Friday, May 24

Westwood washout


Westwood will never be the true college town that many of us
envisioned upon entering UCLA. There’s not a single venue
that allows dancing, only a handful of locations that have a full
bar, no poetry readings in coffee shops, and not a single pool
table to be found.

Instead, we’re besieged by hair salons and nail salons,
posh coffee shops, ice cream stores, pharmacies and more
pharmacies. Lest anyone think I’m complaining, let me express
my gratitude for Westwood Village ““ in what other supposed
college town could I buy that $30 bottle of shampoo every 10 yards
but not find a hammer (or many places to get hammered)
anywhere?

Most of you can agree with me that Westwood doesn’t really
suit our needs as students. But, should it? Should UCLA students
who are here for four (or perhaps five) years really be able to
direct the local community instead of the people who make this area
their home? Perhaps because I’m from Berkeley, a true college
town, I’d say no. We’re here temporarily. Our neighbors
are here forever. If they don’t want drunken college kids
getting into brawls outside whatever pub currently happens to be
the hot spot for underage drinkers, I can’t blame them. If I
owned a house worth as much money as the homes around here,
I’d be fighting to protect it as well.

But there are a lot of things we college students need besides
parties that Westwood could supply without offending the local
community; many of these stores would actually benefit them, as
well. A Bed Bath & Beyond, for example, would be a great
service.

Have you ever tried to buy sheets in Westwood? If you
haven’t, I’ll let you know how it works. First, you
think, “Of course Westwood sells sheets. It has to.” So
you go to Rite Aid and find that there are no sheets. Next you move
to CVS. No luck. Then onto Expo. Here you couldn’t even
afford the sheets if there were some, which there are not. Next
Ralphs. Rejected again. Finally you end up at Longs, where the
employee tells you the only nonclothing cloth products sold in the
store are American flags.

Is this ridiculous to anyone else? I can get a prescription of
Prozac at four different locations in Westwood alone, not to
mention numerous places on campus. But I can’t buy sheets?
Between UCLA’s new graduate student housing and Andrew
Casden’s upcoming project, which will also open more
apartments in the Village, I’d think there would be a huge
demands for linens. And given all the empty storefronts, I’m
guessing there’s space for a linen store or two.

After I bused myself to Third Street in Santa Monica to buy my
sheets, I came home looking to curl up in my new sheets with a good
book. Stumped again. Where can I get the book? Sure there’s
the Mystery Bookstore, and there are a couple of art-book shops,
but I’m not an art or mystery fan. As for Ackerman Union,
there’s not the same selection as at, say, Borders.

Westwood’s inadequacies continue into the night. Imagine
that some of your friends from high school come to visit you and
are looking for a night on the town. You can take them to
Maloney’s, only to wait in line for half an hour before
entering the overcrowded, overpriced ““ but admittedly fun
““ restaurant. Or you can go to Brew Co., where you spend
longer waiting to receive your drink than you do actually drinking
it. You could go to Roadhouse, too, but most of us haven’t
yet since it hasn’t been around too long.

Other than that, what can you do? Movies are expensive, coffee
gets cold, and the smoke from Habibi grows old after a few tokes.
Westwood is lots of fun at first, but then you realize what limited
options it offers.

I think I’ve hammered this point long enough. The stores
in Westwood don’t do a good job of catering to our needs.
Now, let’s examine why Westwood has gotten to the point where
it is today.

For those who don’t know, Westwood used to be hopping.
Back in the 1970s and early ’80s, it was the place to be.

During this time, Westwood relied very heavily on the movie
industry. First-run movies in Westwood’s on one of almost 20
first-run theatres. These same first-runs played in New York,
Chicago and a few other cities throughout the United States. For
its entire first year, “The Exorcist” played in
Westwood alone. As a result, the Village catered toward the
moviegoers. Yogurt shops, cookie shops and T-shirt shops dotted the
Village landscape.

