I grew up on a lovely tree-lined, suburban street in Bayside, Queens, Long Island, New York, so when my husband Richard and I bought our house on Milbank Street in Studio City in 1991, I felt right at home.
Our new street was just like the neighborhood streets where I played punch ball and rode my bike. Well, except for a tall palm tree or two and for the actual "physical" pavement.
For the last 20 years, riding a bike on our two block stretch between Whitsett and Laurel Grove had become a challenge to everyone’s navigational skills. Potholes! Small ones. Big ones. Deep ones. Shallow ones. And, like wire hangers in a closet, they kept multiplying.
Did I mention we have no sidewalks? So, the street itself is where you see babies in strollers and seniors out strolling—the cardio-conscious jogging and all ages riding bikes.
Before April 22 of this year, all had to keep their eyes glued to the pavement because if they were not very careful, an ankle could twist in a rut, or a child could fall off a bike when a wheel hit a hole, or worse. And then there were the cars weaving back and forth as if our street were an obstacle course. This was not good. Someone was going to get seriously hurt.
Remarkably, in the 20 years we’d lived here, our street had never been resurfaced and it looked it.
When Richard and I started to investigate, we learned that various neighbors had been complaining to our Los Angeles City Council representatives for the last decade. By 2008, the neighborhood had had enough. The emails began in earnest. At that time Wendy Greuel was our council person and the first response from her deputy, one that would be repeated often, was: “a request was made to the Bureau of Street Services (B.O.S.S).” But, we soldiered on.
Greuel moved on (to City Controller) to be replaced by Paul Krekorian. A new barrage of emails led to a series of “you’re on the list” responses. But… (there’s always a “but,” right?) paving our street depended on the mayor’s budget. But, hey—we were “on the list!”
To add insult to injury, we watched as every street surrounding ours was repaved… Sarah, Landale, Laurel Grove, Rhodes and more! Yet our potholes kept multiplying. We became discouraged. Angry. Disillusioned.
Richard took pictures of our distressed street and the newly paved streets surrounding it and sent them to Councilman Krekorian’s office with a “Save our Street” lament. I then got a call from one of his deputies who told me that our street was “too damaged” to be repaired with a simple surface repaving and would need further evaluation.
I felt as if I had slipped into the Twilight Zone. What about “the list?”
Then in July 2010 we learned that Milbank had been added to the Bureau of Street Services 2010-2011 repaving program. Another list? Weren’t we already on that list?
Months passed. As Thanksgiving approached a neighbor received an email from the Director of B.O.S.S. Our street was scheduled for repair as a fourth quarter project… tentatively (there’s always a qualifier!) The repair didn’t happened.
We tried writing the mayor, but received an automated reply that “our thoughts and concerns would be shared with the Mayor.” Gee, thanks. We celebrated New Year’s avoiding our potholes and we dug in our heels.
A neighbor found the official “Resurfacing and Restructuring Committed Projects” lists for January and February 2011. Milbank was nowhere to be found. We were NOT “on the list!"
Suddenly, on Jan. 23 earlier this year, a sunny Sunday morning, a road crew pulled onto our street and filled in some of the potholes. Not ALL the potholes. Just SOME of the potholes. Fifteen feet from a filled-in-pothole, others remained gaping and dangerous. They completely ignored fissures, gashes and “potholes in training” that were growing deeper by the hour. Fixing these few holes was like putting a Band Aid on a gushing knife wound.
It was time to stop the emails and hit the presses. Our neighbors gathered early one morning for a group picture and Richard wrote an accompanying article for the Studio City*Sherman Oaks*Encino News, which ended: “Seriously, in these economic times we’re not asking to live on Easy Street. Just Safe Street.”
Councilman Krekorian responded in the next issue of the paper (it only publishes monthly, so it wasn’t exactly a “rapid response”) stating that Milbank would be saved. Well, it came with a “no guarantee” caveat, but we were optimistic.
Shortly after that, we “battling Milbank residents” received letters from the city telling us that our street would be repaired by the end of March, but when a crew showed up again to simply fill in the remaining potholes, we feared that we had been led down the potholed primrose path. Why fill in potholes when the street, as we had been told a zillion times, needed to be ripped up and totally reconstructed?
Of course, the crew had no idea and responded, “We’re just happy to be working.”
Then, just as we were all set to take up the “fight City Hall” gauntlet again, we received another letter: the road crew was coming the week of April 18.
And they did! On April 21 our two-block enclave was beautifully resurfaced. Did they tear up the old street and rebuild a new one? No. But, the potholes were filled and the street was repaved.
Seniors can now take their constitutionals with more confidence, babies in strollers have a smooth, safe ride, joggers can pay more attention to their heart rate than the gullies in the pavement, and everyone can ride their bikes without fear of falling in a hole.
We persevered. We prevailed. It took years, but we finally got crossed off the list.
So, yes… you really can fight City Hall.