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Spotlight on Westlake

By JEANNETTE DeSANTIS Contributing Reporter Right in the heart of the Valley’s “Technology Corridor” lies Westlake Village, where crime is low, the quality of life is high and the small-town feel makes it an ideal setting for a variety of high-tech, health care and biotech firms. Occasionally, it can even be too much of a good thing. Westlake Village’s high cost of living makes recruiting employees somewhat difficult, especially workers being recruited from lower-cost states. “The cost of living has been a problem for us,” said Robert Fischer, president of Optics I Inc., a maker of computer display terminal devices. “In our field of optics, we have to hire from across the country. One man living in a nice house in Knoxville, Tenn. found the cost of living too expensive here compared to where he lived and didn’t want to relocate,” he said. In Westlake Village, the average home sells for $395,000 and custom homes go for as much as $2.5 million. The average household income is $70,000 in the city, compared with $53,000 for California as a whole. But Lyn Perry, chairman of the Westlake Village Chamber of Commerce, said you get what you pay for. “Obviously someone who moves from New Jersey is in for some culture shock and will end up paying 50 percent more for one-sixth of the square footage,” said Perry. “But when you move to Westlake Village, you have one of the finest climates in the world. You are paying for the security and the high quality of life, in a community near the ocean, an hour from Los Angeles, which is near two airports, several theme parks, with some of the finest golf courses in the world. You are paying for location,” he said. “Just the name of Westlake Village has a very positive ring to it,” said Joseph Cabral, president of Chatsworth Products, a computer hardware company. That small-town feel is part of the draw for businesses in Westlake Village, located 38 miles west of downtown Los Angeles. “It’s a friendly community, there is easy access to the (Ventura) freeway and it’s within close proximity of the Valley,” said Cabral. “If we need certain components we can easily make the trip into the city in a day,” Fischer said. “And because we do business with the Hollywood crowd it’s important to be near them and have significant camera stores nearby.” While Westlake Village provides easy access to urban areas, it remains quintessential suburbia. “We get businesses to relocate here because it is very desirable to live and work in Westlake Village,” said City Manager Ray Taylor. “There is a certain ambiance here because we have very high standards for everything from our roadways to our schools.” Westlake Village is part of the Las Virgenes Unified School District, in which some schools have received the California Distinguished School and national Blue Ribbon awards. The city, with a population of 7,800, also has a highly educated pool of workers. About 44 percent of its residents have completed 16 years or more of schooling and half of all residents work in executive or professional occupations, according to the most recent Census data. The original master-planned community of Westlake Village actually straddles the L.A.-Ventura county line. So the city, which incorporated in 1981, is only made up of that half of the original master-planned community that lies in Los Angeles County. The half that lies in Ventura County is part of the city of Thousand Oaks. “When incorporation started, we really had no choice,” said City Manager Taylor. “Occasionally the boundaries do cause some confusion, mostly for new residents who are looking for city services.” Although Westlake Village is young (its oldest neighborhood is only about 30 years old), it is already almost fully built out, according to Taylor. Westlake North, a 130-acre area north of the Ventura Freeway, is about the only section of the city where more development will be allowed, under the city’s existing general plan. So far, the only completed structure in Westlake North is a 130,000-square-foot Costco store. Another 160,000 square feet of retail space is currently under construction there, and is slated for completion in June 1998. The city’s rapidly expanding retail base has done wonders for its tax coffers. In fiscal 1995-96, the city garnered $1.19 million in sales tax revenues, Taylor said. Costco opened in fiscal 1996-97, helping to boost the city’s sales tax revenues to $1.6 million. Taylor is projecting $1.7 million in the current fiscal year and $1.8 million for fiscal 1998-99, as the new retail space comes on line. In addition to the new retail space, 1 million square feet of office space has been designated in the general plan for the Westlake North area. “With that there will be little vacant land left in the city,” said Taylor. “Most land that is left is zoned to remain as open space.” The office space may be needed before long. Only about 6 percent of the 2.3 million square feet of office space in the city is vacant, according to Michael Slater, a broker with CB Commercial Real Estate Group. That makes Westlake Village one of the tightest office markets in Los Angeles County. Perry said the low vacancy rate is due to a joint effort between the chamber and the City Council to market the city as pro-business. “We try to be pro-business at all levels, for the small and large businesses,” he said. The Westlake City Council promotes itself as pro-business by pointing to its “fast-track” development approval process. The process is facilitated by the fact that the council handles planning issues itself without depending on a planning commission. The city also imposes no taxes on business licenses or business utilities. “We have corporations moving their headquarters here because of that pro-business philosophy,” said Westlake Village Mayor Doug Yarrow. “And because of that, we are in good shape financially, with $5 million in reserves in the general fund.”

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