In a ribbon-cutting event on November 6, the Toluca Lake Beautification Partners and Greater Toluca Lake Neighborhood Council celebrated their significant achievement of transforming the appearance and safety of all three local 134 Freeway on- and off-ramps, an effort recognized as one of the first community–Caltrans partnerships of its kind.
“This project was important as it is the primary freeway entrance into the heart of Toluca Lake,” TLBP secretary and former GTLNC president Ryan Altoon explains. “It also serves as one of the gateways to NBCUniversal. It had deteriorated from an eyesore to a truly blighted condition that attracted panhandling, invited disrepair and became a nuisance that truly threatened lives. The community came together to find a creative solution to enact a positive outcome.”
The initiative to clear away the buildup of litter and dead plants along the ramps was originally spearheaded by the GTLNC in 2014 with help from NBCUniversal, which offered its landscape design consultant to prepare plans that would address the issue. However, estimates for the work exceeded $1 million, and Caltrans initially stated that any improvements would trigger “private ownership of all future watering and maintenance,” Altoon says. “The GTLNC persisted and ultimately found a more creative way to accomplish the project at a fraction of the cost, with the assistance of Toluca Lake Beautification Partners.” This local nonprofit is made up of members from Toluca Lake’s Neighborhood Council, Chamber of Commerce, Homeowners Association and Garden Club, with funding from NBCUniversal.
In fall 2017, a fire on the eastbound off-ramp adjacent to the Toluca Lake Florist made it apparent that the cleanup effort wasn’t just a matter of aesthetics — it was a public safety issue. “The fire was the element that finally unlocked this site, given all the fires that had occurred in the state in recent years,” Altoon says. Through negotiation and collaboration, and with the help of Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian’s office, the GTLNC and TLBP were able to convince Caltrans of the project’s merits, and the agency agreed to continue watering and maintaining the site. It also offered its landscape designer to provide irrigation and planting plans, waived permit fees, provided staff for the Adopt-a-Highway program and servicing the site, and provided plant clippings at no cost.
For its part, TLBP funded the construction and two years of weekly on-site maintenance to pick up trash and care for plants, as well as handling construction administration, project management and consultant coordination throughout the process. Through competitive bidding, it was able to accomplish beautifying all three ramps and installing all-new irrigation for less than $20,000.
In September, the GTLNC and TLBP were honored by Nazarian and Caltrans in a special awards presentation for their success in bringing the initiative to fruition. In turn, Altoon credits Nazarian for his support, GTLNC for its proactive approach, TLBP for its commitment and Caltrans for its willingness to think outside the box to help the project happen in record time. He adds: “We thank all of our partners for embracing this vision, never losing sight of achieving our goals, and creating a safe and welcoming environment for the community.”