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First in Series of Roundtables Focuses on Chatsworth Site

Protecting the zoning of an industrial area in Chatsworth was the immediate goal of a recent roundtable of Valley economic and business leaders called by Los Angeles City Councilman Greig Smith. Smith is looking at what changes can be made for the master plan, the guiding policy statement of how the industrial area will be used. “In the plan we can add specific language that this is a unique property we won’t allow to be downsized to another use,” Smith said. Smith called the first of what is expected to be a series of roundtables of business, economic and real estate experts on Feb. 9 in the face of layoffs resulting from the announcement of the closure of the Los Angeles Times Chatsworth printing facility and a Washington Mutual Inc. call center, and reduction in space and workforce by DeVry University, all I his council district. At the roundtable, the participants came to the conclusion that the layoffs were not part of a trend, Smith said. “We wanted to make sure we had the pulse of what’s going on over there,” Smith said. “These large companies don’t join the chambers, there is no association and no one person to talk to over there.” Dan Blake, director of the San Fernando Valley Economic Research Center at California State University Northridge, said the meeting was a step toward good planning for the Valley. It was better to identify potential uses for the property as it comes on the market rather than responding to any implications after the land gets directed to another use, Blake said, adding, “It brings more certainty to development.” The Chatsworth industrial area was described by Smith as one of the largest in Los Angeles and a premiere light industrial area. Some of the options proposed at the meeting of the type of industry that could go there included biotech, manufacturing and shipment of goods, Blake said. “This would be an opportunity for someone looking for floor space and looking for a lot of acreage,” Blake said. The rash of closures and layoffs began in December with the announcement by the L.A. Times that it would close its sprawling 26-acres printing facility as part of a consolidation of the company’s production facilities. The move will result in the loss of 110 jobs. That same month De Vry Inc. announced it would sell its 20-acre school campus in West Hills, which includes a 106,000-square-foot building. Washington Mutual Inc. is pulling a combined 1,600 employees from a call center and loan processing center in Chatsworth and moving those jobs to other cities. The next roundtable is scheduled for March 30 and Smith said that attendees will look to set definite goals of what the planned series of meetings should accomplish, Smith said. He eventually wants to include Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and executives from large corporations in the area in a future meeting, Smith added. But the first meeting did identify that the Chatsworth property should maintain its industrial zoning as a way to keep jobs in the Valley. There already is a good balance between housing and industrial uses and to make the printing plant property into housing was determined by the participants to be “a tragic mistake,” Smith said. But Roberto Barragan, president of the Valley Economic Development Center, a Van Nuys-based nonprofit business-development group, said the bigger threat to the area’s future uses comes from retail, not residential. “We need limitations and disincentives to not allow that conversion to retail,” Barragan said. While retail jobs can be at the higher end of the minimum wage scale and provide for a living wage, they are not the jobs that are desirable in the Valley, Barragan said. “There’s no way you can compare a job at a Jamba Juice to a job at a Washington Mutual,” Barragan said. “That’s why the threat to the L.A. Times property is the potential to make it retail.” While land available for housing is shrinking there is still more of that available in the Valley than what can be used for industrial uses, Blake said. “You don’t want to chew up the industrial-zoned land and then have to deal with where you are going to put job-generating business,” Blake said.

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