“It was very conducive to strolling. There were fun things
to do ““ interesting things to do, interesting characters to
meet. The Hare Krishna’s were even here. As annoying as they
were, they were interesting,” said Philip Gabriel, the owner
of Scrubs Unlimited, and a longtime Westwood homeowner and
businessman.

Things were going great in the interesting little town until
competition came. In 1981, Pasadena Plaza arrived. 1985 ““
Westside Pavilion. 1987 ““ the Century City multiplex, 1989
““ Third Street Pavilion in Santa Monica was redeveloped. 1991
““ Old Town Pasadena. 1993 ““ Universal City Walk. And
finally, 2002 ““ The Grove.

All these places opened up with a special amenity Westwood
couldn’t offer ““ parking. Though Westwood has a parking
garage that holds fewer than 400 cars, Third Street alone holds
4,000.

In addition to parking problems, safety became a concern. In
1988, a woman from Long Beach was unintentionally killed in the
crossfire from a gang fight. The event generated a lot of media
publicity, and suddenly people worried that Westwood might not be
safe. People instead went to one of the other, theoretically safer
locations that had just opened up.

The safety problem continued to worsen. In 1990, university
police reported that crimes against people, such as rape and
assault, were increasing in number. This same year, the streets
were closed on weekend nights in an attempt to cut down on
cruising. Safety concerns reached a peak in 1991 when a screening
of “New Jack City” at the Mann was delayed, and the
1,500 youths who had come for the movie rioted. One hundred
fifty-six police officers were called into Westwood to bring about
order.

If they hadn’t already, the last of the street-performers,
Hare Krishnas and artists packed up to move to Third Street, where
greater crowds could be found.

Westwood didn’t know what to do with itself.

Luckily, the Westwood Specific Plan had been crafted in 1989
““ Westwood Village was no longer to serve those outsiders who
came for movies (or for dancing at Dillon’s, the
multiple-story disco that is now filled by El Pollo Loco), but
instead it would serve the Westwood community itself.

Given the huge Westwood community and the spending power it
holds, this certainly seems like a good idea. Between the UCLA
students, visitors and faculty, the employees working down on
Wilshire Boulevard, the cars exiting the 405 Freeway, and of course
the neighbors living in the Holmby/Westwood area, I would certainly
think a few blocks could survive.

Yet they don’t. Stores seem to close down every day, and
the ones that open up in their places are closed down soon after.
Why is such a potentially successful area failing? Well, I see
three leading causes for these problems.

First, the parking issue still hasn’t been resolved. We
all have problems parking in Westwood, and ““ as all UCLA
students know ““ the law enforcement around here is top-notch
when it comes to defending the community against ticketable parking
violations. If I can drive straight to the Beverly Center and park
easily, why should I cruise around Westwood for half an hour?

UCLA does not help in this regard. If the Westwood merchants
were to open a free parking garage, we all know it would be filled
with UCLA students who don’t want to pay for parking on
campus. Even if the lot required validation, we’d simply park
there, go to class, and buy an ice cream cone afterwards.
It’s still cheaper than parking on campus.

Upcoming projects, though, offer hope; both are required to add
parking in Westwood. The first of the projects is a cinema complex
moving into the empty lot behind Jerry’s Deli, and the second
is Palazzo Westwood ““ an apartment complex with retail on the
bottom floor that will be located on Glendon Avenue.

The second problem concerns the tenants moving into the Village.
Landlords seem to be renting to the highest bidder rather than to
whoever will benefit the Village overall. Such shortsightedness has
created a plethora of some amenities and a severe lack of
others.

Jeff Abell of Sarah Leonard Jewelers suggests that the four or
five major Village landlords get together and make a list of the
highest priority categories of stores they would like to obtain
““ maybe one department store, one linen store, one book
store, one unisex clothing store and one nice men’s clothing
store. From there, the landlords would each be assigned a different
category and would be obligated to obtain a store that fits ““
even if it means offering a cheaper rent for the first few years.
Though the landlords might lose a little money for the first few
years, revitalizing the Village would more than pay for itself in
the long run.

“There’s so much opportunity here, and so often
it’s ignored. To me, it’s a crime,” Abell
said.

