Westwood stakeholders are pushing for the Los Angeles Metro to expand compensation funds for businesses impacted by a planned subway line expansion.
The third section of the Purple Line Extension project will bring significant construction to Westwood’s segment of Wilshire Boulevard starting mid-2020. There will be two new subway stations in Westwood area once the line is completed in 2026 – one station will be located between Veteran Avenue and Westwood Boulevard and another will be by the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Although some Westwood Village stakeholders expressed overall support for the project, several also expressed concern that the construction will hurt businesses by obstructing the ability of customers to drive into the Village.
Metro’s board of directors allocates $10 million each year to its Business Interruption Fund, through which small businesses, or those with 25 or fewer full-time employees, can apply to receive money to cover fixed operating costs such as utilities, rent and payroll.
The BIF will not apply to most of Westwood, however, said Andrew Thomas, executive director of the Westwood Village Improvement Association. Eligible businesses must be adjacent to the transit rail corridor, a construction staging area or a construction storage area.
“The (BIF) is only intended to work within a block of the actual construction area,” Thomas said. “For us, that doesn’t mean much, because right there on those blocks facing construction we have some banks that don’t qualify. We don’t know who’s going to qualify because of the parameters, and to me, it looks like there may not be any that will.”
Local stakeholders learned the boundaries of the BIF in August. In response, the North Westwood Neighborhood Council passed a resolution asking for the expansion of the fund to any business in the Village that may be harmed by the construction impacts.
The WVIA also sent a letter to Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz, who represents Westwood, requesting his help.
It is up to Metro’s board of directors to reevaluate and reassign the parameters of the fund, and the goal is to get that on its agenda, Thomas said.
“In order for this to happen, that fund is going to need to receive more funding so it can branch out and make itself available to more businesses,” said Michael Skiles, president of the NWWNC. “We haven’t gotten a ‘no’ from anyone, and the Metro and county representatives appreciate the general reasonableness and value of the idea.”
Metro did not confirm if there were any plans to reevaluate the parameters of the BIF for the Village. Metro has continued to offer the fund under the existing rules to more than 350 businesses throughout Los Angeles since 2014, said BIF program manager Paula Carvajal-Paez.
Wilshire Boulevard is the pathway to the entirety of Westwood Village. Residents are concerned that construction along it may stop customers with cars patronizing businesses in the rest of the neighborhood.
“Suddenly the prospect of going to your favorite restaurant is another 10 to 15 minutes, people will say ‘Let me go to another restaurant that’s closer to home,’ so we see a drop in business,” Skiles said. “If you lose even a quarter of customers, that’s 25% of revenue. With the same waiters and the same rent, a fraction of revenue could turn into all the profits if the business was barely profitable, to begin with.”
Skiles said businesses will be impacted differently depending on whether their customer bases are comprised of students and pedestrians or people traveling into Westwood in vehicles.
Skylight Gardens on Glendon Avenue relies on customers who drive into the Village, usually during the evening, said Peter Clinco, the restaurant’s owner.
“I’m lucky, I’m one of the few establishments in the Village that has unlimited free self-parking for customers,” Clinco said. “It’s a valuable benefit that we bargain for. If the cars won’t come in because the street’s torn up, that’s going to be a substantial reduction in my customer traffic.”
No quantifiable estimates have been made on the amount of business that could be lost to the construction, and the degree to which the Village will be affected remains uncertain, Thomas said.
“I really do think once the Metro extension happens, a lot more people and potential customers will be able to circulate a lot more easily,” Skiles said. “So, in the long run, there’s a real potential for Westwood to be the best environment it’s ever been, but the fund is needed to make sure that businesses can survive until then.”