Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Revitalizing West Hollywood After the Pandemic

I've been doing a lot of walking around West Hollywood to get my 10,000 steps in daily and I am distressed by the number of closed and vacant storefronts I see on my routes.  Not just stores, but bars and other entertainment venues are shutting down.  This is causing great concern among people who love this city.

"And the Band Played On" in the Micky's photo s an ominous reference to the last pandemic which is not over, by the way.  HIV/AIDS is still a thing.  (Please check out Randy Shilt's amazing book and the Emmy-winning TV movie if you have never read or seen either.)

When this new pandemic hit it was unknown if we were going to be able to bounceback rapidly from shutting down as we hoped.  It is now clear that this is not the case.  Much of this has been beyond the City of West Hollywood's control.  We have a incompetent and corrupt President who treated Coronavirus like a "hoax" and failed to take the necessary actions to control the virus, which meant the economy could not recover quickly.  Re-opening a country too soon that did not shut down properly, not only did not spur the economy, it spurred the virus.  We also have a giant chunk of seemingly delusional people who treat COVID-19 as if it were simply overblown media hype or think that mask-wearing and social distancing shouldn't apply to them because they are special or infringes on their "freedumb" to infect other people.

So, lacking the leadership and social solidarity of countries like New Zealand, South Korea, Germany, and Japan, America is in for a long slog where over 200,000 will likely perish from COVID-19 by November and the American economy continues its spiral into its worst downturn since the Great Depression.

Many people who live in or love West Hollywood are asking themselves, 'What kind of city will we come back to when we finally emerge out of this pandemic and the resulting economic catastrophe?"  In particular, there is concern that West Hollywood's two great entertainment zones, the Rainbow District and the Sunset Trip, will lose their unique characters and become generic and no longer representative of their respective histories.  

Some businesses are making the best of this situation.

At Block Party WeHo, it is "Pride All Year Long", and they have begun setting up shop outdoors.

Even Yogurt Stop is getting into the act.  

I am all for this adaptation.  Hopefully, businesses like these will be able to survive and that indoor shopping will return before the rain starts.

Many restaurants who are lucky enough to have outside seating are able to use that to serve customers.  Some which have not had outside seating before have converted parking lots seating.  Hamburger Mary's has recreated its fun atmosphere outside.  It was fun enjoying the music at atmosphere.  Hey, I'm open to drag bingo outdoors at night.

The Sunset Strip has been quiet during the shutdown, but Carney's is still serving a great chili dog.

However, if it is going to be several months or a couple of years before a vaccine, and even longer before the economy bounces back, what is going to happen to the Rainbow District and Sunset Strip, particularly to its empty storefronts and shuttered nightlife?  Will it be generic chains that slap a rainbow flag or guitar sticker on the door that come in and we simply call it a day?  What about the small businesses that made this city great?   What can the City of West Hollywood do about this?

Of course, the Federal government has certain powers, our state governments have certain powers, and local governments are given certain powers by our states in our federal system in America.  The City of West Hollywood cannot control the overall national economy, nor can we tell a private property or business owner what to do with their asset, but we can try to encourage and influence how we want our entertainment districts to revive with how we design our public spaces and approve planning and permits.

I don't have all the answers for revitalizing our entertainment districts, nor should any one person determine how this is to happen.  But here are my suggestions for moving forward and at least getting the process started:

(1) I suggest the City establish an official Rainbow District Task Force and a Sunset Strip Task Force asked to coming up with a series of recommendations and action items on how to economically revitalize while still maintaining the historical character of these two entertainment zones.  These Task Forces are not about creating new administrative layers, but about engaging the community.  The revitalization of the Sunset Strip and Rainbow District after the pandemic should include input from all its stakeholders. Excite the community by involving the community.  An excited community leads to prosperous local businesses too.  

(2) I suggest expanding the mandate of the Arts & Cultural Affairs Commission to the "Arts, Cultural and Entertainment Affairs Commission" so there is a standing body in the City to review fun, creative public nightlife events for the City to help things along.  Perhaps we could allow street buskers on Sunset Strip and drag queens to perform for the public in the Rainbow District, as examples.

(3) I suggest the City establish an Affordable Housing Task Force that will be asked to recommend methods of creating more affordable housing for artistic and creative people who are currently priced out of living in West Hollywood.  For example, there may be non-traditional types of housing such as loft spaces, communal spaces, converted empty commercial spaces, SRO's, that we designate for people in the arts and entertainment industry. 

