A panel of speakers with expertise on various aspects of urban planning offered a variety of options to the problems facing Culver Boulevard at a recent community forum in Westchester.

Approximately 50 people attended the February 20th meeting to hear possible solutions to what has plagued one of Playa del Rey’s main arteries over the last several years: a dearth of parking and vehicle traffic that travels through the sleepy coastal town at alarming speeds.

A community design overlay committee comprised mainly of Playa del Rey business owners and residents is in the process of compiling recommendations from the community on how the boulevard should look in the future. The group plans to eventually present its recommendations to Los Angeles city officials in the hopes that they will become the guidelines for new development along one of the town’s most important thoroughfares.

Four potential developments loom on the horizon that are expected to transform the southern end of the boulevard, and some merchants have stated publicly that unless parking and traffic challenges are met, the northern end of Culver could soon become a ghost town.

The meeting served as a continuation of information gathering, and the panel provided a wealth of traffic and parking options for the boulevard.

Kent Strumpell, a Westchester planning and transportation advocate, presented ideas on how to redirect traffic off Culver Boulevard as well as explore increased use of the bicycle path in Playa del Rey.

Chad Lynn, the director of parking for Beverly Hills, talked about various possible solutions for the boulevard and sought to define how communities understand it.

“Parking isn’t rocket science,” he said. “It’s much more than that… it’s emotion.”

Lynn said it was necessary for a neighborhood to have certain attractions and amenities to be vibrant, and not just an abundance of parking lots.

“Just because you have parking, it doesn’t mean that people are going to come,” he noted.

Susan Shehab, a 25-year Playa del Rey resident, took issue with an assertion that the neighborhood’s biggest challenge was not parking.

“Parking is our biggest issue, and there’s an opportunity to provide great parking for everybody between Gordon’s (Market) and the Matilla Center,” Shehab said, referring to an existing lot near the western end of the boulevard near the market and Culver’s lone shopping center in Playa del Rey. “There’s no reason why that whole section cannot be used as parking for the community.”

Craig Fraulino, a local architect, has proposed a plan that would include a three-story garage where Shehab suggested. His traffic and parking plan has drawn considerable interest from Playa business owners and scorn from some members of the neighborhood’s environmental community.

The architect has suggested creating 12 to 15 parking spaces at Titmouse Park, a local pocket park that he and others say is underused, but advocates of the park say it should not be used for parking.

Fraulino’s plan for the area also includes nature trails along the Ballona Wetlands and a viewing platform for the ecological preserve at Titmouse.

The California Department of Fish and Game, the agency that owns most of the land behind the market, would have to approve any additional parking at the existing lot.

There are 49 parking spots along the boulevard, plus several more behind Gordon’s Market. In addition, there are spaces in the residential neighborhoods that surround nearby Del Rey Lagoon at the end of the street, as well as at a city park next to the lagoon.

The problem, several business owners say, is that there is very little parking for the merchants and their employees, which is essential if the commercial area of the boulevard is to remain relevant.

If parking is available but not within close proximity to a town’s commercial area, “that’s not a parking issue, that’s a convenience issue,” Lynn said.

Cyndi Hench, president of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa, thinks the meeting was a success due to the experts’ contribution and the attendance.

“It’s not easy getting people to come out on a Saturday morning,” said Hench, whose council chose the ad hoc committee. “There was a lot of good information and the meeting was not contentious at all.”

Tensions exist between some Playa del Rey residents and the local council over perceived neglect of Culver Boulevard and the needs of those who live in the surrounding neighborhoods, but none of that bubbled to the surface at the community meeting.

The panel said it was imperative to define what the actual problems are before embarking on potential solutions for the boulevard.

“What I’ve learned is that the city really responds to community input,” said Strumpell, who is a member of the Los Angels County Bicycle Coalition. “If you have a vision for what you want to do, that really gives the policy makers and the elected officials something that they can push for.

“But you’ve got to work together to come up with that common vision,” Strumpell added. “That way, I really think that you’ll see results.”

Fraulino thought the meeting went well, but pointed out that the panelists were not very familiar with the boulevard.

“There was a lot of good general rules on how to redevelop beach areas,” said Fraulino. “But (none of the panelists) is that familiar with Culver Boulevard, which in many ways is unlike major streets in other beach communities.”

Lance Williams, the proprietor of Playa del Rey Florists, said he was glad he came to hear the panel’s advice because it gave him a new perspective regarding some of the other proposals that have been brought to the forefront in recent weeks.

“When you hear possible solutions from experts, it really makes a big difference,” he said.

Another local property owner, Patricia Elmone, viewed the community forum as an opportunity for a fresh start towards forging good relations between the boulevard’s various interests.

“I think it was a good meeting and a jumping-off point for local businesses and residents to start building a consensus for their needs,” said Elmone, who flew in from Sacramento to attend the meeting.

Elmone and her husband Ron support Fraulino’s redevelopment proposal.

“It brings both much-needed parking to the north end of the Culver business corridor and showcases the unique wetlands rehabilitation project of Ballona Creek,” she said.

Fraulino said the community forum had other benefits as well.

“It brought together people from different backgrounds and beliefs,” the architect said. “It was probably a very good way to spend a Saturday afternoon.”

Terry Issacs, a co-chair of the ad hoc committee, said the group would meet again at a later date after it evaluated the community’s ideas and the experts’ suggestions.

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