. It also includes YouTube videos of tunnel boring machines in action.

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MMRA Launches Petition Campaign to Stop Nighttime, Sunday, and Holiday Subway Construction at the La Brea and Fairfax Stations

On January 10, 2014, Metro submitted formal requests to the Los Angeles Police Commission seeking exemptions from work hours restrictions in order to allow contractors at the Fairfax and La Brea subway stations to work around the clock, seven days a week. Demolition of the existing buildings at the construction staging sites will begin in August 2014 and installation of solder piles in preparation for “cut and cover” excavation of Wilshire Boulevard to build the underground subway stations is scheduled to start in January 2015.

Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 41.40 prohibits construction activities between the hours of 9 PM to 7 AM, “in a manner as to disturb the peace and quiet of neighboring residents or any reasonable person of normal sensitiveness residing in the area.” The code further limits the hours of allowable operations from 8 AM to 6 PM on Saturday. Construction work is not permitted on Sundays or holidays.

La Brea and Wilshire Station. Shaded areas are the construction staging sites.

La Brea and Wilshire Station. Shaded areas are the construction staging sites.

Exemptions from construction “work hours” codes are granted on a six-month basis by the Los Angeles Police Commission. Metro intends to continually apply for these exemptions for the projected nine years it will take to complete the Purple Line subway extension from Western Avenue to La Cienega Boulevard.

The Miracle Mile will be the location of two subway stations: La Brea/Wilshire and Fairfax/Wilshire. The Miracle Mile Residential Association [MMRA] supports the Purple Line subway extension, but it is unfair and unreasonable for Metro to subject thousands of residents to nine years of noise disturbances and other disruptions from nighttime, Sunday, and holiday construction.

Fairfax and Wilshire Station. Shaded areas are the construction staging sites. Note that the station entrance has been moved to the southwest corner of Orange Grove and Wilshire since this map was originally published.

Fairfax and Wilshire Station. Shaded areas are the construction staging sites.
Note that the station entrance has been moved to the southwest corner
of Orange Grove and Wilshire since this map was originally published.

It is difficult to fully convey the vast scale and immense complexity of constructing the subway extension through a densely populated urban corridor like the Miracle Mile. The MMRA has created a Subway Construction page on our website [MiracleMileLA.com] with links to various documents that provide details on the construction process. There are also links to YouTube videos on tunneling techniques. We encourage residents to examine this material so that they can better grasp the enormity of this project.

Construction of the subway extension through the Miracle Mile faces many daunting challenges: from high ground water to the removal of pre-historic fossils to high concentrations of methane. Entire blocks of the Miracle Mile will be demolished to facilitate construction. Traffic lanes on Wilshire, La Brea, and Fairfax will be eliminated or restricted for lengthy periods and these thoroughfares will also bear the wear and tear of hundreds of trucks per day. Even if subway construction work was limited to normal daytime hours the disruption to residents and local businesses will be profound.

The impact of subway construction on the Miracle Mile is exacerbated by other impending major construction projects in the area: the Academy Museum at the former May Company, the new 13-story Museum Square office building, extensive interior and exterior renovations at the Petersen Automotive Museum, and construction of the new Shalhevet high school and adjoining mixed use apartment development. The volume of all this construction traffic will significantly increase congestion on Wilshire, Fairfax, and La Brea.

Metro touts that any nighttime construction work would not exceed five decibels over normal ambient sound levels – the maximum increase allowed at night [when such work is allowed by exemption from municipal ordinances]. But a five-decibel change represents a clearly noticeable increase in the perceived volume [an increase of ten decibels is perceived as doubling the sound level]. People are much more sensitive to noise at night, a noticeable increase in ambient levels will disturb thousands of residents living in the areas surrounding these construction staging sites.

We are highly skeptical that Metro contractors can operate pavement breaking equipment along Wilshire at night without keeping residents awake. Not to mention the constant rumble of trucks hauling away dirt all night long – a source of noise and vibration that will also impact residents south of the Miracle Mile.

On January 28, 2014, MMRA President Jim O’Sullivan and Vice President Ken Hixon attended a meeting between Metro and Windsor Square residents that was called by the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council Transportation Committee because of nighttime noise and other disturbances at the Crenshaw/Wilshire construction staging site – which is being used as a base for subway related utility relocations along Wilshire. The residents had a long list of complaints over issues that were keeping them up at night: the glare of work lights, the beeping of back-up buzzers on vehicles, the clanging of equipment being moved in and out of trucks, idling engines, and the like.

