Mall Opens to Better Reviews Than Expected

Times Staff Writer

The Westside Pavilion has opened to some complaints from its Rancho Park neighbors about traffic congestion and lack of parking, but with generally fewer protests than occurred during the two years it took to plan and build the shopping center.

The 675,000-square-foot pavilion, on Pico Boulevard between Westwood Boulevard and Overland Avenue, drew large crowds on opening day Friday. A spokesman estimated that 20,000 people visited the mall on Saturday, and slightly fewer on Sunday.

Construction workers are putting finishing touches on the building, but about 85 of 147 shops have opened. The Nordstrom and May Co. deparment stores that anchor the ends of the four-block-long enclosed mall are also open.

Traffic and parking were the two major concerns of residents during the lengthy planning process.

Officials of the Los Angeles Police Department's West Traffic Division said there were fewer problems than expected.

Traffic was "hectic" and backed up about three blocks along Pico, east and west of Westwood Boulevard, according to Sgt. Sammie DeBase. But she said the division had expected the backup to extend for 10 blocks or more. "It was not as bad as we thought it would be," she said.

Still, five extra traffic control officers were assigned to the mall Saturday and Sunday. And the pavilion management hired more than 100 private security officers to help direct a steady stream of cars into parking lots and around the mall.

Residents who found normally quiet streets crowded with cars complained to police. DeBase said that one officer alone wrote 100 parking tickets in the area immediately around the mall on Saturday. "We had quite a few complaints from people on Ayres (Avenue) about people coming over and parking there," DeBase said.

Ayres is a curving residential street that runs along the back of the mall.

"The traffic and parking have been horrendous," said Zelda Greentree, president of the Westwood South of Santa Monica Boulevard Homeowners Assn. "That was my first impression. Pico looked like the freeway at rush hour."

Residents have submitted petitions to City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky's office to create preferential parking zones on seven blocks behind the mall. "We have to do this to protect ourselves," said Marilyn Tusher, who started the petition drive. "Even though we got the petitions done now, it will take at least year."

The city's department of transportation must survey the proposed zones and conduct public hearings before approving them.

Ruthann DeMeter, who lives 1 1/2 blocks away, said the parking situation was "abominable" last weekend. "I think it would certainly be a problem if you had guests," she said. "It was wall-to-wall cars."

Mall developers said more parking will be available when construction crews remove their trucks and equipment. The mall has more than twice the number of parking spaces required by the city.

But residents said they are worried that another development across Westwood Boulevard will bring even more traffic and parking problems.

A partnership called Coast Federal Properties and G.B.W. plans to build a 165,000-square-foot shopping center on Pico where the Picwood Bowl, Picwood Theatre and several other businesses now stand.

James Conkey, a spokesman for the developer, said the new shopping center will be only one-fourth the size of the pavilion and will provide twice the number of parking spaces required by the city.

"We are going to make sure that there is more than adequate parking for the property," Conkey said. "That is one way that we are going to attract people to the center."

Some neighbors are skeptical of any developments in an area they consider overcrowded with cars. But others think they can live with development, including the pavilion.

Jose Pardo's home is across the street from the $90-million pavilion, shielded only by the purple blossoming jacaranda trees that grow along both sides of Ayres Avenue. He said the traffic was heavy over the first weekend but expects things to calm down once the initial excitement wears off.

Pardo and other neighbors last Thursday were treated by Westfield Inc. to a $75-a-person gala opening party, complete with open bar and foods from Italy, Japan, France and the United States. The lavish spread was designed to win over residents, Prado said, "but the only way you can win people over here is in the long term, because people have a lot of money invested in their homes."

So far, he is happy. "I really like it," he said. "I think it is going to bring property values up. It is a higher-class, higher-income-bracket . . . mall."

The old Westland Shopping Center catered to nearby residents, many of whom are elderly, with a dry cleaner, bank, supermarket and several discount shops. Elderly shoppers who walked to the store in the old mall feared that the market, the last within walking distance, would close.

However, the developer, Westfield Inc., agreed to include a Vons supermarket in the project. The market should open in about two months in the basement at the east end of building.

Residents also argued that the mall was too large, but their complaints carried little weight because zoning on the the 12-acre property allowed the large development.

Yaroslavsky said he is happy with the final product, especially considering that the city did not have restrictive zoning to enforce its will.

"I've dealt with hundreds of developers and these people have worked with the city and the residents," Yaroslavsky said. "They could have thumbed their noses at the city but they asked what they could do to minimize the difficulty.

"Sure, we would have preferred to have a 400,000-square-foot center," he said. "But that was not the choice before us."

Yaroslavsky said his office will keep an eye on the traffic and parking around the center to see if improvements are needed.

One woman, who spoke on the condition that her name be withheld, said she has changed her mind about the pavilion.

She opposed construction of the mall but said she will now shop there. "I think they did a class job," she said. "I almost hate to admit it because we fought them on it."

The woman said she and others felt there was not consumer demand for such a large mall, but that they now believe it will succeed.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World