A local businessman who recently offered a controversial parking plan for Playa del Rey is now proposing a new conceptual design that he believes will benefit the community’s main thoroughfare.
Craig Fraulino, a Playa del Rey architect, says the seaside town’s business community cannot survive if its parking problems are not solved, and he thinks he has a potential solution to them.
“I have at least four of five ideas about how to attack these parking, pedestrian and redevelopment problems here and I’ve already started with Titmouse Park,” Fraulino said, referring to an earlier idea where he suggested converting the small pocket park on Culver Boulevard into a parking lot.
The architect, who has been doing business on the boulevard for 16 years, feels confident that with his history in Playa del Rey, his associations with other business leaders and his professional background, his ideas can improve the beach community.
“None of these are easy solutions, or else they would have been done 25 years ago. Nobody has wanted to deal with them, including Councilman (Bill) Rosendahl’s office,” Fraulino asserted.
The architect envisions what he calls an “expansion of Titmouse Park,” with approximately 18 to 20 parking spaces at the site where visitors could park and walk to the nearby Ballona Wetlands. Each side of the park, which Fraulino maintains is vastly underused, would be buffered with ten to 12 feet of parkland. More importantly, Titmouse would remain a park, he said.
The land where the wetlands sit, directly behind many Culver Boulevard businesses, is owned by the California Department of Fish and Game.
A “Ballona Gateway Lookout Area” and a viewing platform on the back lots behind the businesses would allow visitors to see the wetlands and access the preserve with guided tours, along with landscaping, nature trails and native plantings.
Fraulino says the 200 acres of wetlands can be used effectively to attract more people from outside the community to make Playa del Rey a destination.
“What we have behind us is a goldmine,” he said. “It’s special to Playa del Rey and it should be celebrated. It deserves a gateway, a formal entry.”
The conceptual plan also proposes a two- to three-story parking garage at the site of an existing gravel lot near Gordon’s Market. The lot would house daytime parking for merchants, their employees, clients and visitors to the area. At night, patrons to the boulevard’s restaurants could use the structure.
Jane Kolb, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, said adding parking spaces at Titmouse Park might be possible under certain conditions.
“If it were part of a renovation of the park and the purpose was to add spaces for the public to use Titmouse Park, that might be a possibility,” Kolb told The Argonaut. “But not if it were just to add more parking for Playa del Rey.”
Among members of the boulevard’s merchants, there is support for Fraulino’s conceptual plan.
Sebastian Harrison, a businessman and landlord who owns Cellular Abroad, says Fraulino’s plan has merit.
“I try to think about what’s best for everyone in the community; the business community and the residents,” he said. “(Fraulino’s) plan has the least amount of negative impact.”
Stephen Mayer, a longtime Playa del Rey property owner, said he is willing to listen to anything that will provide parking and slow traffic on the boulevard.
“Anything that will (alleviate) traffic is good. If it helps bring in more parking, I’m all for it,” said Mayer, the proprietor of Bistro du Soleil.
Mayer, who has also owned the Prince O’ Whales, a popular sports bar for more than 30 years, says he supports Fraulino’s plan.
“I like it very much,” he said.
But Robert “Roy” van de Hoek, co-director of Playa del Rey-based Ballona Institute, has strong reservations about it.
“I think (Fraulino) is a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” van de Hoek, the institute’s biologist, claimed.
While he agrees that the area is in dire need of more parking, van de Hoek rejects Fraulino’s proposals. He suggested having diagonal parking, or creating spaces in the middle of the boulevard.
“They do it around medians in Hermosa Beach,” van de Hoek noted.
Patricia Elmone and her husband Ron owned 318 Culver Blvd, for 30 years, and they proudly call themselves environmentalists. They too have seen Fraulino’s plan and are in favor of it.
“It’s a great idea,” said Elmone, who belongs to the Nature Conservancy, a conservation organization and now lives in Sacramento. “This is a good way to promote the wetlands and alleviate parking there.”
Regarding measures that could slow down traffic, Fraulino proposes installing cobblestone pavers at crosswalks and key intersections and flashing land dividers that change at different times of the day.
“These are not new ideas,” he pointed out. “It’s all a part of urban planning.”
Fraulino recognizes that Fish and Game, along with the City Council, the California Coastal Commission and various city departments must agree with his proposals before he can put them in motion.
“The good news is that people are at least starting to talk about the parking problems,” he said. “They’re no longer in denial about it, although there’s still plenty of disagreement.”
But what Fraulino believes will be more challenging are what he calls the “various local interest groups that are only interested in defending their own turf,” which he says leads to gridlock instead of moving forward with parking and traffic solutions.
“There’s little consensus, give and take, and it seems that the group that generates the most emails and the most noise prevails for the day,” Fraulino contends, citing the residential, commercial and environmental constituencies in Playa del Rey. “If we’re going to work our way out of this, it is going to take some consensus and some give and take.”
Fraulino says that he has offered to show his plans to Rosendahl’s staff.
“They weren’t interested,” he stated.
The architect also denies that he is angling to work with developer Edward Czuker by presenting his plans to revitalize the commercial portion of the boulevard, a rumor that he says has surfaced in recent weeks.
Czuker is planning three developments at the west end of the boulevard, with retail, commercial and residential opportunities.
“I have never, ever, worked for anybody or taken on a development project myself,” Fraulino responded. “I have absolutely no interest in working for Czuker.”
Van de Hoek especially takes umbrage at the idea of having parking spaces at Titmouse Park.
“The environmental community is not willing to see any further inroads made into our preserve,” said van de Hoek, who lives close to the park.
“(Fraulino’s plan) would be a gateway to the wetlands that could become an attraction and something very useful,” he said.
Fraulino said he is willing to accept criticism for his proposals, provided that those who reject his plans offer some of their own.
“This is one of several ideas that I have, and it is the least environmentally disruptive. If someone doesn’t agree with this proposal, tell me why this doesn’t work,” he countered. “But I only want to hear constructive criticism or alternative game plans.”
Fraulino is a part of a committee formed by the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa to gather suggestions from merchants, homeowners and renters in Playa del Rey on how they would like Culver Boulevard to look as it prepares for an overhaul.
The group will host its first public meeting of 2010 on parking and traffic Saturday, February 20th at the Westchester Municipal Building community room, 7166 Manchester Ave.