Q & A: An interview with Mindy Lake and Michael Cortez, members of Metro’s Construction Relations Team

Q & A:

On the Front Lines of

Subway Construction in the Miracle Mile

An interview with Mindy Lake and Michael Cortez,

members of Metro’s Construction Relations Team

After almost two years of advanced utility relocation (and a couple more to go at Wilshire and Fairfax), the main event will begin soon at La Brea and Wilshire as preparations are made for underground subway construction. The Purple Line extension from Western Avenue to La Cienega Boulevard is a massive and complex endeavor. The multi-billion dollar, nine-year construction project through one of the most densely populated urban corridors in the country is fraught with potential impacts on nearby residents and businesses. It is the job of Mindy Lake [below right] and Michael Cortez [below left] to serve as a liaison between Metro and the community and help ensure that the mitigations implemented during the subway work go as well as possible.

 

Lake and Cortez talk about their jobs, the proper way to make a complaint about subway construction, and Metro’s Eat-Shop-Play program to support local business during the building process. They were interviewed June 8, 2015. The interview has been edited for length.

Q: What exactly are your jobs?

Lake: My official title is Senior Construction Relations Officer, Section One, West Segment. Which, in plain English, means I handle construction-related issues for the Purple Line Extension for the area west of Hauser Boulevard to La Cienega Boulevard, which includes the Fairfax station and the La Cienega station.

Cortez: And I’m the Senior Construction Relations Office for the East Segment. I cover everything east of Hauser to Western, which includes the La Brea station, the Crenshaw staging yard, and the tie-in to the station at Wilshire and Western.

Q: Mindy, what are your qualifications for this job?

Lake: Over 25 years of community activity and activism stemming back to the mid-1980s in this neighborhood, particularly west of Fairfax: from organizing the first Neighborhood Watch to being a founding member of Mid City West Community Council. I was also the co-chair of the Wilshire Division’s Community-Police Advisory Board for four years. I was born in the neighborhood and went to schools here. I’m basically a dyed-in-the wool community person. I took this job because I thought I had the qualifications to understand the needs of this community – and I thought I could be helpful to Metro with this transformative construction project.

Q: Michael, what are your qualifications?

Cortez: I have over 11 years experience working in the public sector. I worked many years for the Community Redevelopment Agency in the Hollywood and Central region. Prior to that I worked for two elected officials. I was born and raised in Canoga Park. I was president of my neighborhood council and engaged in community activism in the Valley. I believe in the importance of community engagement in the planning process all the way through to the construction of a project.

Q: Now that that a principal contractor –a design-builder in Metro jargon – has been engaged, how do you two specifically fit into the construction process?

Lake: We liaison with all of the entities connected to subway construction. We work with Metro’s project management; we work with community relations; we work with the community; we work with the design-builder and the sub-contractors still working on utility relocations. Our job is to keep an eye on what’s going on so that we can deliver that information to the community – and be available when there are issues or complaints. We try to stay out in front of everything so that we can anticipate if something might create a problem for the community.

Q: It seems that one of the problems Metro sometimes had keeping the noise disturbances under control during nighttime utility relocation work was the large number of sub-contractors involved. Each contractor had to be educated on proper noise mitigation methods. Will it be easier for you to control this problem now that you are dealing with only one main contractor for the actual subway construction?

Lake: Absolutely. I think the challenge with the utility relocation sub-contractors was that what we asked of them was so much more than they were accustomed to providing. It required us to really stay on top it. We had a heightened degree of mitigation measures we were implementing. It was a learning curve for them and a trust issue for us. We had to work very closely with them to make sure the understood the community they were working in.

Q: Speaking of which, how do you find this community to work in?

Cortez: I would say I’ve been able to work well with the community. I’ve started to build relationships with various organizations. I go the community council meetings. I meet with folks individually. I want people to have a face they know during the construction process. Here in the La Brea area I’ve been introducing myself to all the businesses. I am available to them and try to keep them informed. Like Mindy, I respond to anyone who contacts me by phone or email in 24-hours or less.

Q: Let’s talk about complaints. If residents or businesses are having issues with dust, noise, construction traffic, or any other subway related problems, what is the proper way to get Metro’s attention?

Lake: We have are hotline phone number, 213-922-6934, which can translate into an immediate, real-time response if its an urgent construction related matter. Or we can be reached by email. [See below.]

Q: What determines urgency and prompts a real-time response?

Lake: My definition of urgent, for example, would be if you were experiencing an extraordinarily loud construction disturbance at night or your driveway was blocked by a truck during construction. You would call the project hotline; go through the menu options; indicate that it is urgent; a live operator will come on the line; you tell them where you are located and what the issue is; they would call or text me or Michael; and we would respond right then and there.

