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Tuesday, Oct 3, 2023

But if We Build It, They May Come

I attended the hearing a few weeks ago in which the public got to see – and react to – the ambitious redevelopment plans for the almost-dead Westfield Promenade shopping center. Clearly, the proposed stadium is creating the most heartache. That’s primarily because no one knows what it will be used for. As one exasperated neighbor put it: since the main use of the stadium is unknown, it’s difficult to know whether to support it or oppose it. It’s one thing if a minor league baseball team is the main tenant. It’s another if the venue is used primarily for a string of raucous, packed-to-the-rafters, open-air concerts that last well into the night and attract gangs. The proposed stadium has 15,000 seats. That’s 50 percent greater than the Galen Center and only a couple thousand seats less than the Forum in Inglewood. One woman said that since the average minor league baseball game only attracts 3,000-4,000 spectators, something more than baseball apparently is envisioned. But what, exactly? Since there’s no answer, some of the neighbors at the meeting got squirmy when the stadium was being discussed. Folks around Woodland Hills are hearing that whispered line from the old movie: Build it, and they will come. But in this case, we don’t know who “they” is. And we may not want them to come. I feel sympathy for the developer, the former Westfield Corp. and now Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield. It envisioned a Dodgers minor league team would play there. That would be terrific, but it’s not possible because the Los Angeles Angels nixed that notion. (In-market major league teams have veto power over minor league teams moving into their market.) But Westfield proceeded with the stadium idea in hopes that some sports team would call it home. However, the longer the uncertainty has lingered, the squirmier those nearby residents have gotten. Another objection to the stadium is traffic. Neighbors worry that the streets and the 101 Freeway will be jammed at night after events – whatever those events may be – and permanently damage the residential character of the surrounding area. Even City Councilman Bob Blumenfield has “serious concerns” about the stadium because of the traffic it will generate. As a result, he told Business Journal reporter Michael Aushenker that he doesn’t support the stadium part of the proposal. That’s saying something because Blumenfield is the one who championed turning the Warner Center area into the downtown of the West Valley by helping to create the 2035 Plan. Funny, but Westfield argues that the stadium, on the whole, will lessen or at least shift traffic. By not building an office tower or mixed-use complex on the site of the stadium, all that daytime traffic that would be generated will not exist. In a sense, what would be increased daytime traffic will be shifted to the evening, thanks to the stadium. But this whole debate gets at a bigger issue, one that’s only now starting to shock the business community as well as neighbors. It’s this: The city-approved 2035 Plan to turn the suburban-like Warner Center area into an urban-like zone will dramatically densify the area. Consider that Westfield’s Promenade plan calls for not only the stadium (at Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Oxnard Street), but two hotels, 1,400 residential units, 244,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space, and a 25 story office tower that will equal the tallest of the five office towers of the Warner Center office complex just to the south. That’s a lot to shoehorn onto 34 acres. At the meeting, the Westfield presenters pointed out several times that their proposal for the Promenade is 1 million square feet less than what the city will allow under its 2035 Plan. But that seemed disquieting for some folks. They asked: What is the city doing? That’s too much. I had a meal with a longtime local civic leader who kept shaking his head. He said he’s always been pro-development and realizes progress has a cost. However, he said, this may be too much. Can the streets handle all those cars? The schools all those kids? The water infrastructure? The sewers? And it wasn’t so much the Promenade project he was fretting about but the old Rocketdyne property a few blocks north. It is bigger – 47 acres – and owned by a mega-mall developer. The destiny of that parcel is unknown, but what happens if that gets built out – and the developer uses all the square footage it is allowed under the 2035 Plan? He squirmed as he thought about the impacts – just like those folks at the meeting. Me? I’m still in the progress-has-its-costs camp. We must build to create housing and space for companies to grow. But I also can see how some in that camp are starting to squirm. Charles Crumpley is editor and publisher of the Business Journal. He can be reached at ccrumpley@sfvbj.com.

Charles Crumpley
Charles Crumpley
Charles Crumpley has been the editor and publisher of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal since March 2016. In June 2021, it was named the best business journal of its size in the country – the fourth time in the last 5 years it won that honor. Crumpley was named best columnist – also for the fourth time in the last 5 years. He serves on two business-supporting boards and has won awards for his civic involvement. Crumpley, a former newspaper reporter, won several national awards and fellowships for his work, and he was a Fulbright scholar to Japan.

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