When I moved to Los Angeles from a tiny town in Northern California, I was eager to explore the music scene that supposedly surrounded my new home.
I should have set my expectations lower. As it turns out, live music in Westwood often translates to a $20 round trip to Culver City.
Our section of the entertainment capital of the world isn’t quite as entertaining as one might hope. The Los Angeles Municipal Code stipulates certain fees for cafe entertainment permits, which cover live music in venues such as restaurants or bars. The initial fee required for businesses to purchase this permit is $500, with a $275 annual renewal fee.
If this was the only cost expected of Westwood businesses, many would surely jump at the opportunity.
It isn’t though.
The Westwood Village Specific Plan is an extension of the LAMC designed by the Los Angeles City Council with ordinances specific to Westwood. The rigid nature of the plan makes it so conditional-use permits must be granted by a local decision maker for everything from live entertainment to dancing to alcohol. And that’s just the beginning.
Last year, that local authority was granted to the North Westwood Neighborhood Council, a body that includes student and business representatives and is receptive to the idea of a livelier Westwood. But businesses still have to jump through an obscene number of hoops to even get that council’s approval.
The city council must make the process of obtaining cafe entertainment permits more accessible to local businesses in order to revitalize Westwood and allow students and residents alike to promote creativity and share their art.
An increase in performing arts spaces – from restaurants to theaters – would foster a relationship between artists and businesses and would bring in more people to the Village, as well as increase student-artists’ involvement in the community.
And there are Bruins, both in the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music and outside of it, who are musically inclined but don’t have a venue to perform.
Andrew Wei, a first-year psychology student, said it has been difficult to find musical communities within UCLA, as most of the audition-only bands on campus select students from the school of music.
“For me, music is just a hobby that I am really passionate about, but it’s frustrating for me, as a person that has played music my entire life, to not being able to find that outlet,” Wei said. “I don’t really know how to find a strong musical community, but I know it exists out there.”
Businesses can serve this need. The problem is the process is so convoluted that performance spaces remain mere considerations to them.
Peter Clinco, the owner of Skylight Gardens, a restaurant in Westwood, and a council member on the NWWNC and the Westwood Village Improvement Association, said the process can be intense because of neighborhood skepticism regarding unsavory establishments.
“It’s very invasive in terms of what they want out of you,” Clinco said. “There were two interviews, background checks, a lot of things – the police department assumes the worst.”
Clinco, who obtained the permit two years ago, said his experience as a lawyer greatly helped him cut through the red tape. Not all small businesses have this luxury, though.
After businesses pay the initial fees for the cafe entertainment permits, they likely have to hire a lawyer if they hope to present a strong proposal to the NWWNC – possibly costing them thousands in legal fees. And if that council disapproves, those dollars will quickly become a loss – a hypothetical that might dissuade new small businesses, which already operate on losses for the first few years, from even attempting the costly process.
That discouraging prospect has made Westwood an entertainment wasteland. What once featured multistory nightclubs, dancing and artists, now has an El Pollo Loco and an unnecessary number of poke bars and boba tea shops.
The real issue lies in the application – if businesses could apply more easily, the choice would lie in the NWWNC’s discretion, as opposed to its ability to sustain a process which ensures it never has to make those decisions.
Increasing live performance spaces in Westwood by making the permit process more accessible would not only benefit the economy and atmosphere of the Village, but also expand the network of musically inclined Bruins – especially those who aren’t involved in music on an academic level.
Some argue that an influx of increased nightlife and live music would lead to a raucous, undesirable environment in Westwood. But students already know how and where they want to throw their parties – just look at Roebling Avenue for confirmation. Instead, performing arts spaces would provide another way to connect, one that doesn’t just involve blasting the Top 40 from subwoofers.
UCLA artists want to provide music, small businesses want to host it and residents and students alike want to hear it. LACC members just need to allow it.
Westwood is a college town and LA is an entertainment capital. It’s time we started acting like they are.