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Friday, Feb 23, 2024

Accidental Activists

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, or Metro, has plans for a transit project that has raised concerns among Van Nuys business owners. Metro is currently taking public comment on the East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor. One option for the project is a light rail system on 9.2 miles of track between the Van Nuys Orange Line station and the Metrolink station in Sylmar. But to offer that service, Metro must have a maintenance and storage facility for the railcars. One location under consideration is a cluster of light industrial buildings bounded by Kester Avenue, Oxnard Street, Calvert Street and just past Cedros Avenue a few blocks from the Orange Line. Metro has proposed, according to the draft environmental impact report, to buy out and demolish 58 parcels of land housing a congregation of small businesses – auto body shops, a fitness studio, cabinet makers, a door fixture manufacturer, artists and sculptors, general contractors, and sound studios and stages. “We are a thriving community,” said Marilyn Balduff, who owns property in the designated area. “There is not a lot of light industrial places in the San Fernando Valley. This is what everybody wants where people can work and live in close proximity to one another.” Valley Economic Alliance Chief Executive Kenn Phillips arranged for a group of these business and property owners – Balduff, Ivan Gomez, Peter Scholz, Noel Romeo and Garrett Marks – to meet with the Business Journal at Gearbox, the company Romeo oversees for Angus Mitchell on Calvert Street to discuss the ramifications of the Metro project on their businesses and the alternative site they have proposed to the transit agency. Phillips said that 186 businesses employing 1,500 workers will be affected. After the Business Journal met with the business operators, Metro scheduled a new public meeting to hear their concerns. “The community is saying something to us. And we hear them,” said Kimberly Upton, a Metro spokeswoman. The new meeting will be Tuesday, Oct. 10 from 5 to 8:30 p.m. at the Van Nuys State Building Auditorium, 6150 Van Nuys Blvd., 91401. Upton said parking will be available at the Metro Orange Line Van Nuys Station. Question: What is the Valley Economic Alliance’s role in this issue? Kenn Phillips: The Valley Economic Alliance is consistently going out in the community, boots on the ground, in order to find out things that are stressful for local businesses. What we identified in this area associated with Metro is that they have thousands of employees, hundreds of businesses that could be moved out in order to accommodate what Metro wants What’s the main concern? Phillips: The economic value here. We can go ahead and look at this a little bit differently by bringing in multiple businesses in multiple areas to improvement of the area instead of movement of these businesses. What these guys have done is work really hard in order to find a solution. Metro held five meetings about this project. What happened there? Peter Scholz, of Showcase Cabinets: Two and a half weeks ago we received a disc, some business owners did. The disc shows the potential facilities they want to acquire. They started those meetings a week after we got the disc. The first one was explaining what Metro was looking for and what their idea was. They gave the options – light rail or BRT (bus rapid transit) and the maintenance storage yards. There were three available options (on the yards), A, B and C. We are located in the A (option) which is what we are concerned about at the moment. How was the turnout for these meetings? Scholz: Each one of the meetings that we attended drew interest from our community because we finally passed the word around. We got some groups to join us – the Economic Alliance, the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council, the Sierra Club. There was interest from the Panorama City Neighborhood Council that wants the Metro project in their backyard. Every meeting has been going toward options. Marilyn Balduff: With each public hearing, the audience has grown significantly as word has gotten out. The public hearings were transactional. They just wanted to talk about their project and what they wanted to do. We wanted to talk more about how it’s good for the whole community. Especially the parcel we have recommended, you can do so much more with it. You can build green space, homeless shelters, I mean this could be a beautiful project for someone with vision. What was the option the business people gave to Metro? Scholz: We did find an option and presented it to them. It was in the second meeting. Another area that is available that is in our view prime for their facility. It is at 7600 Tyrone Ave. DWP (Los Angeles Department of Water and Power) owns the parcel. It is 17 acres. Ivan Gomez, of Pashupatina Hardware: (Adjacent to that) is a bulk of 30 acres. It is a facility that stores cars. We feel rather than impacting hundreds of businesses you impact one. (The other parcel) is owned by the DWP. You work inter-agency – Metro, DWP, City Hall. You acquire (the 30 acres) and leave us intact and create something that, as Marilyn said, has green space, something the DWP could use, something that Metro could use. It is a win-win for everybody. What has been Metro’s response to your suggestion about the Tyrone Avenue property? Gomez: I presented it at the hearing in San Fernando. We didn’t really get a response. But I think it started picking up traction because other people started bringing it up. At their last meeting, they started to alter their presentation to the public to include the alternative site. Scholz: They have taken notice. They have visited our factories, our facilities. They came here, they came to Ivan’s place, they came to the cabinet shop. They saw we were working. It’s not empty spaces. They did take notice. They are open. They have accommodated us with meetings. We are not adversaries. We are just trying to get together on something and state our point and try to get the light rail going and we want to find an alternative site. Gomez: It’s positive. Our voices are not falling on deaf ears. I see there is a positive interaction. They are listening to us, and they want to work with us. That is key here. What is it about the neighborhood that you like? Gomez: This area here is important to me because I went to school in the area. In this area landlords