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NWWNC advocates for changes to Westwood specific plan to stimulate business

The North Westwood Neighborhood Council recommended Los Angeles City Planning reduce or remove food and parking regulations in Westwood Village during a board meeting Wednesday. The council hopes the changes will attract more businesses to the Village. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Martín Bilbao

March 6, 2020 1:03 a.m.

Some Westwood Village zoning regulations may be reduced or eliminated if the city follows recommendations from a local neighborhood council.

The North Westwood Neighborhood Council, a body representing UCLA and the Village to the Los Angeles City Council, recommended changes to food and parking regulations in the Village’s 1989 zoning and regulatory framework known as the Westwood Village Specific Plan.

The council’s recommended changes are intended to reduce or eliminate barriers for businesses to set up in the Village, which has a vacancy rate of around 20%. LA City Planning met with the council during its Wednesday board meeting to receive feedback on potential changes before drafting an ordinance.

Zuriel Espinosa, a city planning associate, presented options to amend the Specific Plan at the board meeting. After the presentation, the board unanimously called for LA City Planning to remove the distinction between restaurants and fast-food establishments. They also requested the department reduce or eliminate parking restrictions in the Village.

The city council tasked LA City Planning to draft certain changes to the Village’s plan in November. Since then, City Planning officials have considered potential options to change food and parking regulations in the plan, Espinosa said.

Currently, the Specific Plan defines food establishments as either fast-food establishments or restaurants and limits how many of each can exist on each street. These definitions limit trendy, fast-casual food establishments from opening in the Village, Espinosa said.

Fast-casual establishments typically feature healthy, organic and refined food options, Espinosa said. The current Specific Plan tends to define these as fast-food establishments, which are limited in the Village, he added.

“Our definition is not keeping in line with the changing consumer demands related to food and commercial needs,” Espinosa said.

NWWNC president Michael Skiles said he supported removing the distinction between fast-food establishments and restaurants because he wants to see more affordable food establishments fill vacancies in the Village.

“I think our council would like to see more affordable food options, more options that serve students and workers on busy lunch breaks,” Skiles said. “Those aren’t sit-down restaurants, those are fast-casual and fast-food options.”

Skiles said he thinks the current regulations were meant to prevent fast-food establishments such as Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken from taking over the Village and encourage sit-down restaurants and retail instead.

“I just never see fast-food in the traditional sense overriding this Village,” Skiles said. “I just economically don’t see it and see these regulations as counterproductive.”

In addition to removing the distinction between fast-food establishments and restaurants, the council also recommended the removal of all ratios, caps and quota restrictions that limit the number or type of food establishments in the Village.

Councilmember Kevin Crummy, a business stakeholder, said he thinks the current zoning regulations are unusually restrictive compared to those of other neighborhoods in LA, such as Sawtelle.

“We have much better demographics, access and people, yet Sawtelle is crushing us,” Crummy said.

Crummy added he would like to see more retail in the Village, but he does not think restricting the types of businesses that can move in is helpful. For example, Crummy said boutique retail is moving into Sawtelle because trendy food joints are attracting customers to the area.

“As much as I want retail in the Village, the way that we are going to get it is by letting the market determine business,” Crummy said.

On the topic of parking restrictions, the council recommended City Planning remove all requirements on the number of parking spaces a business should have in the Village with 12 in favor, one opposed and one abstention. Crummy opposed the motion because he thinks it is too radical to eliminate all restrictions.

“We are not in a pedestrian utopia. We won’t have a subway for eight years, provided they are on time,” Crummy said, referring to LA Metro’s planned Purple Line extension into Westwood. “I just think that’s a little too radical, and I would rather live in the world that we live in today.”

Crummy added he thinks this position could make the council appear radical to other stakeholders and city officials who may disregard the council’s recommendations.

Councilmember Amir Tarighat said he thinks it would be reasonable to eliminate all parking restrictions because it would prepare the Village for a future when restrictions might be a burden, just as the 1989 restrictions are a burden now.

“I don’t think it’s that crazy of an idea to say that businesses should determine on their own if they think they need parking,” Tarighat said.

The council unanimously asked City Planning that, if they could not completely eliminate restrictions, at least eliminate several restrictions on parking for historic buildings, hotels, movie theaters, nightclubs and offices.

They also recommended the removal of requirements on replacing parking and change of use parking. Instead of these restrictions, the council recommended the Village be governed by general citywide zoning rules.

Lastly, the council asked for certain changes to other parking regulations if not all parking restrictions could be removed.

For instance, the council unanimously called for allowing businesses to lease parking spots from property owners rather than enter into long-term agreements, or covenants, with the owners, which can be enforced even when ownership of the property transfers.

Crummy said covenants are unfavorable for property owners, and securing them can hold up businesses from opening. For example, Tocaya Organica, a trendy Mexican joint, delayed its opening because it had difficulty securing a covenant agreement.

“Nobody in their right mind would put an encumbrance on their property in favor of another person, but you would obviously do a lease,” Crummy said.

The council also called for City Planning to increase the allowable distance businesses can designate off-site parking to a quarter mile if parking restrictions are not entirely removed. Such a move would give business more options to secure off-site parking.

Following this outreach phase, City Planning will draft an ordinance with community feedback in mind, Espinosa said. From there the ordinance must undergo environmental review and public hearings before the city council votes on it, he added.

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Martín Bilbao | Alumnus
Bilbao was the Assistant News editor for City and Crime from 2019-2020. He graduated with a degree in political science student and previously worked as a News contributor for Features and Student Life.
Bilbao was the Assistant News editor for City and Crime from 2019-2020. He graduated with a degree in political science student and previously worked as a News contributor for Features and Student Life.
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