A Westwood organization may help improve the infrastructure and appearance of Westwood Boulevard if a grant from the city of Los Angeles is approved.
The Westwood Village Improvement Association, a nonprofit organization tasked with improving the state of Westwood Village, submitted an application to the 2019 Great Streets Challenge on April 1. The Great Streets Challenge is a grant program that offers groups such as nonprofit organizations and business improvement districts the opportunity to potentially receive consultation and financial support to improve a corridor in the city of Los Angeles.
The program was made by Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Great Streets Initiative in collaboration with the departments of City Planning and Transportation and allows eligible organizations to identify a street, network or geographic area within the boundaries of Los Angeles as a project area that they would like to improve.
With the exception of specific stretches of Pico Boulevard, S. Robertson Boulevard, Van Nuys Boulevard, Crenshaw Boulevard, Cesar Chavez Boulevard and Central Avenue, any street in Los Angeles can be identified as a project area, according to the Great Streets Challenge application guide.
Organizations that apply have the chance to be selected as one of 10 community partners by the Great Streets Challenge. These applicants will work with the city and a consultant to develop a vision for the project area they have identified and receive up to $15,000 for outreach to gather community support and input.
Megan Furey, WVIA marketing and communications manager, said in an email statement that the association’s application identified the stretch of Westwood Boulevard running from Le Conte Avenue to Wilshire Boulevard as its project area because of its importance to Westwood Village.
“Westwood (Boulevard) … serves as the main artery from Wilshire (Boulevard) through Westwood Village to the main entrance of the UCLA campus,” Furey said. “It is a critical corridor for transit users, pedestrians and shoppers.”
If the WVIA is named a community partner, it has the potential to be selected as one of four finalists that will move onto a “Build” phase, during which it will finalize its project designs and start building components of the project. These finalists will also receive up to $13,000 for additional outreach and approximately $500,000 to fund their proposed improvements.
Furey said the WVIA’s application identified four main challenges on Westwood Boulevard they would like to address with the grant. She said they will focus on addressing overcrowding at bus stops on narrow sidewalks and a lack of on-site information regarding bus routes and schedules. It will also aim to resolve a lack of bicycle and scooter parking, faded and poorly marked pedestrian crossings and the numerous vacant storefronts along the corridor.
“Our goals and focus on this grant application align with the mayor’s Great Street priority projects: mobility, health and safety, accessibility and sustainability,” Furey said. “If we can address these issues, Westwood (Boulevard) would be a better place for pedestrians and should make for a better place to open a business in currently vacant storefronts.”
Andrew Thomas, executive director of the WVIA, added that ongoing and upcoming projects, such as the Metro Purple Line Extension and the 2028 Summer Olympics, will further motivate the association to focus on their proposed project area, as they are expected to bring a significant amount of people to Westwood.
“We see those as catalysts in our district that are going to have a significant impact,” Thomas said. “We want to make sure that things like pedestrian infrastructure, alternative transportation and traffic in our village are at their best when we reach these milestones.”
Thomas said he thinks mobility and traffic are significant issues affecting Westwood Village, and that the Westwood community could make the area more inviting if it improves infrastructure and pedestrian access. He said this would serve to benefit businesses operating in the Village.
“We could make our district a much more desirable place to visit and just experience,” Thomas said. “If we can get people into our district, there’s a much greater chance for them to walk into our stores, spend money and have a great time here.”
Thomas said the Great Street Challenge encourages a holistic and communal approach to addressing these project areas’ challenges.
“Of course, we all have ideas on what solutions could be, but the grant is different than others in that they want the community to come together and discuss solutions,” Thomas said. “There’s a number of solutions to the challenges that we have outlined, but we don’t want to assume the answers without bringing the community together to talk about them.”
Ryan Snyder, a lecturer of urban planning and member of the North Westwood Neighborhood Council, said if the WVIA is selected as one of the Great Streets Challenge’s 10 community partners, the next step would be to reach out to three major stakeholder groups the association has identified: UCLA students and staff, those who live in the Westwood district and Westwood residents and workers.
Snyder said the proposed strategy to reach these groups involves contact through social media, email, physical flyers and mailing campaigns.
“The goal is to give everyone in the community the opportunity to participate and lend their voice to the conversation,” Snyder said.
Thomas said the WVIA expects to hear from the Great Streets Challenge regarding its selections for community partners by the end of April. He said the association has applied for the grant twice in the past but had not been selected.
However, Thomas said the WVIA will pursue making positive changes to the Westwood area regardless of whether it is chosen by the Great Streets Challenge.
“LA’s a big place, and we understand that competition is pretty fierce, but if we are not in the grant’s top 10, we’ll continue to push for these improvements in other ways,” Thomas said.