Practical app-lications for dog owners and Los Angeles drivers


Apps entertain, make life easier, provide a way for us to stay up to date on current events and much more. Some are vital, others less so, but the best are the ones that strike that balance between simplicity and innovation and leave us asking, “How did I ever get by without this?”

Given that there have always been Jews on the forefront of intellectual activity (just look at the list of Jewish Nobel Prize winners), it wasn’t too difficult to find apps for smartphones and tablets that were created by Jews. Here are a pair with local ties. 

Yelp for Dog People

Jon Kolker, a University of Southern California (USC) graduate and co-creator of Where My Dogs At (wheremydogsat.com), describes his app simply as “a community for dog owners.”

Whether you’re looking for the perfect park for you and your canine companion or a brewery where your pooch can chill with you on the patio, this free app aims to be your reference guide. And if everything goes right, you might meet some like-minded folks along the way.

Where My Dogs At provides listings for nearby dog parks, pet stores, veterinarians and local dog-friendly businesses — including restaurants, coffee shops and hotels. But more than that, the app offers a Facebook-like social platform for dog owners and -lovers in which users create personal profiles, post photos and instant message each other.

It’s like “Yelp for dog lovers,” Kolker said.

Animal lingo abounds. Instead of “checking in” at locations, users “mark their territory.” And rather than receiving reviews based on a star-rating system, businesses and sites receive “paws.” Where My Dogs At users rated Melrose Avenue’s Urth Caffé an average five-out-of-five paws, for example, because dogs are allowed on the eatery’s patio.

The app has approximately 15,000 users, according to Kolker, and currently is in its beta version. A full version is set to be released this fall.

The app’s origin dates back a few years. Curious about places in the city that he and Eddie, his black cocker spaniel, could enjoy together, Kolker, 28, began researching. After he created a list of places, his friend Gareth Wilson suggested that they input the data into an app, which launched last December. 

“We’ve since expanded and have data for places across the country at this point,” said Kolker, CEO of BetterPet Inc. Wilson is president and creative director.

Kolker and Wilson, both of whom attend Sinai Temple, among other synagogues, attended USC’s Annenberg Program on Online Communities, where they received $10,000 to begin work on the app. The Baltimore natives graduated from the USC graduate program in 2012.

Because a significant part of the app is the experience of shmoozing, its creators insist it’s for everyone, not just pet owners.

“Not all of our users are dog owners; there are a lot of people who just love animals,” Kolker said. “They’re welcome as well, of course.”

— Ryan Torok, Staff Writer

Parking, the Final Frontier

After several hours of driving, sitting and patiently listening to your GPS, you’ve finally arrived at your desired location. 

But where to park?

That’s where ParkMe comes in.

Founded by Sam Friedman and Alex Israel, both graduates of Crossroads School in Santa Monica, ParkMe (parkme.com) is a free app that helps drivers find the nearest and least expensive parking spot.  

“We help our users find the closest, cheapest parking available by displaying real-time data, including rates, hours of operation, payment types and more,” said Israel of West Los Angeles.

ParkMe displays its information on a GPS map and enables users to control whether they want a cheaper or closer parking spot. Additional features included a rate calculator, in-app route guidance and a timer.

According to Friedman, a Santa Monica native, parking causes 30 to 50 percent of traffic congestion in L.A.’s urban centers. ParkMe’s aim is to reduce this congestion.

When a driver takes a ticket at a parking garage or pays a city meter with a credit card (in participating cities), that information is sent directly to ParkMe’s database, which consists of more than 25,000 worldwide locations in more than 500 cities — Los Angeles among them — 19 countries and three continents.

In order to increase accuracy, ParkMe also deploys a field team of researchers to scour U.S. cities for updates or changes regarding rates, hours of operation and total capacity.  

On top of the existing app, the company licenses its database to third-party GPS devices and has plans to work directly with car manufacturers, Friedman said.

“Parking is actually the last piece, as we call it, to the navigation puzzle,” he said. 

And, for Israel, “[ParkMe] solves the everyday hassle and frustration of parking.”

Only, as the app warns you in its terms of service, be sure you’re pulled over when you use it.

— Jay Firestone, Web and Multimedia Editor

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 Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Pico-Robertson to mayor — let our parking stay


Terry Ring Schonwald used to be the owner of Nick’s Coffee Shop on Pico near LaCienega.

That was until the city decided to restrict parking on Pico Blvd. because of construction, which lasted from 1994 until 1997. The lack of parking, she said, caused such a loss of customers that she was forced to sell her business.

“We couldn’t subsidize it anymore, because there was no way to get there,” said Schonwald, a former leader of the South Robertson Neighborhood Council. And now she believes the same thing will happen to other business owners as the city of Los Angeles considers steps to make Pico and Olympic boulevards into faster-flowing thoroughfares. As part of the plan, restricted parking is once again on the table.

“When they take the parking off Pico, they will put the small businesses out of business,” Schonwald said.