At the meeting a Metro engineer maintained that Metro was in “technical compliance” because the disturbances did not exceed the five-decibel threshold. That may be the scientific case, but – whatever the decibel level – noise from nighttime construction activities at Crenshaw/Wilshire was sufficient to mobilize the community to protest and demand mitigations from Metro.

The construction staging sites for the Fairfax and La Brea stations extend well into densely populated areas and will directly abut multiple-family buildings. To ask thousands of residents to go without sleep for nearly a decade of construction is preposterous. Work hours ordinances were devised to balance the need of contractors with the fundamental right of residents to enjoy the peace and quiet of their own apartments and homes.

Representatives of Metro frequently dismiss the adverse impacts of subway construction by remarking, “You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.” But the Miracle Mile is a residential neighborhood, not a frying pan.

In their request to the Police Commission, Metro stated that: “An exemption will also minimize construction impacts on the surrounding community by accelerating the completion of the work.” The MMRA believes that nighttime, Sunday, and holiday construction would have just the opposite effect by maximizing the impact on the residents by depriving them of any respite from nine years of constant noise and disruption.

On Saturday, February 15, 2014 the MMRA will begin canvassing the entire Miracle Mile to distribute petitions opposing nighttime, Sunday, and holiday subway construction. The petition is also available online. The canvassing of the area will continue over subsequent weekends and then expand to areas north, east, and west of the Miracle Mile.

If you would like to help with this petition drive – or host a yard sign [see photo at top] – please contact us at: petition@MiracleMileLA.com . Your support will help insure that you and your neighbors will not be sleepless in the Miracle Mile.

CLICK HERE TO SIGN ONLINE PETITION 

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD PRINTABLE PETITION 

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MMRA Endorses Mid City West Trolley Plan

[From the November 2013 edition of the MMRA newsletter:]

preferred trolley

The Mid City West Trolley Plan

[or how to get you husband to leave the car at home…]

Last June billionaire developer Rick Caruso introduced the idea of an extension of the Grove’s fixed rail trolley to connect the popular shopping center with Museum Row at Wilshire and Fairfax. Recently, it was announced that the Los Angeles Museum of Art had teamed with Caruso to study the proposal. The results of an engineering study Caruso commissioned are expected later this month.

But several years before Caruso’s plan, Julie Anne Brame had a problem. Brame, who lives in the Crescent Heights/Melrose area, likes to walk – her husband doesn’t. After work, Brame would often encounter resistance from her husband when she suggested that they walk down to 3rd Street to try one of the many restaurants there. He would usually prefer to drive, even though parking is always difficult. Out of her idle wish that there were some easy way to quickly get around the area – so that she could get her husband out of the house without driving – came an idea: the Mid City West Trolley.

Brame is a resourceful woman and persistent, too. She kicked around the idea with like-minded friends and a plan evolved to have a rubber wheel trolley that would connect Melrose, Fairfax, the Grove, the Miracle Mile, La Brea, 3rd Street, the Beverly Center, and the Cedars-Sinai medical complex. She and her supporters did their homework, studying successful rubber wheel trolley projects across the country.

Trolley map

They took a fresh and modern approach to develop a program that would connect densely populated neighborhoods, existing parking garages, and popular destinations to facilitate circulation and reduce local automobile traffic. Their target riders would be residents, business patrons, employees, students, and tourists.

Their research helped them devise a check list: the trolleys would have to come every 15 minutes, their time of arrival easily monitored via a GPS smart phone app, they would have to provide free wifi access for passengers, and be comfortable and fun. The trolley program would also have to be flexible to allow for route expansion and to navigate around obstacles, like the upcoming subway construction in the Miracle Mile.

They knew that to succeed their trolley would need savvy marketing and promotion and both private and public support. And it would take a lot of outreach. That’s when Brame looked around for a way to learn the ropes and promote her trolley plan. So, in 2011 she got herself elected to the board of Mid City West Community Council [MCWCC]. As she got the lay of the land – how things get done in L.A. – she began to pitch her trolley idea to fellow board members, representatives of homeowner and residential associations, City council members, and anyone else who would listen.

Her skills of persuasion and well thought out approach began to win fans. She did not have to make a hard sell: ever worsening traffic congestion constricts travel and commerce in the area and the advent of the Purple Line subway extension makes “first mile-last mile” transportation from subway stations imperative. And the projected one million visitors a year to the soon-to-be Academy Museum at the former May Company will only exacerbate gridlock along Fairfax. The consensus was clear: something had to be done.

