VideoJew’s VideoGuide to L.A. #2 — Driving from here to there

VideoJew Jay Firestone is back with the second ‘volume’ in his VideoGuide to L.A.  This week—driving.

Pico-Olympic traffic plan on hold after judge’s decision

Granting a temporary victory to neighborhood councils, a judge today ordered the City of Los Angeles to conduct a new environmental impact report (EIR) before implementing the Pico-Olympic traffic plan.

For the last six months, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and City Councilman Jack Weiss have been promoting a three-phase plan to change traffic through portions of the city and Beverly Hills. But a preliminary injunction filed by the Greater West Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce (GWLACC), which has served as a spokesperson for its member businesses as well as numerous homeowners groups, has stopped the plan.

“The city of Los Angeles is ordered to fully comply with the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act by conducting an appropriate, complete and comprehensive environmental study for the project,” Superior Court Judge John Torribio worte in his decision. “Respondents are restrained from any actions in furtherance of the project unless the resulting document has been prepared, publically circulated, and approved in a manner required by law.”

Jack Weiss said, “While still looking closely at the decision, I’m inclined to move forward with the environmental review to get it done as quickly as possible to relieve traffic in West L.A.”

Street fight

The Brooklyn-born activist rose from his seat, walked slowly to the microphone, cleared his throat, and in front of a couple of hundred fellow activists assembled in an auditorium on a chilly Wednesday night, expressed his righteous indignation.

“We are tired of being used as stepping stones!” he bellowed to the delight of the crowd. “Enough is enough. It’s time for our voice to be heard!”

Was the man referring to the abuse of Israel at the United Nations?

Was he expressing outrage at how thousands of Jews displaced from their homes in Gaza two years ago have had their lives turned upside down, while bombs keep falling on Sderot?

What was this man so passionate about?

Actually, he was talking about the parking and traffic situation on Pico and Olympic boulevards.

He was fuming that he and other residents were not consulted before the city announced their plan to relieve the ever-worsening traffic on those boulevards.

You see, a few months ago, the city decided it was time to finally show some action on this particular problem. The plan that was announced in November by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and City Councilman Jack Weiss at an outdoor press conference in November had three phases, the first being the most controversial: restrict the parking on Pico and Olympic boulevards during the peak traffic hours.

For storefront merchants who depend on street traffic and who contribute plenty in taxes and fees, that was the last thing they needed.

Take Julien Bohbot, owner of Delice Bakery in Pico-Robertson, who was sitting next to me at the Wednesday town hall meeting. Most of his customers use street parking on Pico, and the 3-7 p.m. time period is his busiest. If the city makes parking illegal during that time, he can’t see how his business will survive.

The meeting was full of angry business owners and residents like Bohbot, and it was clear that the man who got up to speak, Jay Handal, was their hero.

Handal heads the Greater West Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the West Los Angeles Neighborhood Council. He was so passionate and knowledgeable about his cause, I felt I was listening to Alan Dershowitz defending Israel.

A few days later, I decided to track him down at the Italian restaurant in Brentwood he has owned for 21 years, San Gennaro.

It turns out that Handal is not only upset at Villaraigosa and Weiss for the way they “ambushed” the neighborhoods with their press conference, he’s also upset at the local media, particularly the Los Angeles Times, for not giving enough voice to the neighborhoods’ grievances.

He does have kind words for councilman and former television host Bill Rosendhal, who arranged the town hall meeting and who is helping residents and small business merchants get their day in court.

Handal thinks it’ll be an uphill battle to stop the city’s plan, because, as he says, Villaraigosa and Weiss now have egg on their face, and it’s not easy for politicians to admit they’re wrong.

Are they wrong? Well, the fact that the Department of Transportation and a mayoral representative are now appearing at a series of town hall meetings to explain their plans and listen to people’s concerns is a sign that they could have handled it better in the first place.

But Handal also thinks their proposals are misguided. He thinks restricting parking won’t solve anything because it will encourage even more traffic on those boulevards, while hurting businesses — which in the end only lowers the city’s revenues. At the meeting, he got a rousing applause when he brought up the idea of starting with phase two — retiming of traffic lights — and leaving the street parking alone until more impact studies are done.

The real problem, he told me, is that the city of Santa Monica overdeveloped their business sector without a corresponding increase in housing. This has resulted in a huge increase in eastbound traffic on Pico and Olympic; and since Venice and Washington boulevards are underused, he thinks encouraging people to use those boulevards would be smarter.

But all those ideas are peanuts compared to what Handal dreams about for the future.

On Sunday, he told me about this dream, which he is working on with a group of activists, and which he believes will redefine the city of Los Angeles: High-speed, comfortable, pollution-free, magnetic-levitation monorails.

No kidding. He showed me plans. Instead of costing $7 billion like the city’s much-touted “Subway to the Sea,” and taking until the year 2030 to extend the current subway from Western to La Cienega, the monorail would cost $1.75 billion, go from the ocean to Union Station and could be completed in five years.