Q: And then you or Michael would contact someone at the construction site to find out what’s going on?

Lake: Yes. Or, in my case, I live in the Miracle Mile, right here in the construction zone, so, often I’ll just go to the site to investigate the problem.

Q: That was a big mistake, wasn’t it? Moving into the Miracle Mile when you took this assignment? You didn’t put much distance between yourself and your job.

Lake: (Laughing.) It speaks on some level to either my insanity or my commitment to this project. I think it’s the only fair way, that when I say to someone that I know what you’re going through, that I can be perfectly honest.

Cortez: When there is a complaint or problem, we sit down with the contractor and discuss the situation – and remind them to continue to implement our mitigation efforts.

Q: So, simply put, the best way to complain is to call the project hotline: 213-922-6934.

Lake: It’s been a very effective method. The response time is excellent. Michael and I are on top of it. We also cover for each other if one of us is indisposed.

Q: The Miracle Mile Residential Association has a keen interest in supporting small businesses and restaurants. Obviously, the enterprises located closest to the staging sites at La Brea and Fairfax are going to be economically impacted by subway construction. Metro has created a marketing program called Eat Shop Play to promote these businesses to help counteract any damage to their bottom line. What sort of response have you been getting from Miracle Mile business owners?

Lake: Once they wrap their heads around the idea of what we’re doing – and understand that this is something we’re providing to them at no cost – they are quite engaged. They have to grasp the potential construction impacts; right now they’re not really feeling it. So, we’re trying to be pro-active and educate them. Once we get through that process, they are very interested in participating. We’ve had very positive responses.

Q: Have you gotten many Miracle Mile businesses to participate in the program?

Cortez: Yes, so far almost 50 businesses in the La Brea, Fairfax, and La Cienega areas.

Q: I know you promote the Eat Shop Play program online, but will you promote it in other media outlets – like local newspapers?

Lake: Yes, we’ve also bought pole banners for Wilshire Boulevard. We’ll also advertise on billboards and bus shelters. Our official launch for the program is July 1st. That is why we want to reach out to all of our community partners. We want to get word out.


Metro Purple Line Extension
Construction Relations

24-hour telephone: 213-922-6934

Mindy Lake (west segment; Hauser Blvd. to La Cienega Blvd.):
LakeM@metro.net

Michael Cortez (east segment; Hauser Blvd. to Western Ave.):
cortezmic@metro.net

Metro Purple Line Extension links:

http://www.metro.net/projects/westside/
Twitter: @purplelineext
Facebook: facebook.com/purplelineext

 

“Sleepless in the Miracle Mile” Update:

The MMRA collected nearly 800 signatures in our petition campaign to stop nighttime subway construction in the Miracle Mile. Although we have not yet succeeded in stopping all nighttime work (which we continue to oppose) our well-publicized campaign did motivate Metro to limit or rearrange nighttime construction to minimize complaints.

Now that a prime subway contractor has been engaged – Skanska, Traylor and Shea (STS) – officers of the MMRA are meeting regularly with representatives of Metro, STS, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, and the Los Angeles Police Commission (which issues permits for nighttime construction).

The MMRA is adamant that the community have a direct voice in how subway construction in general is conducted in the Miracle Mile, including: the selection of haul routes; sound mitigation at the staging yards; loss of public parking; and protecting our small business and restaurants.

The residents of the Miracle Mile welcome the Purple Line subway extension. The MMRA will work closely with all parties involved to help manage the impacts on our community – while continuing our efforts to stop the noise disturbances of nighttime work.

Subway Construction Update: Violent Robbery Complicates Effort to Keep Bank of America Parking Lot Open

 

Northwest corner of Wilshire Blvd. and Fairfax Ave. [Google Maps]

 Subway Construction Update:

Violent Robbery Complicates Effort to Keep
Bank of America Parking Lot Open

Work is underway at the northwest corner of Wilshire and La Brea to prepare a staging yard for the Purple Line Extension. The project contractor, Skanska Traylor Shea, is constructing a temporary alley between Carling Way and Detroit Street. The new alley will redirect traffic west to Detroit, closing the alley exit to La Brea permanently for the remainder of the project.

Later this month, the artwork on the exterior of the former Metro Customer Service Center will be removed and stored for future use at another Metro location. Demolition of the Service Center, the former Blockbuster store, and the former Lawrence of La Brea rug store will occur in late June – and sound wall construction will follow.