Soon, MCWCC endorsed a motion in support of studying the feasibility of Brame’s trolley plan, Councilmember Tom Labonge publicly announced his support at recent meeting of the Miracle Mile Chamber of Commerce, and the Miracle Mile Residential Association will consider a motion in support of the project at its upcoming board meeting on November 7th. And even Rick Caruso gave a nod to the Mid City Trolley by asking his engineers to include a review of Brame’s plan in the study of his fixed rail trolley, which many residents strongly oppose on grounds that it would only further clog traffic and present many safety issues.

While Caruso’s fixed rail trolley grabs all the headlines, Brame’s rubber wheel trolley steadily gained traction. Brame is clear that her plan is very much a work in progress and that the current proposed route could and probably will change depending on which parts of the area are most supportive. Hence, the inherent advantage of a rubber wheel trolley – the route can be expanded to meet new demand and include more of the Mid City West area.

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation would operate the system, but the financing is complex. It will take a mix of private and public money to get the trolley rolling and, long term, it would take an ongoing financial commitment from the City to sustain it. Although, Brame aspires to follow the example of other successful rubber wheel trolley programs that generate substantial income from advertising revenues.

The initial plan is to begin on weekends to test the concept with service beginning of Fridays from 6 PM to midnight; Saturdays 10 AM to midnight; and Sundays from 11 AM to 10 PM. If this pilot plan succeeds service would be expanded to 7 days per week.

And, perhaps – in a year or so – Brame and her husband (and the twins she is soon expecting) will be able to leave their car at home when they go out for dinner.

[A motion endorsing the Mid City West Trolley Plan was adopted by the Board of Directors of the Miracle Mile Residential Association at our November 7, 2013 meeting.]

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Tar Pits Threatened by LACMA Expansion; MMRA Approves Motion to Preserve Green Space in Hancock Park

PREFACE: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art [LACMA] touts the new Zumthor plan for the museum as a “proposal.” Their stated goal is to gather feedback on this re-design, but they frequently defer criticism by countering that it is only a proposal – a work in progress. It is a sophisticated strategy employed to ensnare commentators into semantics and make their remarks appear premature. Hence, the museum presents a moving target in order to exhaust critics. Whether it is a plan or a proposal, it is obviously a clear vision of what they would like the museum to be. LACMA’s proposal might be malleable, but their intentions are not.

lacma_zumthor_01_550x327

Model of Zumthor design for LACMA. Image courtesy of Museum Associates.

A lively debate has erupted on the potential impact of the Peter Zumthor re-design of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art campus. On September 24 representatives of the Page Museum and LACMA appeared before the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to address concerns that the sprawling Zumthor building could severely affect the La Brea Tar Pits.

The Miracle Mile Residential Association [MMRA], too, is concerned that LACMA’s plans will not only have an adverse impact on the tar pits but also reduce green space at Hancock Park. At the August 29, 2013 MMRA Board of Director’s meeting a motion was adopted opposing LACMA’s expansion into Hancock Park.

Since its arrival in the early 1960s, LACMA has been steadily encroaching on Hancock Park – the largest public park in the Miracle Mile. The park’s green space provides a sense of well-being to our community and enhances our quality of life. It is where our residents go for an impromptu picnic, to jog, take a leisurely stroll, or to teach their child how to ride a bike.

But LACMA tends to view the park as their backyard. This attitude is evident in the expanding footprint of the new design for the museum – which boldly ignores several County Board of Supervisor’s resolutions limiting LACMA to 6 acres of the original 23-acre park.

The Miracle Mile is one of the most densely populated areas in Los Angeles. Since 2005 over 1200 new apartments have been constructed along Wilshire Boulevard corridor between La Brea Avenue and Fairfax Avenue – and many more are under construction or in the planning stages. The advent of the Purple Line subway extension will bring large Transit-Oriented-Density mixed-use buildings at both the La Brea Avenue and Orange Grove Avenue subway portals – and add thousands of new residents to the Miracle Mile.

Los Angeles lags all the major cities in California in parks per capita and ranks 17th among major U.S. cities. The paucity of parkland in Los Angeles and the ever-increasing population of the Miracle Mile emphasizes the critical importance of the Hancock Park to our community.

Hancock Park is a Swiss Army knife, so to speak – a multi-functional tool. It is most notable for being the site of the La Brea Tar Pits, the largest repository of Ice Age fossils in the world. It is also the home of the Page Museum, LACMA, and the soon-to-be Academy Museum – which will draw an additional one million visitors a year and create yet another strain on the park grounds.

