Beleaguered merchants got some good news at last week’s monthly Bird Rock Community Council meeting: Contractors and the city apparently are willing to grant their request to hold a planned holiday construction mortorium earlier than scheduled, from Dec. 8 through Dec. 26.
“We really didn’t see a need for it after Christmas,” said Chuck Patton, Bird Rock Community Council president, “that’s pretty much the end of the shopping season. Contractors will move all their equipment off the street, open up the boulevard to make it acceptable for people to go down there and shop and help the merchants out, who are having a very difficult time right now.”
The holiday moratorium had originally been scheduled for Dec. 17 through Jan. 1.
“The moratorium was to begin Monday, Dec. 10, but the contractor’s goal is to be out of there the end of the day on Friday, Dec. 7 to give merchants that one extra weekend,” said Keely Sweeney, First District Councilman Scott Peters’ La Jolla representative. “They’re (contractors) hopeful they can do that. They’re really working hard to get that done. They’re actually ahead of schedule. We’re happy about that.”
Sweeney gave an update on the latest developments with ongoing construction along La Jolla Boulevard in Bird Rock. In effect for about a month, the initial phase of construction is replacing sewer lines on both sides of the boulevard.
Sweeney noted contractor’s plans have changed somewhat. “The original plan was to not have parking on both sides of the street for a minimum of 10 days,” she said. “They haven’t had to do that. That doesn’t mean they still won’t need a couple of those days. But they’re hopeful.”
Progress is being made on several problems which have arisen with Bird Rock merchants since sewer construction began. Sweeney said sandbags have been removed from in front of area businesses. She added there are also plans in the works to provide additional, temporary parking on the west side of La Jolla Boulevard to aid shoppers while the Christmas moratorium is in effect. “They’re (contractors) going to provide better signage and diagonally striped spaces in front of the (A Better Deal) tuxedo shop and Mailboxes Etc. (5580 La Jolla Blvd.), which depends almost soley on in-and-out traffic,” she said.
Sweeney added a new wrinkle has been added to contractor’s construction plans regarding the last three of five roundabouts in Bird Rock. “They’ll be doing the west side of Camino De La Costa first,” she said, “then do the west side of the other two at Bird Rock Avenue and Forward Street. The original plan was to wait until all the sewer work is done and then do the traffic portion. But fortunately, they want to get as much of the work done as possible without changing the traffic pattern, working within the cones that are already set up.”
Raffo de la Barrera, owner of Lupi Vino Cucina at 5518 La Jolla Blvd., pointed out the placement of orange-hued construction cones have been disrupting his business.
“The feedback I’m getting from my customers is that it is very unsafe,” said the restaurateur. “They are very large cones and they’re very confusing to my customers. I’ve had customers mention how unsafe they felt because of the cones.”
Another Bird Rock resident at the community council meeting pointed out construction work along La Jolla Boulevard is constricting the flow of traffic so much that it is causing some drivers to detour onto side streets like La Jolla Hermosa, where some vehicles are speeding, posing an increased threat to surrounding single-family neighborhoods with young children who attend Bird Rock Elementary School. A suggestion was made that police might be informed so they could beef up use of radar to deter speeding.
The degree to which Bird Rock businesses have been impacted by sewer construction has varied with the nature of their business, as well as its proximity to construction work. Some businesses have been more fortunate than others. A Better Deal Tuxedo Shop at 369 Bird Rock Ave, has perhaps been the least fortunate of all: The construction staging area is right outside the shop’s front door.
“There’s no dialogue, no communication at all from the contractors,” complained tuxedo shop owner Jerry Klein. “There’s dust and equipment and customers don’t have access to businesses. We didn’t preplan this adequately. We knew this was coming for two years.”
What Klein would like to see done is have the de facto heavy equipment staging area set up in front of his establishment on Bird Rock Avenue moved onto the green-fenced vacant lot across the street - where it was located before for roundabout construction -- on the future proposed site of Bird Rock Station owned by Michael Krambs.
There may, however, be some hurdles to clear with using the Krambs’ site for staging. “That’s a dirt lot and they may have serious impacts with dust,” said Sweeney of Peter’s office. “They (contractors) have to look at that. They told me they would.”
Krambs is willing to help merchants out by negotiating to allow the city to use his vacant lot temporarily as a construction staging area. “I’m more than happy to work out a deal,” he said. “I could make a commitment through June (2008) for the use of the lot. It’s just a matter of people calling.”
Krambs was originally approached by someone representing the contractors, but was told by them then that they wanted a full year’s commitment to use his vacant lot, which he was unable to give. Krambs added he might be willing to allow use of his lot if the city would cover his property taxes on the parcel during the time they’re using it.
Krambs’ Bird Rock Station project envisions a specialty grocery store on the ground level, with two floors of residential condominiums above, plus two levels of underground parking with 57 spaces. The Bird Rock Station lot was previously proposed to be developed as a gas station/car wash/convenience store. That proposal was scrapped when previous developers learned one of the last of three roundabouts to be built was planned for the Bird Rock Avenue-La Jolla Boulevard intersection. Years ago, the site had a Chevron station on it.
Klein pointed out dust and noise are minor problems compared to other issues he and other merchants near the construction area are contending with. “Watering it (vacant lot) to keep dust down, that can be done,” he said. “Cleaning up after they’re through, that can be done. But our businesses have no access or visibility. It’s dusty, it’s dirty, it’s inconvenient, there’s a lack of parking. It’s a challenge - and our books reflect it.”
Klein said his business has been more than halved since construction work began. “We’re existing off our prebooked business,” Klein said. “We should be doing 10, 12 weddings a week; we’re doing two.”
The men’s formalwear retailer feels trapped in a Catch-22 situation. “The more we complain,” he said, “the more we draw attention to it, and the more people avoid it. We’re losing out.”
Sweeney said Darlene Smith of Hard Hat Communications, the firm the city has hired to be its liaison with the Bird Rock community, should be residents’ first point of contact to have their questions answered or to report problems with construction.
Call Smith at 888-481-1428 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.