Another staging yard will be located on the south side of Wilshire Boulevard. Metro plans to take possession of the Bank of America property at the southwest corner of Wilshire and La Brea by the end of May. Mitigation of any interior environmental hazards will be completed before the bank building is demolished. Metro is in the process of acquiring the property to the west of the Bank of America, which houses Albertson’s Wedding Chapel and other businesses. Metro expects to complete this acquisition by Fall 2015.

Wilshire/La Brea subway construction staging sites. [Courtesy Metro]
Click on image to enlarge.

The staging site at the southwest corner of Wilshire and La Brea will be the most active of all the sites required for the construction of the subway extension. All of the dirt from the tunneling operation – from Western Avenue to La Cienega Boulevard – will be conveyed underground to this location for removal. The site will also house a plant to manufacture the grout that will seal the concrete tunnel lining.

In April, officers of the Miracle Mile Residential Association met with representatives of Metro and the contractor, Skanska Traylor Shea, to discuss noise mitigation at the staging sites, haul routes, and work hours. The MMRA is closely monitoring all aspects of the subway construction and continues to staunchly oppose nighttime work.

The MMRA has requested that Metro make the Bank of America parking lot available to residents and nearby businesses for as long as possible. The east end of the Miracle Mile is experiencing a sharp decline in available parking created by Metro’s activities and the construction of large infill apartment projects on the surface parking lots behind the Desmond’s and Dominguez-Wilshire buildings.

Unfortunately, this request has been complicated by a violent robbery that occurred at this location on May 7. This crime prompted the Bank of America to close the parking lot. The MMRA will make every effort to work with Metro and the L.A.P.D. to enhance safety and security measures so that this parking lot can be re-opened until such time that Metro requires its fulltime use as a construction staging site.

Metro will hold its next Purple Line Extension community meeting on Thursday, May 21, 5:30 PM at the Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Boulevard.

For additional information:

Metro Purple Line Extension Newsletter – May 2015

MMRA Meets with Metro • Seeks to Shift Nighttime Utility Relocations to Daytime Hours

 

MMRA Meets with Metro

Seeks to Shift Nighttime Utility Relocations
to Daytime Hours

Miracle Mile Residential Association President James O’Sullivan and Vice President Ken Hixon met with representatives of Metro and the Los Angeles Department of Transportation [LADOT] on January 27, 2015 to discuss the noise and vibration impacts of ongoing nighttime utility relocation work.

At the meeting the MMRA presented a letter to Metro with suggestions for how nighttime noise disturbances could either be eliminated or better mitigated. The letter stated “It is clear after a year of Advanced Utility Relocations (AUR) that nighttime construction in the Miracle Mile – one of the most densely populated urban corridors in the country – cannot be done without disturbing the peace. Such work requires a super-human level of noise mitigation that has been demonstrated to be impractical to achieve on a consistent basis.”

The MMRA requested that LADOT grant Metro permission to work during morning and evening peak hours so that the majority of utility relocations could be shifted to daytime.

In a written reply, Kasey Shuda, Metro Construction Relations Manager, replied: “If the Los Angeles Department of Transportation was to approve peak hour exemptions for the project, from 6AM-9AM and 4PM-7PM, they would require two lanes of traffic remain open in each direction. This would cripple the ability of the contractor to complete a majority of AUR [advanced utility relocation] work due to the current condition of Wilshire Blvd. In order to keep two lanes of traffic open in each direction the project would be required to complete street reconfigurations including landscape removal, median demolition, signal relocation and street lighting relocations. These activities are not scheduled to take place until just prior to pile drilling. Pile drilling is the first activity of major subway construction. It is scheduled to take place first at the Wilshire/La Brea station in late 2015.”

The MMRA’s position is that since street reconfiguration is already in the plans to allow for the construction of the underground subway stations at La Brea and Fairfax, this reconfiguration should take place sooner than later to allow utility relocations to be done during daytime hours.

At the meeting Metro representatives acknowledged that it is nearly impossible to assure that nighttime construction won’t keep some residents awake, but that their goal was to disturb as few residents as possible. The MMRA takes issue with this calculation, which measures the success of mitigation by how many people are kept awake. We believe that every resident living along the Wilshire corridor has a fundamental right to sleep at night and that the only effective means to ensure this right is to stop subway construction between 11 PM and 7AM.


Click image to view video.

In its letter the MMRA also discussed proposed mitigations at the four subway construction sites to be located in the Miracle Mile. “Metro needs to go beyond mere compliance with the minimal requirements of the noise code if they want to generate good will in the community,” said Hixon. “Nine years of subway construction is going wear nerves thin, especially when nearby residents are kept awake all night.”

