Tom Kneafsey, President of the Larchmont Village Business Improvement District

Tom Kneafsey, President of the Larchmont Village Business Improvement District

In a metropolis notorious for its endless strip malls, Larchmont Boulevard offers a shopping experience that exudes an atmosphere of small town charm. However, those clean sidewalks, trimmed trees and regularly emptied trash cans do not occur on their own, but through the work of the Larchmont Village Business Improvement District (LVBID) and its president Tom Kneafsey.

Originally from Chicago, Kneafsey, 78, came to Los Angeles in 1962 after he followed a girlfriend he met at Marquette University in Wisconsin. Although the romance fizzled, the girlfriend did introduce him to his wife Michele.

Kneafsey is now the father of five children and 11 grandchildren. One son, Sean Kneafsey, lives in the area with his wife, Susan, and their three sons.

From the beginning, Kneafsey had a clear idea of what he wanted to do.

“I always knew I wanted to do some form of real estate because I had a background doing summer jobs working construction,” he said.

After a first job as a real estate appraiser at United California Bank, Kneafsey spent seven years as an appraiser for the Los Angeles County Assessor. Kneafsey then joined Charles Dunn Company, a full-service real estate firm where he remained until 1995. There, Kneafsey specialized in real estate syndication, bringing several investors together to buy properties.

“My first purchase was on Larchmont Boulevard in 1979,” he said. “I still have that property.” The property is 200 N. Larchmont Blvd., which houses Flicka, Diptyque and Jamba Juice.

By 1998, it became clear to Kneafsey that there was a need for a Business Improvement District, or BID. Along with former Larchmont Chronicle owner, Jane Gilman, and architect Frank Webb, Kneafsey convinced property owners on Larchmont Boulevard between Beverly Boulevard and First Street, that such an organization was necessary.

“The purpose of a BID is to do the services that the city is supposed to provide but claim they can’t do because of not having money,” said Kneafsey.

Kneafsey decided that a property-based BID—where property owners paid an assessment rather than a merchant-based BID where businesses do—was the way to go, as there was, and still is, much less turnover among property owners than merchants. That said, property owners can pass on assessment costs to their merchant tenants.

As each property owner within the LVBID boundaries would be required to pay an assessment collected by the city of Los Angeles, a vote was necessary to establish the BID. The proposal passed with a favorable percentage of about 70%. The BID has since been twice renewed by the city. In the last vote of July 2012, 95% of the owners agreed to retain it.

“It works,” said Kneafsey.

Isabel Mayfield, the manager of Diptyque, said Kneafsey, who runs the LVBID as a volunteer, is dedicated to his work.

“He’s very passionate about it,” Mayfield said. “He encourages all businesses to be together and work together for things that need to happen. Very active, very engaged.”

Today, the LVBID is comprised of 25 property owners who are the landlords for over 80 businesses.

Beyond its routine tasks of maintenance, the LVBID works to improve the area by sharing ideas and discussion issues with 39 other BIDs in the city as a member of the BID Consortium. It has also worked closely with the Larchmont Boulevard Association to promote “Small Business Saturday” after Thanksgiving.

Additionally, the “Big Belly” solar trash and recycling bins and the directional signs on 3rd Street and Melrose Avenue pointing the way to Larchmont are also the work of the LVBID.

Kneafsey said he believes one of the major issues affecting the LVBID are “Q Conditions”—ordinances which regulate the type and number of businesses on Larchmont Boulevard.

The multi-year lawsuit between the owner of the Larchmont Bungalow, Albert Mizrahi, and the city of Los Angeles—wherein a new interpretation of a Q condition has clarified the difference between a restaurant and a take-out—has affected other businesses.

“The property owners feel that this Q condition is causing more problems than it’s solving due to its ambiguity,” said Kneafsey.

Kneafsey used his own experience as an example.

“[The city] started talking about tables and chairs, which was never part of the Q….They came to Jamba Juice and told me that Jamba Juice had to take out all their stools and counters,” said Kneafsey. “It’s just created all this havoc.”

As one of the original creators of the Q conditions, Kneafsey has seen interpretations of the regulations yield unintended consequences before.

He has spoken to Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu about the issue, but said any meaningful change will have to wait until the Mizhrahi case is settled.

The other major issue for the LVBID is the damage to sidewalks and sewer lines caused by the invasive roots of the ficus trees that line the street.

“One year, I spent $20,000 repairing a sewer line with roots in it,” Kneafsey said. There has already been much research done by the LVBID to analyze the problem. The next step is to obtain funds from Ryu’s office to hire an architect to devise a workable solution for the street. Kneafsey said that process is “on track.”

Despite these issues, when asked if he was optimistic about the future of Larchmont Boulevard, Kneafsey was quick to say yes.

“Oh, very much so,” he said. “These little commercial streets in residential areas have become a bigger part of the [retail market] over the last few years. People are more interested in coming to Larchmont than a shopping center. So that is really in our favor.”

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