Tuesday, February 25

Ara Shirinian: Outdated Westwood city regulations shackle recreation, business

The Westwood Barney's Beanery does not offer customers pitchers or beer or a pool table like other locations because of local regulations. (Daily Bruin file photo)

Of the many illegal things you could do in Westwood, I bet you never imagined that dancing could be one of them.

Though it’s not technically illegal, complicated city regulations have made it extremely difficult for local businesses to get the licensing required to have basic forms of entertainment like live music and dancing.

Most of these regulations can be traced back to the Westwood Village Specific Plan, an outdated piece of legislation that’s prevented a lot more than dancing in the Village. The plan includes regulations on everything from housing to food, theaters and hotels, and it fails to account for many modern establishments that fit outside of the classifications made in the early 1990s.

There’s a reason that Westwood’s ordinances have been slow to change: There are many different groups with an interest in the Westwood area, and what’s good for some is not always good for others. Much has already been said about the tug-of-war between groups with a stake in the development of Westwood, but little has been done to make meaningful improvements.

Since a completely new city plan would be almost impossible to find a compromise on, Westwood council members should focus on making updates to the current city plan that simply modernize some of the regulations and forgo restrictions that take aim specifically at students but benefit no one.

It’s no secret that some would prefer Westwood to resemble a more upscale neighborhood like Beverly Hills. And to them, having a large population of students is not conducive to creating that kind of environment. Though the interests of every group in the city is equally valid, some regulations intended to curb student behavior are borderline outrageous.

Right now, if a business in Westwood Village wants to offer live music or a dedicated dancing space along with alcohol service, it must obtain a conditional use permit that must be approved by city zoning officials after a public hearing. The process is so complex that no business in Westwood currently holds such a permit.

Hotels, on the other hand, are banned from having ballrooms, or purposing any of their meeting rooms for dancing during special events.

The last time I checked, hotel ballrooms never caused much disorderly conduct.

The situation has gained some media attention, no doubt in part because of its similarity to the plot of “Footloose,” a movie about a teenager who moves to a small town where rock ’n’ roll and dancing are not allowed.

After the creation of the Westwood Neighborhood Council and Westwood Community Council in the late 2000s, some speculated that the strange rules might finally come to an end. Unfortunately, not much has changed in the last six years.

This has left many establishments unable to create a convincingly fun environment for guests.

Take Barney’s Beanery, a small bar chain that has a location in the Village. It’s a bar I’m familiar with because there’s one next to where I used to live. It’s a fun enough place, where my friends and I would go to grab a pitcher of beer, watch sports and play some pool. A quick glance through its website confirms that every location is similarly adorned with lots of alcohol, pool tables and an arcade game here and there.

All of them except, of course, the one in Westwood; there, you will find no pool tables or arcade games. Westwood-specific ordinances have banned these things from all establishments in the city. That’s right: Pool tables and pitchers have been deemed too adventurous for our small college town. Instead, at our local Barney’s you will find a single shuffleboard table and some soggy mozzarella sticks to keep you company.

In other cases, the ordinances are simply outdated. There are, for instance, regulations on the number of fast food chains that can exist within a certain area. However, the Westwood Village Specific Plan does not differentiate between fast food restaurants like Taco Bell, In-N-Out and Subway, and fast-casual restaurants like Panera Bread, Chipotle and Corner Bakery, which weren’t popular in the early ’90s.

Unfortunately, the Westwood Village Specific Plan has not been through a major revision since 2004. Considering the number of empty storefronts in the Village, one would think that opening doors to new successful businesses would be a good idea. It seems not, especially for businesses like Panera Bread, which for the last few years has been stuck in the nightmarish limbo created by the councils of Westwood. Christopher Nolan would be proud.

I understand that Westwood needs to cater to more than students, but the level of control exhibited by the current council over what businesses can and can’t do in the Village is nothing but totalitarian.

Westwood could be a multifaceted city that caters to an equally diverse group of people that live within its borders. Instead, at the behest of a few, it is a boring, economically troubled city trying to be something it’s not.

Until someone decides to make some meaningful updates to the city plan and other ordinances, nothing is likely to change.

So, next time you feel like putting on your dancing shoes, don’t. Instead, put on your running shoes and try to get out of Westwood as fast as you can. If you get to a place where there are people having a good time, you’ll know you’ve made it.


Ara Shirinian was an assistant opinion editor from 2015-16 and an opinion columnist from 2014-15. He writes about technology, transfer students and Westwood.

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