Improving Westwood’s lackluster nightlife requires community action, zoning reform
Westwood nightlife variety and affordable options are lacking, several students said.
(Tanmay Shankar/Assistant Photo editor)
Westwood may boast safety, Hollywood history and a vibrant daytime culture, but when it comes to nightlife, many students say it is lacking.
Several students say the limited nighttime food and entertainment options in Westwood Village can be too expensive to partake in regularly. This critical assessment conflicts with how the Westwood Village Improvement Association, a group tasked with improving the state of the Village, presents the area to students.
“I’ve paid well over $30 for only a couple drinks at Barney’s (Beanery),” said Alyssa Banegas, a recent alumna.
Options, especially for bars, are limited, said Caroline Wang, who also recently graduated.
“It’s just Rocco’s (Tavern) and Barney’s,” Wang said. “I know other college campuses, like Indiana University, that have like a whole street of bars, which would obviously be more fun.”
Krishna Shegran, a recent UCLA alumnus who transferred from UC Santa Barbara, said other university towns, like Santa Barbara, encourage nightlife more actively than Westwood does.
Shegran also said since Westwood is occupied by older working individuals and families, nightlife may be associated with more noise complaints.
“Bars (at) other schools, like UCSB, offer a lot of discounts to students who present their student IDs, and Westwood doesn’t really promote any drinking culture at its local bars by offering student these rates, let alone happy hour rates,” Shegran said.
Shegran said these student discounts could potentially help improve Westwood’s nightlife, but Westwood still isn’t as ideal for partying as other college towns are.
“It’s surrounded by some of the most expensive cities in Southern California –Beverly Hills, Brentwood and Bel Air – so Westwood Village does get a lot of people from those cities,” Shegran said. “When you compare it to other college towns like Bloomington or Isla Vista, it’s all just students in that vicinity.”
Banegas said she and her friends prefer to spend their free time in places like Santa Monica and Century City because they offer better food options after midnight.
“There have been a number of times where my friends and I have wandered around Westwood wanting to just chill out and eat something, but there are so many restaurants and eateries that are closed already,” Banegas said.
For those under 21, Westwood’s nightlife options prove even more limiting. During her time at UCLA, recent alumna Donyea Grayson was unable to drink – or do much else.
“There’s nothing besides the movie theater,” Grayson said. “I wish there was a bowling alley, arcade, mini golf course or something around here.”
Andrew Thomas, executive director of the Westwood Village Improvement Association, said the lack of variety in Westwood nightlife can be attributed to the fact that new businesses attempting to open in Westwood often face opposition from the community.
“There’s a history in Westwood of pushback against things that a lot of college students consider to be fun, and that’s an earned reputation we have,” Thomas said. “When it becomes challenging to open a business that would have live entertainment, who would want to go through the process to get pool tables? It’s an expensive and unpredictable process.”
Thomas said Westwood Village currently has a vacancy rate of over 20%.
Wang suggested filling up vacant spaces with new restaurants to promote more diverse dining options and increase affordability for students.
“But I realize that’s costly, so I’m honestly pretty satisfied (with) how Westwood is right now,” Wang added.
Thomas suggested that shops staying open 18 hours a day would lead to more people visiting them at night, as well as decrease the number of homeless people in Westwood Village.
“We have an issue with the homeless encampments, if there were businesses open that wouldn’t be happening,” Thomas said. “If there were a few more hundred people walking around Westwood because there’s more things to do here after hours, then there would be what I call a ‘social surveillance impact’ where people walk by and it’s not as comfortable to sleep in a doorway.”
Thomas agreed that a diversity of venues would benefit Westwood’s nightlife.
“I think that’s the goal. It’s about creating a scene,” Thomas said. “It can’t be ‘Hey, let’s just go to Rocco’s,’ it should be, ‘Hey, let’s go to Westwood Village.’ When you say ‘Hey, let’s go to Rocco’s,’ you’re just going to Rocco’s, but when you say ‘Let’s go to Westwood Village,’ you’re going to Rocco’s, Broxton, Barney’s, Skylight (Gardens) – you’re doing something bigger.”
He added that more businesses in Westwood Village would not cause unfavorable competition.
“There’s a misconception that all these businesses will be competing with each other,” Thomas said. “I think they all benefit from each other. Nobody is just going to one place, they’re going to several.”
Urban planning faculty member and former North Westwood Neighborhood Councilmember Ryan Snyder said there are a few challenges that make nightlife in Westwood complicated.
He said those living in the neighborhoods surrounding the Village are resistant to an influx of nightlife and would have to be convinced of the benefits it would bring to the area.
Snyder added that the Westwood Village Specific Plan, the master planning document that outlines zoning regulations, poses its own obstacles for new businesses with the potential to open and draw people in during late-night hours.
The actions necessary to create change are multifaceted and complicated, but Snyder said it can be done.
“Going in and amending the Village specific plan could be helpful to just make it easier for people to open up different establishments,” Snyder said.
Snyder said he is in favor of improving nightlife, but the specific plan supersedes all other plans that come before the council.
He said there is a limit on the number of fast food restaurants permitted, and dance halls and live music have to abide by the legal regulations of zoning and capacity requirements.
Some of these limitations in the specific plan will be amended in about a year. A Los Angeles City Council committee voted Aug. 13 to approve the drafting of amendments to four areas of the plan by the Department of City Planning, including restaurant and parking regulations.
However, a comprehensive rewrite is still likely years away, Michael Skiles, president of the NWWNC previously said.
Despite the challenges to amending the specific plan, Snyder remains optimistic.
“I’m in favor of expanding Westwood’s nightlife,” Snyder said. “We could use a bit more character – things that are reflective of the community of Westwood that make it different from other areas.”
Thomas suggested another way to fix the issue: The Westwood and UCLA communities speak out about the problems by coming to hearings, meetings and writing letters to elected officials.
“The process is not going to change, the people who are protesting things they don’t want to see (are) not going away, but what needs to change is the people that want to see these things need to stand up and command them,” Thomas said.