(4) I suggest establishing a Public Banking Commission.  California passed a new law authorizing municipalities to establish public banks which can use their funds to reinvest in their communities.  West Hollywood should jump on this new opportunity.

(5) I recommend The Pick Up Line entertainment shuttle be rerouted so the western turnaround takes people up to the Sunset Strip as seen below, and perhaps join with the City of Los Angeles for a "Super Entertainment Shuttle" (see previous blog post) that includes Hollywood and Theatre Row.

Proposed new Pickup Line alignment
Proposed Entertainment Supershuttle alignment

Revitalizing the Sunset Strip and Rainbow District isn't only about preserving the character and culture of West Hollywood, as important as that is in itself.  It's also about preserving the tax base that pays for our quality services.  At my last glance, the city's hotel tax is its largest revenue source, and if we want people to lodge in our hotels, we need to give them incentive to spend the night in our fun, creative city.

Here is some good news.  There will always be change.  Businesses and people come and go in life.  Here is one that opened in mid-city area.  I can recommend the coffee at gget ("Go Get 'Em Tiger").  Don't lose heart.  Happy Days will someday be here again.

There is an election in November.  I'm not running for anything, but I invite all the candidates who are running to share with us their ideas for revitalizing the Rainbow District and Sunset Strip when we finally emerge from this horrible pandemic and resulting economic devestation.

What do you think?

Sunday, August 2, 2020

A Proposal for a New Entertainment Shuttle for Hollywood & West Hollywood

In West Hollywood, pre-pandemic, West Hollywood had two free entertainment shuttles which ran Friday and Saturday nights, the Pick Up Line and the Sunset Trip.  (The Pick Up line also ran on "Sunday fundays" and certain holidays.).

The advantages of a free shuttle service serving nightlife are obvious.  It reduces the amount of traffic in the area, reduces drunk driving, reduces the demands on parking, and provides more customers to businesses in these districts.  These free shuttles ran old trolley cars and played hip music and have a fun atmosphere too them.  You can see their respective routes below:

Eventually, whenever things re-open again at some point in the future, and nightlife returns again, West Hollywood can bring back entertainment shuttle service.  Unfortunately, post-pandemic, there are not funds to operate both shuttles.  The Pick Up Line will return first when things re-open again in the future.  

A proposal I have is to modify the Pick Up route, so the western turn around also serves a part of Sunset Blvd.  This will take people up the hill to part of the western Sunset Strip and provide shuttle service to places like the Roxy, the Whisky-a-Go-Go, the Rainbow Room, and the Viper Room, among others, as seen below;

For future planning, I want to propose something bigger and grander involving both Hollywood and West Hollywood.  A "Super Entertainment Shuttle" if you will.  It would serve the Rainbow District, the Sunset Trip, and currently unserved "Theatre Row", as well as taking people to clubs in Hollywood and the "B Line" ("Red Line") Subway.  I envision both a clockwise and a counterclockwise loop.  Please see below.

Two notes:  (1)  I'm currently envisioning the entertainment shuttle heading north from Sunset to Highland rather than LaBrea, because Hollywood Blvd. is often a standstill between Highland and LaBrea on Friday/Saturday nights;  (2) Also, those numbered blue dots are mileage markers, not proposed stops.  The whole loop is slightly under ten miles.   

Granted, this shuttle would require cooperation between both the Cities of Los Angeles and West Hollywood, and it will be months before all of these types of businesses re-open.  But we plan for the future today.  

Imagine someone taking the Red Line to Hollywood, to then catch the shuttle to see a play on Theatre Row or a set at The Comedy Store; and then heading for a drink at The Rainbow Room, or Mickey's; and then head back to the subway, having left the car at home.

What do you think?

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Revisions to Metro's NextGen Bus Plan

Here is the good news.  After community outreach, Metro has made some revisions to its NextGen Bus Plan, and Line 218 has been saved, albeit in truncated form between Ventura Blvd. and Santa Monica Blvd.  Personally, I'd extend it from the Orange Line to Wilshire Blvd. (Purple Line), but I am grateful to see it survive it at all.

To review, the NextGen Bus Plan essentially takes the Rapid and Limited bus lines and combines them with their respective Local bus lines to create a more frequent overall service.  This approach has worked in improving ridership in other regions.  Here are the lines most relevant to West Hollywood:

Rapid 704 and Local 4 are combined into new frequent Line 4

Limited 302 and Locals 2 and 200 are combined to form frequent Line 2.