As he sees it, the monorail would rise majestically above Pico Boulevard (or any other major east-west artery) and would be a major tourist attraction. He talks about having fancy cafes in these monorails, first-class cabins with express service to downtown, convenient stops for shoppers and commuters, and, eventually, expanding the monorail to other parts of Los Angeles to reduce the congestion and get people to places like LAX without any hassles.

Handal is livid that these kind of creative ideas get so little attention. When I ask him why, he replies in his thick Brooklyn accent: “Just follow the money.” Powerful unions and big business, he says, have a vested interest in lucrative projects like $7 billion subways, and politicians hungry for election money listen to them.

But Handal is not deterred. His passion never ends.

Frankly, I don’t often meet people who go gaga over stuff like parking studies and the timing of traffic lights. But I confess, when I saw Handal get so passionate about the monorail idea and his vision for the city I love, it gave me a little thrill.

Maybe I’ll go to the next town hall meeting. Mr. Mayor, are you listening?

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and He can be reached at

Road Rage

Let’s say it’s Friday night and I want to see the guy I’ve been dating for four months or so. Let’s call him Romeo.

I leave Koreatown full of romantic anticipation. I’m listening to some old-school disco on the car radio. I turn it up. I’m thinking maybe we’ll see a movie, grab a burrito, sit on his couch drinking Scotch and making up stupid nicknames for each other.

La Brea is a little clogged. I see road construction lights ahead and a closed lane. Four lights go by, and I’m still on the same street. I turn down the radio.

They say women forget the pain of childbirth so they’ll want to have another child. Similarly, I forget just how long it takes to get to the 10 West from Hollywood. I forget just how awful Friday night traffic is so I can leave my house again the next Friday night. Road amnesia protects me from becoming the type of shut-in that gets into fights with some guy named Sassytrousers14 on an Internet message board dedicated to world cheeses.

It all comes back to me as I sit in my car on the freeway, trapped like a hostage. The festive music is jarring now. I switch to NPR and take to sighing.

I get off the freeway only to find the streets of Santa Monica bustling. Marauding gangs seem to be wandering by foot all around the Third Street Promenade.

I look for parking, circling and circling until the sound of NPR becomes like a knife in my brain, and I turn it off. Finally, I decide to park in a nearby hotel lot, risking a tow.

I’m meeting a friend the next morning for Pilates in Laurel Canyon, and I suddenly realize I’ve forgotten my workout clothes. Life is a complicated fiasco, and it’s all Romeo’s fault.

By the time I get to his door, I’m not happy, and I’m not even neutral. I’m starting the evening in a goodwill deficit. One wrong move and the resentment bomb I’ve built over months of this crazy commute will detonate.

Location is a huge relationship issue in this vast city with no feasible public transportation. It must be taken into account. Can a couple separated by freeways and 45 minutes survive? Allow me to submit that urban sprawl isn’t just bad for the environment, it’s brutal on dating.

Take Romeo and me. We’re star-crossed lovers from two different area codes, perhaps doomed. He can’t just cruise by on foot and scale my balcony in the moonlight. He’s got to sit in traffic just like I do, mumbling, "It is the 10 East, and Juliet is the sun."

Every date brings questions: Whose apartment will it be? (My friend Anne says it should always be the one with the nicest sheets.) How often do you see each other when the convenience barriers are so plentiful? Is someone keeping score of who commutes the most?

What’s more, the dating timeline is thrown off by distance. You end up spending entire weekends together just to avoid a few extra trips across town. The whole thing intensifies unnaturally.

And don’t be seduced by the fantasy of the midpoint. You say, "Let’s meet in the middle," and it sounds like a good idea, but there’s never anything in the middle. Beware the sort of compromise that leads to nights driving around Culver City looking for signs of life.

It seems petty, the problem of a few extra miles and some traffic, but believe me, the issue becomes epic. If I start slacking on my Santa Monica duty, Romeo is convinced the relationship means nothing to me.

It’s not just a drive anymore. It’s a vehicle for proving I’m not his selfish ex-girlfriend who couldn’t be bothered to spend the night at his place. It’s a battleground where feelings get hurt and parking tickets multiply. It’s coming home to a surly cat who has registered his disapproval of my absence by leaving me the gift of feline waste on my pillow.

If it’s meant to be, all of this shouldn’t matter, right? It’s just difficult to gauge whether someone is your destiny in a fog of nuisance-filled voyages.

There’s a Yiddish saying, "If a man is destined to drown, he will drown even in a spoonful of water." I guess the converse of that axiom would be, "If a couple is meant to swim, they will do so even in a bucket full of bother." I believe that.

If you’re trying to have a relationship across the 405 or the 101, maybe waking up to rush hour is a sort of love crucible. If you can walk through that and not blame each other, you might be on to something.