Panel OKs Builder Fees Along Wilshire

Times Staff Writer

In a move that could mean nearly $11 million in traffic-improvement projects for Westwood, the Los Angeles City Planning Commission has approved a proposed ordinance that would impose stiff new development fees on builders of office and hotel projects along crowded Wilshire Boulevard.

The ordinance, endorsed by a 5-0 vote Thursday, was described as a hard-won compromise that would help ease traffic problems in what planners say is the city's most heavily congested area while enabling developers to continue building in the high-rise commercial zone.

Fees collected under the plan would pay for a variety of projects throughout Westwood and bordering areas--from installing computerized traffic signals and new turn lanes to adding parking areas and widening Santa Monica Boulevard, city planners said.

A Practical Alternative

Supporters called the measure, which could go to the City Council for a final vote as early as Tuesday, a practical alternative to a one-year building moratorium that had been proposed for the Westwood area by homeowners groups and Westside City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky. That proposal was defeated by the City Council in November.

"This would mark, by far, the most significant and the highest exaction of dollars (for traffic improvements) that has ever been done in the City of Los Angeles," Yaroslavsky said of the new plan, which he urged commissioners to adopt. "This gives us a resource that is unprecedented."

Under the terms of the ordinance, builders of Wilshire Boulevard offices and hotels would pay the city $5,600 for every car trip the building's tenants would add to peak afternoon traffic hours. The same fees also would be collected from the developers of any additional projects in an oblong area extending from just east of Glendon Avenue to west of Veteran Avenue.

Attorney George Mihlsten, speaking for the developers of three office buildings planned for Wilshire Boulevard between Glendon and Veteran avenues, said he supported the measure as a "painful" but workable plan that would allow the construction of five major developments now being built or proposed within Westwood's so-called Regional Center.

Office Buildings, Hotel

Those developments include four major office buildings--two of which are already under construction--and a 210-room hotel on Wilshire Boulevard. The four high-rise office buildings would contain a total of about 900,000 square feet of floor space, Mihlsten said.

The car-trip fees, directed at projects that would most directly affect rush-hour traffic, would encourage developers to reduce late-afternoon traffic levels and would enable the city to accommodate the increased traffic as new buildings are opened, said supervising transportation planner Philip Akers.

In some cases, the road improvements and computerized traffic signals also would reduce congestion that already exists, Akers said.

In the months ahead, the city Transportation Department is expected to establish its priorities on a "wish list" of more than $15 million in Westwood traffic-improvement projects, according to Yaroslavsky. Those projects will be studied individually by the City Council. Developers will pay for the traffic improvement projects as they are built.

'Plenty of Work' Remaining

"There is plenty of work that needs to be done in the Westwood area," Yaroslavsky said. "This is an $11-million step in that direction."

Yaroslavsky, who helped shape the proposal after it was introduced by Councilman Howard Finn, said he hoped to bring it to the council Tuesday so that construction of necessary projects could begin as quickly as possible.

Council members are expected to approve the measure because they ordered the city attorney's office to draft the ordinance in November, Yaroslavsky said. Although the fees would be exacted from developers within a small section of Wilshire Boulevard, projects supported by the funds would be carried out throughout the Westwood area and on bordering areas of Santa Monica Boulevard.

Planning Commission President Daniel Garcia, who had supported earlier proposals for a moratorium in the area, said he did not wholeheartedly support the compromise approach but called it a trade-off between developers anxious to build in the area and Westwood residents who want to reduce traffic.

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