Two years of traffic studies, architectural reports and community meetings have resulted in a sweeping new zoning plan for Westwood that could cut allowable growth and encourage new student and faculty housing near the UCLA campus.
The plan, the most comprehensive ever attempted by Los Angeles city planners, is the first part of a two-pronged effort to deal with Westwood's soaring growth and worsening traffic congestion, city planner Dan Scott said. A second plan, addressing only Westwood Village, is due out later this month, he said.
The long-awaited community plan would reduce allowable construction in the Wilshire Boulevard commercial core and in North Westwood Village--two areas of longtime controversy over growth and planning--as well as in residential areas south of Wilshire and east of the village.
As the plan moves toward public hearings this spring and a possible City Council vote in June, it is expected to test the political will of developers and homeowners who have long battled over lucrative Westwood real estate. Developers contend the plan threatens to unfairly restrict the rights of property owners. Homeowners say it does not go far enough toward curbing traffic and protecting the flavor of neighborhoods built during the 1920s and 1930s.
Concerned About Omissions
"We're not concerned with what the plan addresses, we're concerned with what it does not address," said Laura Lake, president of Friends of Westwood, an environmental group formed in response to growth issues. Lake criticized the plan for failing to tighten limits on development along Westwood Boulevard and along eastern portions of Wilshire Boulevard which are lined with high-rise condominiums.
The plan is "a step in the right direction," she said. "But we want clear language that protects the community."
Meanwhile, Dori Pye, president of the Los Angeles West Chamber of Commerce, has vowed to fight portions of the plan that could affect new construction in the Wilshire commercial core. That area--plagued by some of the worst traffic congestion in the city--has long been a rallying point for Westwood growth issues.
Current zoning in the Wilshire core allows the heaviest commercial development outside of downtown Los Angeles. In 1984, Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky tried to tighten development limits by proposing a moratorium on high-rise offices. The measure turned Wilshire into a political battleground, fostering heavy lobbying efforts by developers and a dramatic rejection of the plan by the City Council.
The new plan, which would effectively place a 12-story limit on a building that otherwise could contain 20 stories, mirrors the 1984 moratorium proposal. In the meantime, however, three new high-rises have risen on the Wilshire skyline.
"We defeated the proposal before, and they're bringing it up again," Pye said. "I think it is a little bit obscene, frankly. I don't support it or approve of it at all."
Yaroslavsky conceded the measure comes to late to stop the three high-rises now under construction, which will boost the commercial space on the four-block commercial core of Wilshire from 2.2 million to nearly 3 million square feet. But the plan, he said, is directed at two other sites that could accommodate similar towers of 20 stories or more.
One is the former Ship's restaurant site, where owner Kam Hekmat has cleared ground for a 26-story office tower. That project is being challenged in a lawsuit by Friends of Westwood, which contends an environmental study should have been made. If homeowners win the lawsuit, Hekmat would be forced to reapply for a city building permit.
That would give Yaroslavsky a second chance to scale down the project. The new community plan would cut its size nearly in half.
"If they win," Hekmat said of the lawsuit, "we will indicate to the authorities the unfairness of (the zoning plan). It would seem to be singling out our project.
"But we are confident we will prevail in the lawsuit."
The second site, Yaroslavsky said, contains the 12-story Lindy Medical Building, built in 1962. That relatively large lot could be redeveloped under present zoning into a building two or three times the size of the present structure, Yaroslavsky said.
"I don't think there's any doubt that, over a period of time, the people who own it would want to redevelop it," the councilman said. "I expect the owners . . . to fight" to keep their existing zoning.
Building owner Richard Zimon said he has no immediate plans to redevelop the site and he has yet to study the new community plan. "Obviously we're not happy when valuable property rights are taken away," he said. "But I really haven't focused on it."
Other buildings on the boulevard also are below allowable limits, creating a threat of additional redevelopment unless those limits are tightened, planner Scott said. Although the plan may not affect many properties in the near future, he said, "we're thinking of 20, 30 years down the line. The potential (for growth) is there."