The proposed Zumthor design consists of a single floor building – the approximate size of two football fields – floating thirty feet above grade. This encroachment into the park would upset the delicate balance of Hancock Park by overwhelming its original purpose to preserve and promote the history of the La Brea Tar Pits and, by reducing its green space, demoting its critical function as a public park.

Wealthy oilman G. Allan Hancock gave the land to Los Angeles County to “protect and preserve the La Brea Tar Pits.” The 1924 deed specified that the donation was “for Public Park purposes.”

When LACMA attempted to expand into Hancock Park in 1969 County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn introduced a motion – that was unanimously adopted – stating that: “The possibility of using more of the land for Art Museum facilities has been suggested. To do so would be a mistake. The park is one of the few public open spaces left in the area. Also, the Museum of Natural History is still exploring the tar pits for prehistoric material and it must be able to do this without fear of encroachment.”

History is repeating itself with LACMA’s new plans for expansion into Hancock Park, but the MMRA feels that what was true in 1969 is still true today: to do so would be a mistake.

LACMA Tar Pits overlay

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MMRA Position on Subway Construction Work Hours Supported by Mid City West Community Council

Wilshire:La Brea Station map (Metro)

At the September 10, 2013 meeting of the Mid City West Community Council [MCWCC] a large majority of its board of directors voted against a motion granting Metro blanket exemptions from work hours rules and ordinances for the construction of the Purple Line subway extension in the Miracle Mile. The Los Angeles Police Commission issues work hours exemptions and Metro sought the endorsement of MCWCC in order to persuade the commission that all of the concerns of the residents of the Miracle Mile have been addressed – which is far from the case.

The Miracle Mile Residential Association [MMRA] opposes giving Metro a free pass on work hours rules that would allow them to engage in construction 24-hours-per-day/seven days a week, during rush hour traffic periods, and over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. MMRA President James O’Sullivan and Vice President Ken Hixon attended the MCWCC board meeting and encouraged the board not to give Metro a blank check that would be cashed at the expense of the residents of the Miracle Mile.

As the site of two Wilshire subway portals at La Brea and Orange Grove and four construction staging sites extending well into densely populated residential areas the Miracle Mile will endure the full brunt of the subway extension project. Construction is estimated to take at least nine years. Given the immense scale of the work involved the disturbance and disruption to the surrounding community will be substantial.

The MMRA feels that it is premature for Metro to seek these exemptions now. Metro has yet to hire contractors for the La Brea and Orange Grove subway stations. These will be design-and-build arrangements where the contractors will be charged with both designing and constructing the stations. Hence, the reason why Metro has been so vague about how they will mitigate the disturbance of nighttime work and the traffic disruption of construction during rush hour periods – because all responsibility to mitigate the impact of subway construction rests solely on these yet-to-be-determined contractors.

The MMRA maintains that any exemption from work hours rules should be a dialogue between the residential and home owner associations directly impacted by subway construction and the contractors – not Metro. Only the contractors can provide the specific information necessary for well-reasoned decisions. The MMRA is willing to consider supporting limited work hours exemptions on a step-by-step basis for each major stage of construction. This would motivate contractors to do their very best to maintain good relationships with the community for fear that they would lose future chances at securing additional exemptions.

But at this time there are too many unanswered questions regarding the full impact of granting work hours exemptions, for example:

  • How will allowing construction during rush hour traffic periods impact the upcoming Wilshire Bus Rapid Transit [BRT] lanes – which reserve curb lanes during rush hour periods for buses only? Will it require that Wilshire be restricted to buses and all other traffic be diverted to 6th and 8th streets?
  • How will subway construction be coordinated with other construction projects in the Miracle Mile? The new Museum Square office building, the Academy Museum, the Desmond’s apartment complex, the proposed demolition of LACMA’s original buildings and the construction of the new museum, the new Shalhevet High School and adjacent mixed-use project will all be under construction during this time period. This extraordinary amount of activity could exponentially magnify the negative impacts of granting exemptions from work hours rules.
  • Museum attendance increases during the holiday season. How will an exemption permitting subway construction during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season affect Museum Row?

Having failed to secure the endorsement of MCWCC, Metro is currently seeking support for blanket work hours exemptions from the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council [GWNC]. La Brea Avenue marks the jurisdictional boundary between MCWCC and GWNC. Although the subway entrance and construction staging sites for the La Brea subway station are west of La Brea Avenue and part of MCWCC, a large part of the underground subway station extends east to into the GWNC area [see graphic at top].