On Dec. 18, she was one of a number of business people, residents and religious leaders who voiced concern about the Olympic-West, Pico-East Traffic Initiative at a meeting with representatives of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s and Councilman Jack Weiss’ offices. The meeting was not open to the press.

People in the largely observant Jewish neighborhood known as Pico-Robertson — a residential neighborhood that is also home to many small specialty kosher restaurants, supermarkets, synagogues and yeshivas — are worried that changing Pico will hurt business and ruin the character of the neighborhood.

The mayor, with the support of Weiss, revealed the plan last month to the surprise of many residents and local politicians. This month, city officials are holding meetings with locals to explain the initiative, which they say offers a quick and relatively inexpensive solution to reducing traffic congestion in the city. They expect to begin implementing the plan in January.

There is much confusion about the initiative, which is often mistaken for an earlier proposal in April by Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky to turn Pico and Olympic into opposing one-way streets. That proposal was evaluated by the L.A. Department of Transportation and rejected because elements were “found not to be feasible,” according to a Nov. 19 Department of Transportation memo to the City Council. Instead, the current initiative focuses on alleviating rush-hour traffic on Pico and Olympic along the seven-mile stretch between Centinela and La Brea avenues (or perhaps only as far as Fairfax Avenue) in three phases.

Phase one would eliminate parking on Pico and Olympic, probably between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. and between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

The second phase would change the timing of the traffic lights to move traffic faster.

The third phase would provide “preferential directional flow operation,” which means creating three lanes of westward traffic on Olympic, with one lane of eastward flow for local traffic, and the reverse on Pico, with limited turning options to favor the preferential directional flow on each street.

Weiss said he expects the impact on the neighborhood of the first phase, which will cost $300,000, to be minimal.

“It’s a very modest proposal. It will restrict rush-hour parking along those portions of Pico and Olympic that don’t already have restricted parking. Most already have,” Weiss, who was not at the meeting, said in a separate interview.

It will be an improvement on the current situation, Jonathan Powell, press aide to the mayor, said in an interview. “Restrictions are inconsistent — in some places there are no parking restrictions, and there are bottlenecks all over the place — all we’re going to be doing we’re making some of those restrictions consistent.”

The plan is for the first two phases to be implemented in January. The third would begin six months later and would cost an additional $1.5 million. No part of the proposal requires approval from the City Council, according to the mayor’s office.

According to the city’s Department of Transportation (LADOT), the first two phases would improve traffic by two minutes in the morning and seven minutes in the afternoon on Pico and would reduce traffic by one minute in the morning and four minutes in the afternoon on Olympic.

Based on a simulation between Centinela and Century Park East (which is west of the Pico-Roberston neighborhood), and extrapolated to La Brea, LADOT estimates that phase two would reduce rush hour travel time by an additional seven minutes.

“The Olympic-West and Pico-East plan was developed by significant study, and it reflects the smart and safe way to reduce traffic,” the mayor’s press aide said.

Nevertheless, many are unconvinced that the change is worthwhile: “You want to give me two miles an hour so I can lose those wonderful places I shop and eat, where I do my business on Pico?” Schonwald said. “Give me a break!”

LADOT says the plan, which is intended to reduce traffic on the 10 Freeway and thereby alleviate traffic throughout the city, will bring a 45 percent improvement in traffic and relieve congestion throughout the city.

Yet many residents and most business owners in Pico-Robertson (from about Roxbury Drive to La Cienega Boulevard) insist this religious neighborhood is different from the rest of the city and the initiative could adversely affect the neighborhood’s character.

The primary issue is a dispute over new restrictions on parking. There is no way to know how many spots could be lost, because already restrictions are spotty in the area along Pico.

On a recent late Friday morning in Pico-Robertson, when many people in Los Angeles were at work, Pico Boulevard had more of a weekend feel. Shoppers rushed through stores like Pico Glatt and Elat Bakery, stocking up for Shabbat, when the stores would close and the sidewalks would teem with religious residents going to shul and to community members’ homes.

Local traffic is not exactly the problem here, because it moves, albeit erratically, with people cutting over to drop off and pick up passengers or slide into the rare available street parking spot or wait in line for one of the few parking lots.

But Officer, It’s Yontif!


Worried about getting a parking ticket while you’re praying for your soul? Don’t fret. You can take as long as you want in synagogue this Rosh Hashanah, because Los Angeles’ normally overzealous traffic cops will be off your back.

City Councilman Jack Weiss has used his diplomatic muscle to have all parking restrictions in the 5th District relaxed over the high holidays to accommodate synagogue-goers. The relaxed parking laws will be in effect from 4 p.m, Friday, Sept. 26 to 11 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 28; from 4 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 5 through to midnight, Tuesday, Oct. 7; from 4 p.m., Friday, Oct. 10 through to 11 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 12; and from 4 p.m., Friday, Oct. 17 through to 2 a.m., Monday, Oct. 20.

For more information or to check whether your synagogue’s street is in the 5th District, you can call Field Deputy Adeena Bleich on (310) 289-0353.