Would Be Scaled Down
In North Westwood Village, where booming growth led to a 1985 moratorium on new apartment construction, the plan would allow high-density development to resume along major streets such as Gayley and Veteran avenues. But interior portions of the small community--about 100 acres just west of the UCLA campus--would be scaled down to permit smaller apartment buildings.
The idea is to ease traffic and to discourage the destruction of early-Westwood structures that recently were being torn down by developers, Scott said. In several cases, those developers combined three or four lots into one to build complexes of 80 or 100 units, he said.
Under the new plan, high-density apartment construction would be banned in most of the North Village unless developers set aside a share of the units for low-cost university housing.
Once, large numbers of UCLA students and professors were able to walk to campus from the North Village, but that has changed dramatically in the last 15 years, Yaroslavsky said. Today, because of skyrocketing rents, existing units are often too costly or occupied by longtime residents who are unwilling to give up the protection of rent control, Yaroslavsky said.
"If we can get more people within walking distance of the campus, it will relieve some of the peak-hour pressure on the traffic system," the councilman said.
But developers and homeowners alike criticized the plan.
Calls Plan Too Late
Paul Amir, president of the Los Angeles-based Amir Development Co., which is completing two large apartment complexes in the North Village, said the plan is too late to preserve lower-scale apartment construction.
"They're closing the barn after the horse is already out," Amir said. "The fact is, this is a high-density area."
Amir contended that planners should continue to allow high-density construction, which would ease the housing market and thus encourage lower rents. If 1,000 more units were added to the North Village, a much greater number of students and faculty would be able to walk to campus rather than drive from elsewhere, he argued.
"The traffic is there--don't kid yourself," Amir said. "UCLA causes the traffic problems."
Bob Breall, president of the North Westwood Village Residents Assn., disagreed sharply, saying the plan does not go far enough to limit growth in the community. The community's population, about 12,000, already exceeds projections that had been made for 1990, he said.
He said the zoning should be half what city planners are recommending.
'Too Many People'
"We don't want any more development in this area, period," Breall said. "There are just too many people in the area--too many cars and too many people. It's gotten to the point where something drastic has to be done."
Scott said planners hope to preserve architecturally important or historic buildings dating from Westwood's development in the 1920s and 1930s. Although many of those buildings have been razed for new construction, others still exist in the North Village and in other communities such as the East Village, which lies between Tiverton and Hilgard avenues north of Lindbrook Boulevard.
The East Village includes "Sorority Row," a string of mostly two-story, Mediterranean-style and Spanish Colonial Revival-style sorority houses that runs along Hilgard just east of the campus.
City planners hope to survey buildings in those areas and to have some of them established as landmarks by the city's Cultural Heritage Commission, Scott said. Such structures could not be torn down without hearings before the commission to examine ways to preserve them, he said.
In addition, Scott said, planners are proposing the creation of an independent five-member board to maintain development standards in some neighborhoods, such as the North Village and East Village, where new growth could detract from the flavor of old-style buildings. The board would include architects and residents, Scott said.
Scope of Activities Told
They would review plans for buildings and make suggestions to the city planning director.
Two areas largely unaffected by the community plan are Westwood Boulevard and the so-called Wishire Scenic Corridor, the milelong stretch of Wilshire extending east of the commercial core. Lake, the Friends of Westwood president, described those areas as "ticking time bombs," where rapid growth could dramatically worsen traffic congestion.
Lake criticized the plan because it would not block proposals for at least three new mini-malls on Westwood Boulevard, where she said additional traffic would spill into adjoining neighborhoods. The plan would bring no changes at all to the scenic corridor, where the present zoning permits up to 100 apartment units per acre.
"We didn't know until a few months ago that the scenic corridor plan was not being updated," Lake said. "We're rather frustrated that it wasn't."
Scott said city planners hope to have more time to focus on Westwood Boulevard and the scenic corridor in coming months, after the council acts on the community plan. He said work on those plans could lead to additional restrictions on land uses, landscaping and building designs.
Yaroslavsky, a co-author of Proposition U, the recent zoning-reduction initiative, expressed hope he could win council approval for the restrictive new Westwood plan. But he admitted it could face stiff opposition.
"I think the attitude of the council is different now," he said, alluding to his 1984 defeat on Wilshire Boulevard. "I hope it is different now. But we'll see."