O’Sullivan and Hixon appeared at the September 11, 2013 GWCC meeting to persuade its board not to grant Metro blanket work hours exemptions. The GWCC board referred the matter to their Transportation Committee for study. The MMRA will continue its effort to insure that the residents of the Miracle Mile have a full voice on how subway construction is conducted. We are optimistic that GWCC – like MCWCC – will support our position against granting Metro blanket work hours exemptions.

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A Very “Hesitant” Planning Commission Denies Appeal of Petersen Facade

Petersen CDO Wilshire Elevation

The September 10, 2013 Central Area Planning Commission hearing on the appeal of the Planning Director’s approval of the new Petersen Automotive Museum facade had a cliff-hanging ending when two commissioners reluctantly joined the third commissioner and voted to uphold the approval and deny the appeal. Both Commissioner Chanchanit Martorell and Commissioner Samantha Millman – who were visibly uncomfortable when a dizzying set of motions and procedural maneuvers left them with no choice but to vote down the appeal – used the word “hesitant” in explaining their actions.

MMRA President James O’Sullivan filed the appeal on the grounds that the Petersen façade was a radical departure from the guidelines and standards of the Miracle Mile Community Design Overlay District [CDO]. The CDO was created to preserve the unique historical context of Miracle Mile and approved by the City Council in 2004.

A key objective of the CDO is to create a pedestrian friendly environment in the Miracle Mile. The Petersen Museum has never maintained a pedestrian entrance on Wilshire Boulevard and didn’t include one in the proposal they submitted to renovate their exterior – nor did their proposal even include a sign identifying the museum on the Wilshire side.

In his appeal O’Sullivan hammered the Petersen for continuing to turn their back to Museum Row and criticized the Planning Director for not mandating a Wilshire Boulevard entrance when he approved the façade. O’Sullivan’s point had obviously caused concern within the Planning Department that it would give the commission good cause to uphold the appeal because the lack of a Wilshire entrance and signage is a flagrant violation of the CDO. At the very beginning of the hearing planning staff indicated that – although they were recommending that the appeal by denied – they had additional conditions to add to the Director’s approval. Those conditions turned out to be that a Wilshire entrance and signage be stipulated.

The Petersen representatives maintained that the new façade was a “Twenty-First Century interpretation” of Art Deco and Streamline Moderne. This was rebuffed by Commissioner Martorell, “I am very familiar with Art Deco, I appreciate Art Deco, I am passionately in love with Art Deco . . . [This is] Not what I would personally consider Art Deco myself.”

In his presentation to the commission O’Sullivan pointed out that this was the first time in its thirty-year existence that the MMRA has filed an appeal. “We always find a way to compromise on projects,” he stated. “But the Petersen submitted this and got it approved by the City without any community outreach. We were kept in the dark.”

In a brief that O’Sullivan submitted he demonstrated how the Petersen and planning staff had cherry-picked their way though the CDO – stretching certain design guidelines and ignoring others to demonstrate compliance. At the hearing he warned the commission that if they upheld the Director’s Approval it would virtually nullify the CDO by establishing a precedence that would allow other developers and building owners to sue the City if they were forced to strictly comply with the CDO.

“It would have been better if the Petersen had asked for a complete exemption from the CDO or more honorable if they had asked the stakeholders to revise the CDO rather than to twist and torture it to get approval for their project,” said O’Sullivan. “This will cause irreparable harm to the CDO.”

Despite a roster of supporters endorsing the Petersen façade and the Director’s interpretation of the CDO – including a surprise appearance by Councilman Tom LaBonge, whose joviality trivialized the proceeding – everyone in the hearing room was caught by surprise when it came time for the vote.

Commissioner Young Kim introduced a motion denying O’Sullivan’s appeal and supporting the Director’s Approval with the additional conditions regarding the stipulation of a Wilshire entrance and signage – but it did not receive a second. That is when it became apparent that Commissioners Martorell and Millman had been receptive to O’Sullivan’s presentation and had reservations about the façade’s compatibility with the CDO.

Absent a second to the motion some confusion ensued. It was explained that without a second the motion would fail and the appeal would be automatically denied – and the original Director’s approval would stand, which did not stipulate a Wilshire entrance. So, Commissioner Kim re-introduced the motion. Finally, a soft-spoken Commissioner Millman offered: “A very hesitant second.”

When the vote was taken Millman and Kim voted in favor of the motion, but Commissioner Martorell [right] prefaced her vote with: “I have to say that I find the design somewhat problematic and . . . I think that there could be another design that’s more emblematic of this area, and I just have problems, so I just say no. I vote no.”

