Plans for fast-food chain Chick-fil-A to open its doors in Westwood have garnered mixed reactions from the UCLA community.
On April 26, Chick-fil-A ““ an Atlanta-based company at the center of a controversy because of its president’s recent expression of his views on same-sex marriage ““ signed a lease to move into the space where Burger King is currently located, said Steve Ritea, a UCLA spokesman. The restaurant is projected to open at 900 Westwood Blvd. next March.
The California State Teachers’ Retirement System, the previous owners of the Westwood Plaza building where Burger King is currently housed, signed the lease with Chick-fil-A. In June, UCLA completed the purchase of the 10-story office building for $72 million and inherited the lease, Ritea said.
The university had already occupied about 90 percent of the office space in the building prior to the purchase. Buying the entire building is projected to ultimately save money because it eliminates rental costs for UCLA, Ritea said.
Chick-fil-A is a proponent for what its owners call the “traditional family,” which they believe is based on a marriage between a man and a woman. This stance has caused friction between the company and supporters of same-sex marriage in the past.
The company recently became a topic of debate after its president, Dan Cathy, told the Baptist Press in a July interview he was “guilty as charged” of backing this stance. “We are very much supportive of the family ““ the biblical definition of the family unit,” Cathy told the Baptist Press. “We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”
The statement sparked protests and boycotts against Chick-fil-A restaurants across the country. Many same-sex couples participated in a “kiss-in” on Friday in Chick-fil-A restaurants to protest Cathy’s statements. The mayors of Chicago, Boston and San Francisco also said they did not welcome the restaurant in their cities ““ something that has drawn criticism from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for being against free speech.
But others support Cathy’s stance. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee formed a ” Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day “ for people who agree with the company’s principles to support the restaurant chain by eating at it on Wednesday.
Ritea said UCLA does not support Cathy’s position on gay marriage but cannot revoke the new lease with the company because it is a binding contract, he said.
“UCLA is dedicated to everyone’s right to free speech,” he said. “We expect that some people will express their disapproval (regarding the deal with Chick-fil-A).”
The recent controversy on Cathy’s comments would dissuade Raja Bhattar, the director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Campus Resource Center at UCLA, from using the restaurant if it moved to Westwood, he said.
“I think it is sad that organizations make such homophobic comments,” he said. “I know I won’t go support them.”
But some, like Michael Brenner, a UCLA alumnus who lives in West L.A., welcomed the possibility of having a Chick-fil-A in Westwood.
Although Brenner said he supports same-sex marriage, he added that he will not let his stance on the issue influence where he eats. He said he plans to eat at the restaurant when he is in the area, in spite of the controversy surrounding the company’s leadership, he said.
Burger King is currently still operating in the Westwood location but is expected to vacate the building in November, Ritea said. It is unclear whether Chick-fil-A officials plan to move forward with the lease. Representatives from both franchises could not be reached for comment.
Contributing reports by Jillian Beck, Bruin senior staff.