Rapid 705 is combined with Local 105 into new frequent Line 105.

Limited 312 is combined with Local 212 to create new frequent Line 212.

The change I find most fascinating is the merging of Rapid 780 with Locals 217, 180, and 181 into one new powerhouse frequent Line 180.

"In my opinion, this new frequent Line 180 is really going to need bus lanes on Hollywood Blvd. between La Brea and Vermont to work operationally."  Hollywood Blvd. is being considered for a makeover anyway, so now is the time.  So many bus lines start and finish on Hollywood, coming and going from all directions, that bus lanes on it make practical sense to me.

Here is one for my friends in Malibu.  Line 534 turns into Line 134 and has more frequent service.

I look forward to seeing the NextGen Bus Plan put into operation so that we can enjoy a more frequent service.  I've shown the major plans affecting West Hollywood, but you can see all of the NextGen Plan Updates by clicking here.

Monday, January 13, 2020

How Metro's Proposed Frequent Bus "NextGen Transit First Service Plan" Could Affect West Hollywood

Metro is undergoing a redesign of its bus network called the NextGen Bus Study.  After a series of community meetings, a draft frequency-enhanced "Transit First Service Plan" has been released.

The basic strategy as I understand it is to fold all but three rapid lines into corresponding local service, but increase the stop spacing on these new combined lines to create a core network where "83% of Metro's riders" will be walking distance from a bus that has 5, 7, or 10 minute frequency all day.  This sort of transformation to bus service has proven successful in other regions.

There are tradeoffs to any overhaul of course.  Metro is trading losing speed on individual rapid trips for the gain of frequency of service on many lines.  However, when one includes the time spent waiting for a bus as part of overall travel time, this may be a trade off that balances out for many people.  Check out all of the proposed changes by clicking here.

Here is how West Hollywood is likely to affected by the bus service changes according to the draft:

Santa Monica Blvd:  The Rapid 704 would fold into the a more frequent Local 4, with unproductive stops removed.  (Note: this may end West Hollywood's one-seat ride to Union Station.)

Sunset Blvd:  The Limited 302 would fold into the Local 2, with unproductive stops removed.  At Alvarado, the 2 would run north-south.  (Note: this would create a one-seat ride between UCLA and USC.)

Fairfax Avenue:  The Rapid 780 would be combined with the Local 180 and Local 217, for one new 180 line that runs from Pasadena City College to Hollywood Blvd., and then down Fairfax to the La Cienega "E (Expo) Line" Station.

La Cienega Blvd:   The Rapid 705 would fold into the Local 105, with unproductive stops removed.

San VicenteLine 30 would no longer run up San Vicente to West Hollywood, but Line 14 would.

La BreaThe Limited 312 would be folded into the Local 212, with unproductive stops removed.

Crescent Heights:  Once proposed change I do not agree with is the elimination of Line 218 which currently runs over-the-hill between Laurel Canyon & Ventura Blvd. and Cedar Sinai Hospital via Laurel Canyon, Crescent Heights, Fairfax, and 3rd Street.  Elimination of this service would require new time consuming forced transfers for current Line 218 passengers on both sides of the mountain.  I suggest that Metro try redesigning the service first.  One proposal would cut out the 3rd Street portion, but extend the line north to the Orange Line, and run Line 218 between the Laurel Canyon Orange Line Station and The Grove, and see if feeding to/from the Orange Line improves overall performance.  Another possibility would be to extend the 230 south over the hill to Santa Monica Blvd.  I hope Metro considers these alternatives before scrapping a valuable, direct over-the-hill service entirely.

One thing that will be needed to make this bus network overhaul work:  BUS LANES!  Southern California needs a comprehensive network of color-painted and enforced bus lanes to compliment our (thankfully) growing and expanding Metrorail and Metrolink networks.

There are another series of upcoming community workshops on this frequent "NextGen Transit First Service Plan" all over the County over the next several weeks, including one in West Hollywood, on Wednesday, February 12, 2020, 4 – 7 PM, at Plummer Park, 7377 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90046 (Accessible via Metro Lines 4/704; and Weho Cityline).

Click here to find an upcoming community workshop near you.  You may send in your comments and suggestions about this plan to Metro at nextgen@metro.net.