Business owners cheer city plans to pave dirt lot and add pay meters behind Abbot Kinney storefronts

By Gary Walker
The past two weeks of lane closures to lay fiber optic cable underneath Abbot Kinney Boulevard is only a taste of more work to come — only this time it’s parking that will be impacted.

In a push to increase parking circulation along the main retail and entertainment stretch of the boulevard, local businesses are supporting a city plan to install pay meters on the dirt-and-gravel parking lot along Electric Avenue (behind Abbot Kinney) between Santa Clara and California avenues.

For years it has been free to park from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. on the 667-foot-long, 30-foot-wide dirt lot, which will be paved to accommodate the new parking plan. Work is expected to start on Monday, with construction taking place from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, according to contractor Excel Paving.

The city plans to install 66 meters on the space, where parking will cost $1 per hour for a maximum of four hours. The 66 metered spaces would present either no change or a slight gain in overall spaces, according to Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin’s office.

“It’s going to be a pain, but it’s something that we all want. We’ve been working with the city for a long time to get these lots paved,” said Don Novak, owner of Abbot Kinney restaurants Hal’s Bar and Grill and Casa Linda.

Novak, a member of the Abbot Kinney Merchants Association, said the local business community is continuing to push for construction of a parking garage financed through private and public funding as a potential long-term solution to the trendy area’s parking woes.

“’But that might take a while,” he said. In the short-term, “We’re happy to have the dirt gone and most of the merchants here are OK with the meters.”

The California Coastal Commission granted a permit for parking lot construction on Electric Avenue in November 2013. During that same meeting, the commission also discussed a city proposal to re-pave and install 50 meters at the adjacent 520-by-30-foot free lot along South Irving Tabor Court down to Palms Boulevard. The cost of completing both projects, including related lighting and landscaping upgrades, was estimated at $1.6 million, The Argonaut reported at the time. No work has been scheduled for the Irving Tabor Court lot.

While homelessness, increasing density and gentrification remain hotly contentious topics in Venice, parking isn’t far behind. The success of Abbot Kinney Boulevard has created animosity among residents nearby who say valet parking outfits use up most available public parking at night.

Novak and other Venice business owners have previously submitted plans to the city for a 400-space parking structure along Electric Avenue that would run all the way to Venice Boulevard. The mixed-use project would incorporate affordable housing for military veterans and seniors.

“We would all like to see more parking than the city is planning to provide with the meters, but this is a start,” Novak said.

Fran Camaj, whose popular Gjelina restaurant helped transform the once low-rent boulevard into a bustling commercial hub, says Abbot Kinney business owners stand to benefit from the new meters but adjacent residential neighborhoods won’t see much relief.

“If you define community as residents and businesses working together, then this will be very helpful. It won’t do anything for the residents. The only thing that might help the residents is preferential parking zones,” said Camaj, who also owns Gjusta on Sunset Avenue in Venice.

The Coastal Commission has rejected preferential parking and other proposed parking restrictions that would favor residents of the communities in its purview several times over the past six years — twice in Venice and once in Playa del Rey. On each occasion, commissioners have cited their mandate to preserve public beach access.

When Gjelina opened in 2008, Camaj worked with city officials to fund the creation of 12 public parking spaces behind the restaurant in a residential neighborhood near Millwood Avenue, he said.

Elaine Spierer, a real estate agent who lives and works in Venice, said the parking meters would  “dramatically free up” parking spaces by making them more consistently available for shoppers and diners, even though they would make it harder for her personally.

“Meters are one prong of a multi-prong approach to create order out of the parking chaos here now.

For me, construction will be a super hardship, as access to my own home and parking space will be difficult, and it will be a pain for many other residents too. In the end, we should be much better off as most of the spaces are filled by 10 a.m. and don’t open up at all the entire day,” Spierer said.

Bonin acknowledged that there would be a period of adjustment for Abbot Kinney merchants but feels they will welcome the improvements to the parking lot.

“This project will pave the dirt lot and add landscaping and lighting, making the parking lot safer and more welcoming for guests and customers at local businesses,” Bonin said. “Since this work will require major construction, there will be times when vehicle and pedestrian access may be restricted for safety reasons or when concrete or asphalt needs to dry. I have instructed my staff to work with the contractor to ensure we engage businesses and residents to provide as much access for vehicles and pedestrians as possible while construction is underway.”

Meanwhile, the parking lot upgrades along Electric Avenue won’t be the only work impacting the boulevard.

Source Broadband Services, a Riverside-based engineering and technical support firm for telecommunication companies, is completing a project near the intersection of Abbot Kinney and Venice boulevards and has two more planned for Abbot Kinney — one near California Avenue, less than a block from the Electric Avenue lot, and another near Palms Boulevard, Source Broadband project manager Adam Dominguez said.