provide small working spaces at below market rates. You can come in with your dream and grow it. That’s what we did. We saved money for 16 years, bought a building, spent a year rehabbing it and gave back to our community. Peter is my neighbor and we work as a team together. Why do you want to stay here? Gomez: This area is important to save because it serves as a steppingstone for other companies that started small. Famous Amos Cookies was on Calvert Street. They used to get field trips from Sylvan Park Elementary School. They have since moved on. There is another company called TLC Icon Motor Sports, a guy named Jonathan Ward. He stared out in a couple of facilities (on Oxnard Street) restoring Toyota Landcruisers. He also leased space from Marilyn at one point. You can start here, outgrow your capacity for the area, and move on to larger facilities in Chatsworth. Balduff: This area is improving at an accelerating rate. The businesses that are here care and that makes the community good. We are getting higher and higher quality businesses. I went around and talked with these businesses when I was going around getting petitions (signed). I can tell you what’s here and it’s awesome. Gomez: We have a situation that needs to be emulated. It is a natural occurring thing to be able to work and not have to get on the 405 or other freeways. Some of my employees take the Orange Line. I can ride my bike in. The fact that we stayed in the area shows the type of community we have. It’s like a neighborhood to me. There are people like Garrett (Marks) who have been here for 30 years restoring Mustangs. The father started the company and the two brothers will take it over. That is what we have here. Giving Metro an alternative build site and working with them is important. Are you taking an adversarial approach to this issue? Gomez: We are not trying to fight the light rail project. We are not fighting anyone. We are trying to not only save ourselves but the other sites as well. Sites B and C, they are just as important as us in the economic ladder. They create jobs, they pay their taxes. I cannot work against them. They have been quiet. They have not organized like we have at Site A. For the best interests of everybody if they can make that (alternative Site D) work, it can benefit everybody. So, you are not against the light rail project? Gomez: No, not at all. I prefer a subway. They’re faster. But they take longer to build and cost more money. Balduff: And they don’t disrupt traffic. What do you think light rail would do for the Valley? Gomez: Light rail does bring change to an area. I’ve seen it happen at the Gold Line. Positive change. Before you know it, buildings start improving and businesses start changing. You also have to keep in mind that the areas where these rail facilities are going to stop have had problems with poverty. What will it do to the area? Will it gentrify it? Will it keep it intact and improve it and better serve those people? San Fernando, the city where it terminates, has been in decline. That area will change for the better – restaurants, new types of retail establishments. There will be an upside to this. We are not against it. What kind of ridership is Metro expecting on this new line? Gomez: They are projecting with their supercomputers by 2040 about 40,000 riders (a day). Whether we will have those numbers I am not sure, I don’t keep tabs on that kind of information. But that is what they are projecting. If you had to move, where would you go? Gomez: There’s nowhere. You can do a search on LoopNet for industrial and you get one. It’s mixed use. It cannot accommodate my needs because of the kind of CNC machines I have. In the larger area as a whole, we are competing against cannabis growers that will pay out of pocket three times the going rate. The fact we are M-2 zoned, that type of space is lacking in the city. The city and Metro are not providing a solution or addressing that. I feel it’s important to bring that up. Scholz: If I have to move, my clients over the hill they are not going to venture further than North Hollywood. I have architects, designers that are willing to come to my studio versus me having to bring everything to them. It’s set up so they can come with their plans and choose materials from that. Gomez: We are centrally located where a lot of our projects take place. I am literally, depending on traffic, an average 15 to 20 minutes away from any of these job sites. It’s critical. They need something, they call me, I drop everything and I can address their concerns immediately. If all of a sudden I’m in Chatsworth or Burbank, that kind of personalization goes away. Noel, what impact will this project have on your company? Noel Romeo, of Gearbox: When I met Mr. (Angus) Mitchell he needed help with his cars and stuff and he was also looking for a (studio) location. We bought (buildings) Calvert One and then immediately Calvert Two. His plan was to use it for a photo site. We have photo shoots and audio and filming. We are devastated we are going to be losing C1 (Calvert One). I don’t know what’s going to happen with C2. It’s important that we keep C1 because if we have the tracks, the trains and whatever depot they put in we aren’t going to be able to use this place (C2). It’s not that soundproof. He has invested in the two buildings and put in quite a bit of money. We were slated to renovate C1 across the street and we haven’t even gotten a final bid for that. Once we get it, we’re going to put a hold on everything to see what happens. And, Garrett, what about your company? Garrett Marks, of Mustang Etc.: My dad started Mustangs Etc. in 1976 in the same location we are now. We have since expanded. We have a service area and parts warehouse in two other buildings in this area. A lot of our clientele comes over the hill. They wouldn’t even travel this far except they don’t trust anybody else to touch their cars, which are classic Mustangs. We’d have to move outside L.A. County to find a single place to hold everything that we have right here. I don’t know what percentage of business we would lose but I don’t think we’d be able to survive. Any idea when Metro will make a decision? Gomez: January. (Metro project manager) Walt Davis said they might have the site selected at that point. It can either be us, or site B or C. We are saying go with D. There is minimal impact. You can bring in your equipment right now, start grading the dirt and go to work.

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