But then Martorell found herself painted in a procedural corner: the only way the commission could insure that the Petersen would have a Wilshire entrance and signage was to unanimously vote in favor of the motion.

“That [the lack of a Wilshire entrance] would be a loss to the community, irrespective of the design element. This is difficult. I don’t agree with this design,” Martorell said before changing her vote to affirm the motion and deny the appeal.

The MMRA Board of Directors, which endorsed and fully supported O’Sullivan’s appeal, is considering other options to preserve the integrity of the CDO.

MMRA Vice President Ken Hixon, who attending the appeal hearing, remarked, “Jim didn’t win the appeal, but he personally unlocked the Wilshire entrance to the Petersen Museum. That’s something we’ve been trying to do for the last 20 years.”

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Appeal of Petersen Museum Facade Denied

MMRA Exploring Other Options…

On September 10, 2013 the Central Area Planning Commission denied an appeal filed by James O’Sullivan, President of the Miracle Mile Residential Association [MMRA], regarding the new facade for the Petersen Automotive Museum. The three-member Commission voted to sustain the Director’s determination for a Community Overlay Approval of the facade.

O’Sullivan filed an appeal on grounds that the new facade would violate the guidelines of the Miracle Mile Community Design Overlay District [CDO], which was approved by the Los Angeles City Council in 2004 to provide design standards for public and private development in commercial zoned areas along Wilshire Boulevard. O’Sullivan’s appeal was endorsed by the MMRA Board of Directors, who share his concern that approval of the Petersen facade will set a precedence that will nullify the CDO. The MMRA is carefully exploring all available options in order to protect the CDO.

For additional information read:

MMRA President Appeals City’s Approval of Petersen Museum Facade, Miracle Mile Residential Association Newsletter, September 2013

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MMRA Appeals Petersen Museum Facade

[The following three articles are reprinted from the September 1, 2013 edition of the Miracle Mile Residential Association Newsletter. To see the articles in their original format with accompanying graphics, maps, and links to documents referenced herein click HERE.]

MMRA PRESIDENT APPEALS PETERSEN FACADE

James O’Sullivan, President of the Miracle Mile Residential Association [MMRA], has appealed the Department of Planning’s approval of plans by the Petersen Automotive Museum to erect a new facade on their building on the southeast corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue.

O’Sullivan appealed the decision on grounds that the facade violates the design guidelines of the Miracle Mile Community Design Overlay District [CDO] and ignores the CDO mandate that the museum maintain a pedestrian entrance on Wilshire Boulevard during operating hours, allowing the Petersen to continue to turn its back to Museum Row.

Plans for the facade as well as the interior renovations of the museum were officially announced by Petersen officials on August 18 at the Concours d’Elegance classic car show in Pebble Beach – but renderings of the controversial façade were leaked to the media in early July, accompanied by stories that the museum was selling off a substantial portion of its collection.

Alarmed by this situation, the MMRA requested a meeting with representatives of the Petersen. O’Sullivan and MMRA Vice President Ken Hixon met with Terry Karges, Executive Director of the Petersen Museum, and their planning consultant, Melody Kanschat, on July 28. At this meeting O’Sullivan and Hixon were surprised to learn that not only had plans for the facade been already submitted to the Department of Planning – without any notice to the community – but that the plans had been approved by the City ten days earlier, on July 18. They also learned that the decision would become final unless an appeal was filed by August 2.

With only a few days to act – and with no time to call for a Board of Director’s meeting – O’Sullivan filed an individual appeal on behalf of the MMRA. The Central Area Planning Commission will conduct a public hearing on the appeal on September 10.

The MMRA Board of Directors adopted a motion approving O’Sullivan’s appeal at its August meeting. The board is very troubled by the fact that the community was kept in the dark about the Petersen’s plans. The MMRA is committed to community involvement in the decision-making process (this newsletter is an example of that commitment). We are a consensus-based organization – but it is difficult to arrive at consensus if our residents don’t have all the facts in a timely manner.

The MMRA is also gravely concerned that the “jungle gym” design of the Petersen façade will be an attractive nuisance. The ribbon design reaching all the way down to the sidewalk will provide an easy foothold to secure climbers and will tempt young people and graffiti artists to scale the building.

The attractive nuisance doctrine states that a landowner may be held liable for the injuries to minors trespassing on their property who are unable to appreciate the risks posed by an object or condition. By approving this design, the City of Los Angeles – and its taxpayers – could share financial exposure for damages should a minor be injured climbing the Petersen facade.

