Monday, November 11

Westwood Village approves self-tax program

The Business Improvement District will enhance the Village with money from local businesses

In an effort to make up for a diminishing city budget, Westwood Village property owners will begin to self-tax themselves to provide services ““ and UCLA is planning to pitch in.

The self-taxing is moderated by a committee known as the Business Improvement District, which was approved by a 67 percent majority last week to go into effect on July 1.

The BID is a private organization established to help with improvements in the area such as trimming trees, removing graffiti and fixing sidewalks, said Clinton Schudy, Westwood business owner and business seat for the Westwood Neighborhood Council and Westwood Community Council.

The district will charge each property in Westwood a tax that is relative to the size of their property, said Steve Sann, chair of the Westwood Community Council.

The goal of the district is to raise $1 million for the next three years. After that, there will be an option to extend the program for longer.

UCLA is exempt from paying the self-tax because it is a state entity, said Vincent Wong, assistant director for UCLA government and community relations. But the university decided to contribute to the BID in any case.

UCLA has committed to voluntarily pay $38,000 per year for three years to the district, which will come from Administrative Vice Chancellor Sam Morabito’s discretionary fund, said UC spokesman Phil Hampton.

The fund is available for use by the vice chancellor at his discretion, and it does not include revenue from student tuition, Hampton said.

UCLA decided to join the BID committee after media reports of Westwood’s decline called for a program like the BID, Wong said.

“Westwood is a gateway to campus … (so) an improved Westwood is good for everyone,” Wong said.

At the city council meeting last week, two property owners expressed opposition to the BID. One of the opposing parties, Hilgard House Hotel, deferred a request for comment to their lawyer, who was unavailable.

Gail Friedman, owner of Westwood’s Sarah Leonard Fine Jewelers, said the benefits would outweigh the cost placed on business owners.

“(The tax will) not put anybody out of business because it’s shared by so many people,” she said. “Collectively we can do greater than any one person.”

Jeffrey Abbell, the financial director of Sarah Leonard Fine Jewelers, said the business expects to pay about $2,000 to $3,000 a year for the new tax. Business owners will be notified by their landlords in at least two months about the BID tax, Abbell added.

Eric Cho, owner of the restaurant Sandbags, said he had not heard of higher taxes. He said he does not think a business improvement district is necessary.

“Westwood is nice as it is, and there are a lot of people who volunteer and help to clean it up, so I don’t think it would be necessary to have this program,” Cho said.

This is not the first attempt at such a district in Westwood. A previous BID existed 10 years ago and was closed because the mismanagement of funds cost property owners a substantial amount with little return, said Christopher Koontz, planning deputy to L.A. City Councilmember Paul Koretz.

This mistrust of business improvement districts due to the failure of the last one caused the current proposal to be delayed for several years, Sann said.

Efforts to begin another BID in Westwood began almost seven years ago but failed when people did not want to participate, he said.
Business owners now see the need for a BID to improve the appearance of Westwood.

“The goal is by improving the physical space, … (it will) increase the number of visitors to Westwood,” Koontz said. “With more visitors to the area, there should be more commerce and thus more taxes (paid to the city).”

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