To date over 750 people have signed the “Sleepless in the Miracle Mile” petition opposing nighttime subway construction. The MMRA will continue to work with Metro and its contractors to make this lengthy project go as smoothly as possible, but we will not alter our opposition to nighttime construction. Nighttime subway construction and a good night’s sleep are inherently incompatible goals.

MMRA Letter to Metro, 27 Jan. 2015

Metro Letter to MMRA, 3 Feb. 2015

For additional information:

Park LaBrea News/Beverly Press: Noise from subway work rattles nerves at night

MMRA website: Subway Construction page

 

Miracle Mile Spotlight: Urban Florist

Miracle Mile Spotlight: Urban Florist

 Bryan

Bryan Brayton [photo above] is very much a Connecticut Yankee in the Miracle Mile. He’s an even-tempered, friendly, and contented man. He opened his florist shop on the south side of 8th Street, just a short distance from La Brea Avenue, in 1986. Urban Florist is one of the oldest small businesses in the Miracle Mile, despite a less than promising start:

“I remember the first day I opened, my family came and we pulled up to the shop and the whole front was spray painted with graffiti,” Bryan laughs at the memory. “We were from a little country town in Connecticut and my father said, ‘What kind of neighborhood is this?’”

But the Miracle Mile suited Bryan. He discovered the area when he came west on vacation and decided to stay. Flowers have always been his passion. Back east he had studied floriculture, design, and the business aspects of the trade. So, he found work at a florist shop on Doheny. After three years there, he decided he could run a shop on his own and, with a loan from his father, Urban Florist opened for business.

At the beginning he was a one man enterprise: “I would answer the phone, make the arrangement, turn on the answering machine, get in the car, go deliver it, come back, get the messages, call the customers back…” He shakes his head and chuckles.

Now he has two employees: a designer and delivery driver. Although, he temporarily increases his staff to meet the demand on Mother’s Day and Valentine Day.

One of the things Bryan enjoys most about his profession is going downtown to the flower mart three mornings a week. He typically arrives there at 5 AM, although the wholesale market opens at 2 AM. “It’s a whole other world,” he says. “It’s lucky I was born a morning person.”

The florist business has changed since he first opened his establishment. “Thirty years ago people went to florist shops to buy flowers. Now they go to Ralph’s and Trader Joe’s. There used to be all these ‘bucket shops’ with rows and rows of flowers and that’s where you went to buy your flowers. But now Costco does weddings and once that happened all the bucket shops disappeared.” Fortunately, 90% of his business comes from internet orders or over the phone.

The shop is open six days a week. “You’re almost married to the business,” he states. “I do this more than I do anything else. And I like it. I haven’t had a summer vacation in ten years or more. But I’m very lucky. I grew up with a dad who said, ‘Kids, if you’re going to do something, make sure you like it,’ because he wasn’t happy with his corporate job with General Electric. He said, ‘Be happy with what you do, because you’re going to be at work more than you’re going to be at home.’”

Local customers respond positively to the fact that the shop is not a cookie-cutter franchise design. “People walk in and say, ‘this is so quaint, what a sweet little shop.’ You can almost hear them take a sigh of relief.”

“Fortunately, for me, all these new apartments buildings going up in the Miracle Mile are going to help a lot.” He’s been contracted to provide weekly flower arrangements for the leasing office and community spaces in the new mixed-use apartment building on the southeast corner of Wilshire and La Brea. “And, of course, Park La Brea has always been good for me. We do a lot of deliveries there.”

At this point in the interview, a delivery of small potted succulents was made, which prompted Bryan to remark: “At the end of the school year the moms order thank you gifts for their kid’s teachers. It’s another great part of being a little neighborhood florist: I get to see the circle of life. I’m on the second generation now. I’ve done kid’s proms, weddings, and now they’re having babies. I love it. It makes me feel small town. How wonderful to have people walk by every day and stick their head in the door and say, ‘Good morning, Bryan.’”

But the flip side of being in business of celebration is accommodating those who are in mourning. “I can’t tell you how many folks who were my original customers and their families will call me to say that they have passed away. It can be very upsetting. I’ve known them for years and all of a sudden they’re gone. I’m very attached to this neighborhood, there are some great people here.”

Urban Florist
5310 W. 8th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Hours:
Monday–Friday: 9 AM–5 PM
Saturday: 9 AM–2PM
Closed Sunday
Phone: 323-937-7100
Fax: 323-937-0774
Email: UrbanFlorist@sbcglobal.net
Website: urbanflorist.net

The MMRA newsletter does not solicit or accept advertisements. Our support of local businesses is a matter of principle ­– for which we receive no financial compensation or consideration of any kind.