The MMRA also fears that the Petersen facade will be a magnet for taggers and graffiti artists, who are notorious for the dare-devil risks they assume to prominently place their “tags.” They have been known to precariously hang over speeding traffic in order to tag freeway signs. High visibility is the supreme objective of taggers; the Petersen’s location on a busy intersection at the western gateway to the Miracle Mile presents an ideal canvas for such vandalism.

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WHEN A CIRCLE IS A SQUARE

A geometry lesson from the Los Angeles Planning Department

by James O’Sullivan, President, MMRA

The Los Angeles Planning Department has once again made a mumbo jumbo finding to justify a project it wants to approve. On July 18 the Director of Planning issued an opinion about the proposed new facade of the Petersen Automotive Museum that strains credulity. But this is par for how the City operates. I don’t have anything against the Petersen – I’ve taken many visitors there – but, in my humble opinion, the new facade design is just plain ugly. It reminds me of the psychedelic boarders of an old Grateful Dead poster. It’s definitely “trippy” – and it seems no more relevant to an automotive museum than it does to the Miracle Mile.

There is a Miracle Mile Community Design Overlay [CDO] that many of us worked for years to get approved and it is supposed to make sure that these kinds of designs do not happen in the Miracle Mile. However, the Petersen and the City did not deem it necessary to share this new design with anyone in the Miracle Mile, they just handled it in secret and approved it. And, love it or hate it, it really irks me that the community was shut out of this process. So, on behalf of the MMRA, I appealed the approval of the Petersen’s new facade and look forward to everyone – pro and con – having the opportunity to weigh in on this project when it goes before the Central Planning Commission on September 10.

Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder – particularly when it comes to modern architecture – but you can read the CDO yourself and see that it contains clear language about horizontal and vertical design elements.

Most people would agree that a circle is not a square and a horizontal line is not the same thing as a vertical line. That is not the case for the Los Angeles Director of Planning. After examining the application from the Petersen, the Director of Planning called horizontal lines vertical. Actually, what he said was that the “facade upgrade consists of installing a series of stainless-steel curvilinear ribbons. . .which provides a new horizontal and vertical rhythm and provides a sense of scale to the facade.”

Horizontal and vertical rhythm? Is he describing the Petersen facade or judging an episode of Dancing with the Stars? That is just plain nonsense. How can you look at the renderings of the facade and reconcile it to what it says in the CDO?

The approval stated, “The project has been reviewed by staff and has been found to be in substantial conformance with the design guidelines.” I have learned over the years that when anyone from the City mentions substantial conformance it means they will deem that a square is a circle if it suits their logic. The guidelines that that City must implement state that plans must conform to the CDO. Either they do or they don’t. There is no such language as “substantial conformance” to be found in the CDO.

The Planning Director admits that the Petersen design doesn’t really fit the Miracle Mile when he says: “Although the facade is very different from the surrounding commercial buildings, the unique facade design as proposed revitalizes the building and at the same time introduces an aesthetic design that enhances the area. It is consistent with the innovative modern architecture design present in the nearby museum uses (my italics).”

Normally, I would take the word “present” to mean LACMA West, the Bing, Hammer, Ahmanson, Broad, or Resnick galleries at LACMA or the A+D museum next door. But he seems to be saying that the Petersen facade is “consistent” to proposed designs that have yet to be approved, let alone built, such as the Zumthor “ink spot” redo of LACMA or the glass bubble theater the Academy Museum plans to build on the north side of the former May Company building.

And, to top it all off, the Planning Department seems completely oblivious to public safety. A child or teenager looking at the façade won’t see “innovative modern architecture” – they’ll see a giant jungle gym. The design screams: “Climb me!” And they will. And there will be injuries and lawsuits. And the taxpayers will find themselves on the hook for a share of the damages because the Planning Department approved a shiny, four-story attractive nuisance.

Although a design like the Petersen facade was never anticipated by those of us on the citizen advisory committee who created the Miracle Mile CDO, it is exactly what we were trying to prevent. The CDO was a product of community input and consensus. The approval of the Petersen facade was a well-executed end run around the community.

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What is the Miracle Mile Community Design Overlay District?

In 2004 the Los Angeles City Council approved the creation of the Miracle Mile Community Design Overlay Guidelines and Standards [CDO]. The CDO covers all commercially zoned parcels and structures along Wilshire Boulevard between Sycamore Avenue on the east to Fairfax Avenue on the west, with the exception of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Hancock Park.

