Commuters threaten to recall council-man over traffic lane reductions

By Gary Walker

Furious over losing a lane of traffic in each direction with the recent reconfiguration of Venice Boulevard in Mar Vista, a group of Westside commuters is organizing to pressure L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin into reversing the changes — threatening to launch a recall campaign if necessary.

Part of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s pedestrian-friendly Great Streets program, lane reductions between Inglewood Boulevard to Beethoven Street made room for a protected bike lanes between the sidewalk and parked cars, but also triggered public backlash over slower traffic. Simultaneous safety-oriented lane reductions on Culver and Jefferson boulevards, Vista Del Mar and Pershing Drive in Playa del Rey have divided locals but almost universally enraged South Bay commuters. Bonin has described traffic-flow changes in both communities as pilot programs subject to further review.

On June 13 more than 100 residents of Mar Vista, Playa del Rey and Westchester lambasted the changes during a boisterous Mar Vista Community Council meeting, many of them peppering Bonin mobility deputy Jesse Holzer and Great Streets senior project manager Carter Rubin with a mix of questions and insults.

“Will a recall petition affect the pilot project? How quickly can we get rid of this dumb idea?” asked Edwin Ortega.

Morgan Pietz, a civil litigator who lives in Ladera Heights and works in Century City, said he’s creating a political action committee to fundraise for a campaign not only to restore traffic lanes on Venice Boulevard, but also to oppose any future lane reductions elsewhere.

“The goal of the group is to get Councilman Mike Bonin to reverse these changes, to restore the [vehicle] lanes and to oppose all road diets going forward by any means necessary. And that includes the option of a recall,” Pietz said of his forthcoming Save Our Streets PAC.

Others pressed Holzer and Rubin on the duration of the pilot program — “The pilot has crashed,” someone in the audience shouted — and raised questions about impact studies and Bonin’s criteria for justifying the changes. Many complained about being caught unaware, prompting Holzer to point out the council office’s yearlong public survey and information campaign.

Some in attendance spoke in favor of the changes, however.

Ana Martin, a Mar Vista resident and owner of the LA Brakeless bicycle shop on Venice Boulevard, was shouted down after saying “I think we should give it a chance.” Martin was visibly taken aback by the venom directed toward her, saying later she didn’t expect it.

Fred Davis, an avid bicyclist who said he used to avoid Venice Boulevard due to verbal harassment from drivers and “belligerent car doors,” said he loves the new configuration.

“I appreciate the calming effects on traffic and, by extension, the neighborhood as a whole,” Davis said. “It’s probably the best thing to happen to this neighborhood in the 13 years I’ve lived here.”

Mar Vista native Demetrios Mavromichalis has more at stake in the fate of Venice Boulevard than the average person: his livelihood. Owner of the Venice Grind Coffee House and the main investor behind new restaurant The Mar Vista and its companion restaurant MV Grab & Go, he initially supported the pedestrian-oriented strategy behind Great Streets.

“We were excited about it. We thought it would bring more energy to the boulevard,” he said.

Now Mavromichalis isn’t so sure. Since the traffic lane reductions and installation of new midblock crosswalks, he’s seen business go down.

“I think the changes were implemented too fast. This is an experiment at our expense,” said Mavromichalis, who supports restoring traffic lanes but not recalling Bonin.

Holzer said the city will reevaluate the lane closures at 30- and 60-day intervals.

gary@argonautnews.com

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