Removal of street parking irks Downey merchants

DOWNEY - The city of Downey, a finalist for a "Most Business Friendly City Award" three years ago, has some local retailers very upset.More than a dozen business owners have signed a petition asking the city to reconsider its plans to eliminate two-hour street parking along the busy Firestone Boulevard corridor and add a third lane of traffic, arguing that street parking is critical to their success. Starting this month, parking on Firestone will be prohibited between Old River School Road and Brookshire Avenue as the city attempts to unclog the bottlenecks that form during morning and evening rush hours. It's all part of a plan to make Firestone Boulevard a more efficient and attractive thoroughfare, said public works director John Oskoui. "We are making an investment, giving it a completely different look," said Oskoui. "There will be different kinds of street lights, benches, street furniture, bus shelters for the first time in the city, art pieces displayed - because we want people to notice those elements and slow down and have an opportunity to turn into a street and shop." Retailers along Firestone said they were made aware of the parking prohibitions after receiving a letter from deputy public works director Edwin Norris, which said street parking would be taken away starting in "early August." The first month will operate as a trial period, with police not expected to enforce the no-parking restrictions until street construction begins in September, the letter states. As of Wednesday morning, parking was still allowed on Firestone. "I sit at my desk all day and the traffic on Firestone moves just fine," said Sal Sabbatino, owner of Tabbert's TV and Appliances. "With the economy the way it is, we merchants need all the help we can get and restricting parking in front of our stores will only drive business away." Sabbatino estimated that about half his customers park on Firestone. Martin Orloff, owner of Exotical Hawaiian Apparel, claimed he appealed to public works staff and called their reasoning "a bunch of hullabaloo." "They told me traffic on Firestone is having an impact on residential streets," Orloff said. "I asked them if they did a traffic study, they said no. I asked them if they did a study of business owners, they said no. They just thought this was a good idea." Orloff said his father put out a "parking in rear" sign nearly 20 years ago but was cited by code enforcement. A decal on his window implores shoppers to park around back but it's ignored by most drivers, he claimed. Orloff worried that increased traffic from the Downey Gateway food court one block away will further eat away at his parking. He also claimed his landlord plans to rent out the property's parking lot to a local nightclub during evening hours. Oskoui, the public works director, said the Firestone Boulevard project has been a deliberate, drawn out process that involved public meetings. The city even distributed leaflets door-to-door, he said. The ultimate goal, he said, is to move traffic as quickly as possible. "If we have traffic jams, people will avoid the area altogether," Oskoui said. Oskoui said he planned to meet with local business owners to personally hear their concerns. Orloff, sitting inside his colorful Hawaiian apparel store, sounded exasperated. "We're not asking for anything from the city," he said. "All we're asking is to let us be."

********** Published: August 09, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 17