Miracle Mile Spotlight: Rascal

[From the May 2014 edition of the Miracle Mile Residential Association Newsletter:]

Miracle Mile Spotlight:

Rascal

For many years one restaurant after another cycled through the single story building on the southwest corner of La Brea and 8th Street. The location seemed jinxed – but not to Miracle Mile residents Sandy and Rebecca Clark [photo below]. They saw good bones: exposed brick interior walls, large windows, and an ideal spot for a neighborhood restaurant.

So in 2011 they decided to test their intuition and years of experience in the restaurant business and they opened Rascal. The restaurant almost instantly became a local favorite known for its welcoming atmosphere and great food.

Which begs the question: what is the secret in creating a successful neighborhood joint?

“A huge part of that is staff,” answers Rebecca. “Our philosophy is that we hire for personalities more than experience. We want interesting people, people that travel and are educated – and have all those things going for them.”

“We have no attitude,” adds Sandy, who was the wine buyer for the Chaya restaurants for many years. “Here you can sit where you want, if you don’t like your food you can send it back, here’s a top off. It’s like hosting a party at your home, basically.”

“We really wanted to get to know our neighbors and have a presence in the neighborhood,” Rebecca offers. “Once a month we like to do a fundraising night. We prefer it to be for a local charity. It’s great for us because it brings us new customers and then we give 20 percent of the proceeds to that charity.”

Charity is close to Rebecca’s heart, her “day job” for almost 12 years is with Heart of Los Angeles, a non-profit community center that provides underserved youth with exceptional programs in academics, arts and athletics aimed at getting kids into college.

Sandy runs the restaurant and Rebecca handles public relations and the books. But they both agree that being in the restaurant business is as much a lifestyle as it is an occupation – particularly at an establishment that’s open seven nights a week. One of their New Year’s resolutions is to take a vacation this year, something they haven’t done since they opened.

They are optimistic that they might be able to get out of town since the arrival of Chef Andy Lee [photo right], who joined them last October. His culinary skills and knack for organization are key ingredients in the restaurant’s continuing success. Chef Lee is enthusiastic about the advantages of creating dishes for a 50-seat establishment. “For me it’s my dream job,” he says. “I get to touch everything, see everything, and the feedback from the customer is immediate.”

When you have a lot of regulars there are favorite dishes that they always expect – at Rascal it’s the fried chicken, hamburgers, and Brussels sprouts. “One night Andy made the chicken nuggets into a sandwich and so we ran it as a little special,” Rebecca explains. “Then we tried to take it off the menu and our regulars were like ‘no way’ and we had to keep it.”

Their compact kitchen limits the number of items on the menu. “Our magical number right now is eight appetizers and eight entrees,” says Chef Lee. “We change our menu every three or so weeks. It’s a subtle flow. We’re all about what we can do to make a dish better. So, although there are certain familiar dishes, they are always evolving.”

Sandy and Rebecca recently added three outdoor tables and just received approval of a full liquor license. They have always served wine and craft beers and now will be able to offer customers a cocktail with their meal. “But we do not want a rowdy liquor crowd,” Sandy states. He takes pride in their house wines. “There’s a real art to buying inexpensive wines that taste great that you don’t have to charge so much for. At most restaurants the wine buyers are too lazy to do that.”

Sunday “Game Nights” have become a fun attraction for families – you can dine while playing your favorite board games and card games. “That is what makes this so neighborhood,” remarked Chef Lee. “You’re not going to see that at other big restaurants.”

They offer valet parking but say that almost 70 percent of the customers walk to the restaurant, which is further evidence of Rascal’s genuine connection to the neighborhood.

“The funny thing, too, is that I think that L.A. being a city of transplants, so many people walk in here and say ‘This is just like my favorite place in Boston or Chicago or Seattle.’ It just has that feeling of familiarity,” Rebecca says.

“It’s nice to work where you live and live where you work,” Sandy concluded.

Maybe that’s the real secret to a great neighborhood joint: having proprietors like Rebecca and Sandy Clark.

Rascal
801 South La Brea Ave.
(323) 933-3229
Hours:
5 PM-11 PM Monday-Saturday
5 PM-10PM Sunday
rascalla.com

Photo credits: Chef Andy Lee, courtesy of ladinenclub.com; other images courtesy of Rascal.

The MMRA newsletter does not solicit or accept advertisements. Our support of local businesses is a matter of principle ­– for which we receive no financial compensation or consideration of any kind.

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.

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.]