As Los Angeles weighs a ballot measure to fund infrastructure repairs, Westchester gets upgrades through a federal grant

By Gary Walker

The need for extensive street and sidewalk repair continues to be a pressing concern throughout Los Angeles, but residents of one Westside community are teaming up with local and federal officials to get the ball rolling.

Following a years-long push by Westchester residents, both sides of Sepulveda Boulevard between 79th and 83rd streets are getting new sidewalks and curbs thanks to two federal grants.

Work on the east side of Sepulveda is being funded through a $625,000 Safe Routes to Schools grant and should be completed this month, Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin said. Safe Routes to Schools grants are designed to enable children to walk or bicycle to school or after-school programs — in this case, Orville Wright Middle School and the Westchester Family YMCA.

Bids for work on the west side of the boulevard went out this week and are being paid for by a $1-million federal grant obtained through Rep. Maxine Waters (D- Los Angeles).

John Ruehlan, a member of the Westchester Business Improvement District, had worked with former Councilman Bill Rosendahl and Waters to push for the grants.

“Leadership doesn’t always come from City Hall,” Bonin said during a March 13 press conference outside the YMCA. “It often comes from neighborhoods, and in this case John Ruehlan has been one of the leaders on this project.”

The Sepulveda projects are taking shape against the backdrop of proposals for a $3-billion city street repair bond or a half-cent sales tax hike that would raise up to $4.5 billion for such infrastructure improvements. City administrators recommended last week that city leaders put the sales tax hike, which would fix more than 8,000 miles of the city’s most badly damaged roadways, on the November ballot.

The projects on Sepulveda include the planting of 26 trees to replace 17 ficus trees that have been removed from the west side of the boulevard, said city Bureau of Street Services Assistant Director Ron Olive. The wide-spreading root systems of ficus trees planted more than 40 years ago have lifted sidewalks and displaced curbs along Sepulveda and much of Los Angeles.

The Sepulveda upgrades also include meandering sidewalks that curve away from the boulevard to leave more room for trees and other landscaping.

“We’ve been working on this project for a very long time,” Ruehlan said. “Because of the new meandering sidewalks that we’re going to put in, this will really be a showcase for Westchester.”

Mar Vista homeowners have frequently complained about crumbling streets and sidewalks in their neighborhoods. South Mar Vista Homeowners Association members contemplated seceding from Los Angeles to become part of nearby Culver City, but the effort fizzled for lack of support from other groups. In September, association members voted to pay additional property taxes to fund localized infrastructure repairs.

Westchester’s Sepulveda corridor also benefits from other private street maintenance funding. As part of its entitlements for commercial and residential projects at the Howard Hughes Center, developers the Equity Group have contributed nearly $2 million toward maintenance of the boulevard.

“It’s these types of public-private partnerships that are needed in order to get things done,” said Bonin, who spoke of the need for creative infrastructure solutions that won’t tap out the city’s general fund.

“We’re looking to see how we can do this in other places,” Bonin said.