The plan wouldn’t be especially difficult to implement.
Bed Bath & Beyond, J. Crew, Abercrombie & Fitch, and
Borders are some of the stores that have previously expressed
interest in moving directly into Westwood Village.

Overall, I can’t tell if the landlords are each solely
looking out for their own self-interest or if they just can’t
be bothered to try and capitalize on their investment.
They’re not working together to obtain the best combination
of stores. If they were, Ben & Jerry’s, Baskin-Robbins,
Diddy Riese and Haagen-Dazs wouldn’t all be within a
one-minute walk of each other. Stores are supposed to complement
each other, not compete with each other.

Worse still, the Westwood merchants seem to accept their
landlords’ incompetence rather than fight it. There is not
currently a single merchant interest group. The merchants need to
group together and speak with a single, unified and ““ most
importantly ““ well-funded voice.

In a smaller city such as Beverly Hills or Santa Monica, the
merchants might be able to leave this task to the city, as the city
would obviously be interested in the sales tax a shopping center
generates. Westwood, however, falls under the jurisdiction of Los
Angeles. We all know how difficult it is to deal with a bureaucracy
as big as L.A., and we all know L.A. has more pressing problems
than a fallen retail district.

As a result, stores move into Westwood that shouldn’t even
be here ““ according to the plan, anyway. Westwood is zoned as
C-4, which means it ““ like Rodeo Drive ““ is intended
for a more upscale crowd. But, while Westwood has kept true to its
zoning in not allowing mechanics or pool halls, it is obviously not
as upscale as Rodeo. It is over its limit in the number of fast
food places available and lacks designer stores such as Prada or
Tiffany.

Lastly, Ackerman Union ““ combined with student laziness
““ makes up the final blow for the Village’s success.
When something is popular among students, what does Ackerman do?
According to Westwood merchants, it steals it. Given that Ackerman
features a hair salon ““ a popular amenity in Westwood ““
a Copeland Sports ““ one of which of recently closed in
Westwood (I wonder why?) ““ and an STA Travel ““ which
currently exists in Westwood, you can’t really blame the
merchants for being a little bitter.

After remodeling itself about a decade ago, Ackerman has
essentially turned into a student department store, diverting
student business from the Village itself. Just after the remodeling
was finished, some Westwood merchants protested; they said they
received 80 percent less student foot traffic.

I’m not surprised. Students will of course shop at
Ackerman. It’s closer. We’re all busy. It’s a
long 10-minute walk into the Village.

Though I’m the first to admit Ackerman is convenient, some
of the space could be put to better use. There used to be more
interesting venues, such as a bowling alley, rather than just
another hair salon. I’ve heard we’re the only school in
California to have a Clinique counter right on campus, and
I’m guessing we’re also the only school with a salon
that offers Brazilian waxes.

Instead of offering more of what the Village already offers,
let’s differentiate. Billiard tables are not allowed in the
Village. Arcade games are not allowed in the Village. (The one
place that offers arcade games was established before the ordinance
took effect.) Dancing (for all practical purposes) is not allowed
in the Village, so let’s move this stuff to campus.

As state laws supersede city laws, UCLA is exempt from the local
city restrictions and could have these “sinful”
ventures. ASUCLA already has the arcade and is trying to add an
eatery that serves alcohol.

As for me, I’d like to bring the bowling alley back. Only
this time I’d make it more of a hangout spot ““
I’d add billiard tables, dart boards, beer, TV and dancing.
While I’m not advocating for a Sunset-style dance club on
campus (that would be ridiculous), I’d like a place where we
can at least sway to the music. If it’s not going to be in
the Village, let’s have it here.

And for the students who complain that a student hangout spot
would replace their beloved Campus Cuts, forcing them to have to
walk all the way down to Westwood to get that Brazilian wax, think
of the calories you’ll burn if you walk really fast.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Share on Reddit

Comments are supposed to create a forum for thoughtful, respectful community discussion. Please be nice. View our full comments policy here.