New Business Coalition Targets Regional Woes : Westside: Leaders join to form lobbying group, with the idea that bigger is better--or at least louder.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Westside business leaders are banding together, hoping to press for solutions to regional problems ranging from traffic to crime.

The goal of the effort, being led by four utility companies, is to form a Westside Assn. of Chambers of Commerce that would include as many as 14 local chambers to lobby state and local government officials.

"The issues facing the Westside are transcending municipal boundaries," said Bill Boyd, executive director of the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce. "Our Westside cities now all have similar concerns, and our shared goal is to address those problems."

The idea behind the new association is that bigger is better--or, at least, louder. The coalition, expected to be in place later this summer, will send a clearer message from the local business community to state and local policy-makers, said Mark Olson, area manager for Southern California Edison.

"We would have more clout because more business leaders are involved," Olson said, asserting that politicians would be more responsive when approached by a single group representing numerous chambers.

Smoking bans, for example, would have been a good issue for the new business group to have been involved in, Olson said. The association could have taken part in discussions and made uniform recommendations on the bans, which have been passed in many Westside cities.

Olson said the interest of Edison and the three other utilities leading the effort--The Gas Co., Pacific Bell and GTE--is similar to that of all prospective members of the association: to prevent business flight and improve the local economy.

The group says numerous cross-border problems are worsening the local business climate--Santa Monica Boulevard traffic backing up from West Hollywood into Beverly Hills, panhandlers staking out corners in Hollywood and Venice, crime throughout the Westside.

Although no single project is on the association's agenda so far, one group member hopes to drum up support for light-rail transit service on the Exposition line, the Southern Pacific railroad right of way that runs east and west parallel to Santa Monica Boulevard.

At an initial meeting of more than a dozen local chambers last month, it was determined that a key priority of Westside communities is to promote the entertainment industry, said California Film Commission Director Patti Stolkin Archuletta, who attended the meeting.

The industry's impact on the local economy is undeniable, she said, pointing out that the Westside is home to Fox, Sony and Paramount studios, and a proliferation of related businesses including post-production, audio and special-effects companies.

"People are finally getting away from provincial thinking, and are starting to see things regionally," Archuletta said. "They are beginning to work on regional solutions."

The drive to create an association of Westside chambers follows similar efforts elsewhere in the Los Angeles area. South Bay chambers have banded together to address problems affecting the aerospace industry, and business organizations in Ventura County also have joined forces, Olson said.

In fact, the new Westside Assn. of Chambers marks the second time local chambers have tried to present a common front.

Beginning in 1985, an association of Westside chambers was created and addressed a range of regional issues over a two-year period. Among other efforts, the group successfully fought a proposal to restrict the use of billboards in Los Angeles.

The organization disbanded in 1987 after a change in leadership, said Bill Welsh, a founder of that group who is now president emeritus of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and a participant in the new association.

Welsh and other organizers of the new group say business organizations must band together now because the riots of 1992, last year's fires and the Jan. 17 earthquake have dealt the Westside serious economic blows, heightening the importance of retaining businesses.

"In the '80s the economy was going great guns. During that time, businesses did not need to band together," said Olson. "Now they do."

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