The purpose of the CDO is to enhance the physical and aesthetic qualities of this distinctive section of Wilshire Boulevard. It addressed one of the key tenants of the City’s General Plan Framework to “determine the appropriate urban design elements at the neighborhood level” in order to create a more pleasant, pedestrian-oriented environment.

The impetus to create the CDO was sparked by a rash of new construction in the early-2000s that was inconsistent with the pattern of historically significant architecture in the Miracle Mile. Some of these new buildings paid little attention to the design of their Wilshire facades. They did not have open pedestrian entrances on Wilshire Boulevard, their display windows were blacked-out, and their signage was out-of-scale. These new buildings visually degraded the character and unique identity of the community [such as the Smart & Final store].

At that time, the preservation and restoration of the Miracle Mile’s mainly Art Deco historical buildings were also threatened and it became apparent the only way to establish standards for the rehabilitation of these unique historic resources was by means of a CDO. Hence, the CDO created two sets of architectural guidelines, one for new and existing developments and one specific to historic structures that are eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, such as the former May Company building.

In its recommendation supporting the creation of the CDO, the Department of Planning wrote that the CDO “will ensure that future development provide a sense of place in terms of design by applying unique architectural guidelines and standards developed for this area, and will help prevent the development of structures with exterior design that is not compatible with the surrounding community.”

A citizen advisory committee was formed to work with the Department of Planning to craft the CDO. The committee consisted of residents and business and property owners, who were charged with making the Miracle Mile section of Wilshire Boulevard a more pleasant and attractive street and to address issues of urban design, land use compatibility, and quality of life issues. James O’Sullivan, President of the MMRA, served on the committee and Renee Weitzer, Land Use and Planning Deputy for Councilmember Tom Labonge, was in regular attendance.

The CDO that emerged through the hard work of the citizen advisory committee, as approved by the City, mandates in its introduction that “All projects within the boundaries of the Miracle Mile CDO District should comply with the following Design Guidelines and Development Standards.”

Q & A:

Why was the Los Angeles County Museum [LACMA] exempted from the Miracle Mile CDO?

LACMA is a county institution located in Hancock Park, which is a county park. The CDO is under the purview of the City of Los Angeles, whose regulations do not apply to Los Angeles County property.

The MMRA is particularly puzzled by the Planning Department’s approval of the Petersen facade on the grounds that “it is consistent with innovative modern architecture design present in nearby museum uses.” The logic of this statement in ambiguous – it appears to be a reference to LACMA, given that it is the only nearby museum with innovative modern buildings present. But as explained above, LACMA is not legally bound by the guidelines and standards of the Miracle Mile CDO. If, indeed, they are referring to LACMA, then the Planning Department found that the Petersen facade was consistent to the CDO by comparing it to a museum that is exempt from the CDO. This slight of hand ignores the purpose, intent, and spirit of the CDO.

Does the CDO prohibit modern architecture?

No, not at all. The CDO does establish practical guidelines regarding setback, having a Wilshire pedestrian entrance, avoiding garage driveway entrances on Wilshire, etcetera – as well as general design standards regarding massing, architectural elements, and building materials – but it doesn’t require that new projects be constructed in an Art Deco or any other particular style.

Who enforces the CDO?

The Los Angeles City Department of Planning. But – as evidenced by their endorsement of the Petersen facade – it is obvious that anything goes with the Department of Planning.

The MMRA recently requested that our Councilmember, Tom Labonge, reinstate the Miracle Mile CDO citizen advisory board – but he refused. He maintains that the Department of Planning is solely franchised to implement the CDO. It is a Catch 22 situation for the Miracle Mile. The Department of Planning is in charge of implementing guidelines and standards that they feel free to redefine at will – without any public input.

Neither the Department of Planning nor the Petersen Museum did any public outreach before the plan for the new facade was submitted and approved by the City. The MMRA only accidentally learned of the project after it had been signed off on – and only a few days away from the expiration of the appeal process.

Since the filing of an appeal by MMRA President James O’Sullivan, the Petersen has belatedly begun its outreach campaign. And it is only because the appeal was filed that the public will have any input on this project at all.

Obviously, since the Department of Planning has apparently abdicated its responsibility to enforce the CDO, it falls upon the MMRA to fight for its implementation. To some the CDO is an imperfect document, but it was created by consensus to address the concerns of the community. The MMRA fully supports efforts to improve the CDO or to correct any of its defects. But it cannot be casually dismissed; it is the law in the Miracle Mile.

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