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Jeff Kalban drafts a plan for Sherman Oaks, and the people seem to like it

The next step for Jeffrey Kalban's plan will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 1, when the Sherman Oaks Master Plan Committee meeting is scheduled and Kalban will be presenting a transit center scheme and a “Gateway” concept. Open to all, the meeting is at the Sherman Oaks Library, 14245 Moorpark Street, Sherman Oaks, CA 91423.

Jeff at the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association
Jeff at the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association
Mike Szymanski, Studio City Community Activism Examiner
Jeff Kalban talks to the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association
Mike Szymanski, Studio City Community Activism Examiner

The day before he makes his presentation to the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association, Jeffrey Kalban admits he’s a bit nervous about sharing his vision for the future of his neighborhood.

“Tomorrow will be crucial,” says the 67-year-old chief of Jeffrey M. Kalban & Associates Architecture, Art & Design. “It’s so important to get the support of the community, and give them a perception of our vision.”

An overwhelming crowd of 200 turn out for his presentation—and the audience includes Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council president Jill Banks Barad, local School Board member Tamar Galatzan, Senior Lead Police officers, representatives from the mayor’s office, state representatives, the local councilmen, candidates for the next council election and neighbors who Kalban has known since he moved to the area from New York in 1972 with his wife Maria.

He shouldn’t have been nervous, since he’s responsible for such high-profile successes as the Pan Pacific Senior Activity Center, the Warner Park Pavilion, and the People Assisting the Homeless building in Hollywood. He’s on the Land Use Committee of the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council, and served two decades ago on creating the Ventura Boulevard Corridor Specific Plan. And, he’s known for working cooperatively with communities and incorporating their input and concerns.

“I’m pleasantly shocked of who is here,” exclaims SOHA president Richard Close as he looks over the capacity crowd in Notre Dame High School’s cafeteria. “I expected about 30 people, and 200 show up! Jeff is not going to tell us what is going to happen 30 years from now, he’s going to show us what could happen now.”

Kalban and a team of a dozen volunteers spent months mapping out key parts of Ventura Boulevard to identify underutilized lots and ways to improve and beautify Sherman Oaks. The crowd expressed “oohs” and “aahs” of approval as he displayed artist renderings of a river walk with eateries along the Los Angeles River, plant-filled median strips, a trolley bus along the boulevard, and an extra lane easing traffic onto the 405 Freeway near the Galleria.

“We want to show that when you drive through Sherman Oaks, you have arrived in a community that respects itself,” Kalban says. “This project is very unique.”

The plans are not etched in stone, but are recommendations and guidelines for developers that reflect the cooperation between the homeowners, Neighborhood Council, Chamber of Commerce and business improvement district as well as the local politicians. The plan has already won the thumbs up of County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and City Councilman Tom LaBonge.

Kalban believes the first possible project could materialize in an open space between Ventura Boulevard and Dickens near Kester Avenue that connects across the street from the Sherman Oaks Elementary Charter School auditorium. There’s a parking garage that’s been closed since the Northridge earthquake, and he envisions a community plaza with an outdoor amphitheater, a fountain, movable chairs and greenery.

“It’s also where Tom LaBonge can plant his Sherman Oak,” Kalban says, referring to the councilman’s dream of planting a namesake tree as a gateway to the community. “It will take private funds, business cooperation and public support, but it can be done.”

A restaurant-lined riverwalk along the Los Angeles River much like the one that revived San Antonio is one of the visions that Kalban has for Sherman Oaks.

But where is the water going to come from?

“Dams, a series of regulated dams could hold the water,” he answers.

But what about safety? A lot of homeless live down there.

“With enough food stands, lighting and foot traffic down by the river, it will be safe,” he responds.

He doesn’t yet have all the answers, but after a few years of studies and gathering community input, Kalban and about a dozen volunteers have come up with a Master Plan for Sherman Oaks that identify underutilized lots and ways to improve and beautify the area.

“We want to show that when you drive through Sherman Oaks, you have arrived in a community that respects itself,” Kalban says. “This project is very unique.”

If there’s a vacant lot, they show how a pocket park could be added, along with parking and mixed use of housing and retail shops. The plan is a practical blueprint for developers, and reflects a unique cooperation between the homeowners, Neighborhood Council, Chamber of Commerce and business improvement district as well as the local politicians. Kalban envisions a lot more plant and tree-lined median strips along Ventura, and community green spaces where the Sunkist Building will be redone and near the new super-Ralphs that’s soon to open.

Some of their ideas are practical suggestions that can help traffic flow, like another on-ramp to the 405 near the Galleria, and park spaces around the Fire Station that is already vacant public land. The next step is to get it all down in a booklet form and make it accessible to all on the Internet.

“People are also very excited about the idea of a trolley that will take people up and down a segment of Ventura Boulevard for short shopping trips,” Kalban said. “These ideas will take a lot of cooperation with businesses, but it’s a start.”

At the end of his hour-long presentation and pointed questions from the community, Kalban seems relieved. He collects a handful of phone numbers of citizens who are willing to participate in working on the project some more and getting it into a printed form that will also be available on the Internet.

“Yes, it went well,” Kalban smiles. “It’s a good beginning.”

Make sure you are at the meeting, find out more here: http://shermanoaks914.com