For the better part of 15 years, Craig Fraulino has had a front-row seat watching traffic and parking challenges on Culver Boulevard in Playa del Rey escalate.
The boulevard is used increasingly by Westside commuters during the day and motorists returning to the South Bay in the evening, and without sufficient parking, some businesses along Culver are becoming more anxious about their future in the beachside community.
“Parking is a real issue for almost all of the merchants on Culver Boulevard,” said Susan Zolla, the proprietor of the Inn at Playa del Rey.
In an effort to alleviate the dearth of parking spaces, Fraulino, an architect, is proposing the controversial idea of converting Titmouse Park into a parking lot.
“Titmouse is one of about five ideas that I have about parking,” Fraulino said of the pocket park site. “But it’s going to garner the most attention because there is a false emotional attachment to it by certain residents and many of the environmentalists.”
Marcia Hanscom is a member of both those groups, and she opposes the idea of losing a public park.
“(Making Titmouse Park a parking lot) is the wrong solution for a different problem,” said Hanscom. “Taking away a park from an area that we’re trying to spruce up is the wrong way to go.”
Not only does a discussion of Titmouse Park draw attention, says Fraulino, but there are five lots at the park that are virtually unused.
“Only four people use that park, and that includes two ladies who walk their dogs and two homeless people,” he claims. “There are four vacant lots that are planted and one asphalt lot adjacent that is vacant most of the time.”
Fraulino, a former Santa Monica resident, says that he is not anti-homeless and has compassion for those who are in need.
“But my tax dollars should not be used to support five vacant lots when we have business parking problems to this extent,” he said.
Merchants and residents agree that the shortage of parking is one of the area’s biggest problems and are now involved in efforts to explore how to improve traffic flow and create additional parking. The Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa has created an ad-hoc committee that will be soliciting feedback from residents and business owners regarding their thoughts on how the reconfiguration, or “the look and feel” of the boulevard’s future should be implemented.
In addition, three proposed development projects that have the potential to generate more density and traffic, along with more amenities, are in the planning stages for the three-block commercial corridor.
Cheryl Burnett, a Playa del Rey resident who lives on Pacific Avenue, said parking difficulties have long been a topic of conversation among her neighbors.
“It is no surprise to anyone living and working in Playa del Rey that we have a very significant parking issue,” said Burnett, who is a member of the local neighborhood council. “This has recently been exacerbated by the proposed changes in the lot behind Gordon’s Market.”
Burnett was referring to a parking lot behind the market where clients and employees of Culver Boulevard businesses and local residents have parked for several years. The majority of the lot is owned by the state Department of Fish and Game, and residents and merchants protested an earlier plan to limit the time that a vehicle can be parked at the lot. That plan has been put on hold.
Fraulino said the area has been neglected for far too long by its elected representatives.
“This (boulevard) looks exactly like it did when I was driving through here in 1978 to go to school,” he said.
The architect cited the revitalization of other beach communities, including Long Beach, San Pedro, Hermosa Beach and Santa Monica, where their planning representatives have joined with their respective city leaders to add more parking, which he says led to their renewal.
“Every other beach community within 40 miles has entered the 21st century, and this little business stretch has been ignored for 30 years, and the reason for that is parking,” Fraulino asserted. “Most of these cities required out-of-the-box thinking to resolve their parking issues.”
The inability to use the area behind their businesses also contributes to the parking challenges, said Fraulino.
“We have no rear alley access behind all of these businesses, as do other businesses in just about every major U.S. city,” the architect, who previously had an office on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, said. “This has forced all parking to the front street. And to compound that, we have an inordinate amount of red curbs on Culver Boulevard.”
Ruth Lansford feels that the park should not be used for anything other than its specified use — recreation.
“I think that it would be a great shame if Titmouse Park became a parking lot,” Lansford, the former director of the Friends of the Ballona Wetlands, told The Argonaut.
In the late 1970s, Lansford joined Culver Boulevard merchants and volunteers in building Titmouse Park. Several other organizations, including the Women’s Junior League and the Boys and Girls Scouts assisted in constructing the neighborhood park as well.
“It was just sand and weeds when we started,” Lansford recalled.
Titmouse Park is dedicated as parkland, says Jane Kolb, public information officer for the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks.
“When it’s dedicated park land, there are no negotiations,” Kolb said.
Like Fraulino, Zolla also believes that the park is underutilized. She suggested building a two-story lot behind Gordon’s Market.
“Anything that would increase parking is worth considering,” she said.
The only possibility to transform Titmouse into a parking lot would require a major land swap, said Kolb.
“And I can’t think of anything that we would be willing to swap for that park.”
Burnett says while the park may not be used in large numbers, she feels that it is worth saving.
“I do agree that Titmouse Park is underutilized, but rather than paving it over, we should find ways to make it more user-friendly and attractive to the community,” she suggested. “Many people do not even know it exists.
“With all the new development coming to Playa del Rey, I hope that we can find a solution to the parking challenges that does not require us sacrificing the very little park space we have. Once it is gone, it is gone forever,” Burnett said.
Fraulino took the news in stride about the difficulty of building a parking lot where Titmouse Park sits.
“I fully expected to hear that,” he said. “In order to make this happen, it will take a concerted effort on the part of our councilman.”
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Playa del Rey, said he would consider proposals for parking on Culver.
“But not before having great community input,” he stressed. “The community, along with the business owners, know what they want and what is compatible with their community.”
Fraulino contends that Rosendahl has been too focused on appeasing local residents and not listening to the area’s business owners.
“The councilman is disengaged from the business concerns here,” he stated.
The developer of two of the three pending projects, Edward Czuker, will likely provide a number of parking spaces toward the south end of Culver, where the project sites are located, Fraulino surmises.
“But we also need to do something for this end of the boulevard,” he said. “Otherwise, you’re going to amputate it and create a ‘hood’ here and a redeveloped area down there. It’s that simple.”
The businessman feels that he has the support of many of the community’s merchants and he will soon circulate a petition to gather signatures to explore how to create more parking on the boulevard.
“This is going to take work, persistence and patience,” said Fraulino. “I can’t think of anything more vital to a business than parking.”
Lansford, a Playa del Rey resident, described Titmouse Park as a “quiet oasis in the middle of Culver Boulevard” and she would like to see it remain that way.
“Rec and Parks is not in the parking lot business,” she said. “It’s in the parks business.”