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Blvd/garcia/21″/mike1st/mark2nd By SHELLY GARCIA Staff Reporter Fearing that Ventura Boulevard might turn into another Wilshire Boulevard, the city of L.A. drew up a plan nearly 20 years ago to get people out of their cars and walking along the thoroughfare. Today, the city is still trying to persuade folks to hit the pavement. City planners and a review board made up of businesses and residents in the communities along Ventura Boulevard have proposed revisions to the Ventura Boulevard Specific Plan, hoping to create neighborhood clusters where locals will congregate and shop strolling from stores to restaurants and movie theaters while their cars remain parked at a central location. The Los Angeles City Planning Department last month completed hearings on the plan revisions and will submit the proposal to the Planning Commission later this summer. If it passes, the revised plan would go to the City Council for final approval. But even if approved, the plan may turn out to be little more than a pipe dream. Some say it won’t yield the intended results because parking for would-be pedestrians is inadequate. Others say the problem is the look of the boulevard packed with businesses that discourage anyone from getting up close and personal. Still others say it’s just the way of life. “It’s not very realistic because of how long the boulevard is,” said Dale Jacobs, president of the Tarzana Chamber of Commerce. “Take a look at our demographics. They’re upscale and they’re mobile. They go to the malls, or they hit and run.” Although Ventura Boulevard is lined with retail shops and restaurants of all kinds, most folks drive to a particular destination and then drive out again. With the exception of Studio City, which has been relatively successful in turning a portion of the boulevard into a promenade for strollers, there’s hardly any shoe leather being worn down in the other communities along the 17-mile strip. Even members of the review board concede that the specific plan so far hasn’t done much to encourage pedestrian traffic. But they say this time, it’s different. The economy is better than it has been in years, and the current proposals on the table call for parking structures and streetscapes that are necessary to aid in the effort. “If you create cafes, if you plant some trees, people will come,” said Jonathan Sidy, president of the Ventura/Cahuenga Corridor Specific Plan review board. “That’s what causes people to stay on Third Street Promenade (in Santa Monica). It’s called warmth. A concrete sidewalk and a hundred-foot-wide asphalt street is not warmth. It encourages people to get in their cars and go home.” The original specific plan set up pedestrian-oriented areas ranging from two to six blocks long in five communities along the boulevard: Studio City, Sherman Oaks, Encino, Tarzana and Woodland Hills. Within those areas, landlords and developers were required to set aside all ground-floor spaces for retail businesses such as restaurants, cafes and apparel shops that would encourage walk-in traffic. According to the guidelines, other businesses like medical offices, law firms, accounting practices and commercial banks were prohibited within the designated areas. The pedestrians did not come, but the recession did, and pretty soon Ventura Boulevard landlords found that securing tenants of any sort was a tough proposition, even with drastically reduced rents. Many began disregarding the guidelines in an effort to keep up a leasing revenue stream. “I did that,” said Rickey Gelb, a property owner and member of the review board. “I had a building that I couldn’t lease, and I put a dentist in there.” And because the plan requirements carry no penalties for noncompliance, landlords were hardly concerned about consequences. Fearing another economic downturn could once again limit their options, some business representatives on the review board proposed loosening the specific plan guidelines requiring that only 50 percent or 75 percent of the ground-floor space in pedestrian-oriented areas be leased to walk-in retail businesses. Some say even that may be too much to expect of landlords under pressure to rent their properties. Many sites along Ventura Boulevard are older, small spaces that would not be suitable for national chains. Others are simply rundown. “We had a little, two-story building in Tarzana that we were trying to lease for a year,” said Barbara McAllister, first vice president with CB Richard Ellis Inc. “We were down to 80 cents (a square foot per month). It was tired. It needed a facelift and the landlord was unwilling to do it. People don’t want it.” But as Florence Blecher, an architect and member of the planning review board, said, “You gotta’ start somewhere. I think a lot of the proposed guidelines in the specific plan, including the streetscape, are going to make the boulevard a more pleasant place so people will want to park and explore.”

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