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Westwood officials strive to support local businesses as COVID cases accrue

Westwood officials have developed several initiatives to combat the recent increase in COVID-19 cases. These actions have included expanding outdoor dining access and encouraging economic activity through events in Westwood Village. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Benjamin Apsley

July 3, 2022 1:28 p.m.

This post was updated July 4 at 11:13 p.m.

Westwood community members are discussing past and future initiatives to combat the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the neighborhood as cases are once again increasing in the area.

City officials have proposed several initiatives to combat the public health and economic effects from the increase in COVID-19 cases, including measures such as expanding outdoor dining access and encouraging economic activity in Westwood Village.

Westwood reported a two-week COVID-19 case rate of 1,406 cases per 100,000 residents on May 26 – the highest of any Los Angeles neighborhood – according to an emailed report from the mayor’s office. According to the report, Westwood also had the second-lowest COVID-19 vaccination rate for those 12 and older out of all LA neighborhoods.

Andrew Lewis, the vice president of the North Westwood Neighborhood Council, said COVID-19 has not gone away and will continue to impact the community. The pandemic has hurt many local businesses because fewer students go out and spend money, he added.

Furkan Yalcin, the president of the NWWNC, said a lack of outdoor dining options has also made business difficult since it is harder for Westwood restaurants to provide larger capacity outdoor dining options similar to those seen in places like Sawtelle or on Venice Boulevard.

Andrew Thomas, executive director of the Westwood Village Improvement Association, said many Westwood businesses had to close because of the pandemic, including Paper Source, Francesca’s and the AT&T store.

In an effort to support local businesses, Westwood officials have introduced initiatives to alleviate the negative impact of the pandemic and improve the local economy.

Lewis said the NWWNC is in conversation with the mayor’s office about creating a mobile vaccination clinic in Westwood to increase vaccination rates. He added that decreasing transmission now is critical because the student population will increase when students return to UCLA in the fall.

Furthermore, the WVIA implemented the Westwood Village Rewards program to help businesses affected by the pandemic, Thomas said, adding that the program provided discounts to patrons of businesses in the Village to encourage more economic activity.

The program provided residents with redeemable points when they shopped and dined at Westwood businesses to encourage more spending in the community, Yalcin said. He added that the WVIA and this initiative were doing a lot to support businesses during difficulties caused by the pandemic.

Yalcin added that an upcoming proposal to combat the effects of the pandemic involves converting Broxton Avenue into a pedestrian-only zone. This would allow for more outdoor dining and walking areas to prevent transmission of COVID-19 and spur more economic activity, he said.

The NWWNC and WVIA are currently working with the LA Department of Transportation to get the proposal approved, Yalcin added.

[Related: Westwood leaders await approval to turn Broxton Avenue into pedestrian-only plaza]

“Having Broxton turned into a pedestrian-only plaza with more outdoor areas and dining and seating will allow people to come and feel safe in Westwood and support the businesses,” Yalcin said.

Yalcin added that revisions to the Westwood Village Specific Plan could also help the local economy recover from the pandemic by reducing business regulations such as parking minimums.

The Westwood Village Specific Plan is a document that sets rules and regulations for city planning in Westwood Village, according to the Department of City Planning. Paul Koretz, the LA City Council representative for District 5, introduced a motion in September 2019 to amend the plan, though the council has yet to vote on the proposal.

Thomas said UCLA has also made an effort to invest in the Village following the pandemic through events such as the monthly First Thursdays events and the Westwood Village Block Party. He added that he hopes this increase in patronage will encourage tenants to come to Westwood.

“A few years down the line, or hopefully sooner, we’ll have a better community because a lot of work went on during that time period, and it’s going on right now, to make life easier and better,” Yalcin said.

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