January 30, 1994 - From the January, 1994 issue

Tom Carroll: Jump-Starting Revitalization of Westwood Village

With the success of Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, many cities are looking to implement more pedestrian-oriented commercial/retail centers. The Planning Report recently spent an afternoon with Tom Carroll, former executive director of Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade and current executive director of the Westwood Village Management Corporation, to discuss the various challenges and models of commercial/retail revitalization.

As the executive director of the Westwood Village Management Corporation, could you share with us what the mission and agenda is of the corporation. 

We are a non-profit business promotion corporation, funded with jump-start funds from parking meter revenues from the city of Los Angeles for three years. The challenge for us is to advocate to the owners and merchants in Westwood the creation of a Business Improvement District. They would all have to agree to a business license tax assessment in order to have an annual fund of money, to sit around the table and determine what cooperative events and physical improvements they would like to have in order to run this area themselves. 

My mission here is to try and jump start the process and to implement four main projects in the village. Two public projects have been talked about for years but have not happened: a new parking structure in Westwood, and a streetscape improvement program. The commitment I’ve gotten from Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky was that he would in fact push for the new parking structure and the streetscape program. We want a focus for a pedestrian walking area with parking at the core of the area. We already have paring at the periphery. That's exciting, because when Westwood works, people will park a few blocks away and walk into the village. Right now when the village is not terribly active, a parking structure right in the heart of the village will create pedestrian activity around a triangle of Broxton, Westwood and Weyburn. Another piece of that triangle is Jerry's Deli, which is very successful in Encino, Marina Del Rey, and the Valley. They also bring other restaurants to the community wherever they are, Jerry's Deli will hopefully lead the restoration of our restaurant community. 

In terms of retail activity, the biggest retailer in this area, Sears Roebuck, left 40 years ago. Circuit City represents the first big retail shop in the village in 20 years. In terms of a quaint little village of shops, Circuit City is very important as an anchor. At our northeast corner is Bullock's and now at our southwest comer is Circuit City. So if you think of us as a shopping mall, which we are not, we have two anchors now. We are a college environment, so all the college kids will come down and buy their boomboxes. All the neighbors will come in to eat at Jerry's Deli. So these components help to reattract our audience back to the village.

What is the inducement that you find most persuasive for the business community to tax themselves to accomplish this? 

The village is a resource that is underutilized. It's like owning a fine piece of machinery that you don't maintain. If you are a farmer with a tractor you get your income from, but you don't maintain it properly, then you're an idiot. You've got a huge investment that is not producing any income for you. Why did Ike Starkman buy real estate in the village? Why does Steve Soboroff of Circuit City want to bring a store to Westwood? Because they believe Westwood is a blue-chip that is depressed in value. It's been running in neutral for the last ten years, and it’s the best in Los Angeles. Who else could have the University and Armand Hammer and all these assets? The market place at Century City is a wonderful development project. It draws us all, and it's a great place. We could also talk about Universal CityWalk, or non-City Walk, as I refer to it. My point is that things ebb and flow. You are up for a while then down, and you've got to work hard to stay up and level. But Westwood didn't do that. Westwood has been on a coast for a time and it hasn't taken care of itself. 

The worst thing about talking to people regarding business improvement districts is that the economy is down. So it’s not really good timing in that respect. But I still think I can advocate effectively by saying, 'If you are asked to pay just a little bit more, but everyone has to pay and everyone benefits from the activities, isn't it worthwhile?'

One of the advantages of a depressed economy is that you have time to think about the architecture and planning issues, the shape of the village you want to create. Talk a little bit about the models such as Third Street Promenade and Old Town Pasadena. Knowing the history of Westwood, what is the vision you see for the future? 

I see Third Street and Westwood as totally diametrically opposed. Let's talk about image. Santa Monica had no image. It had to be created. It might be easier to build an image than recover from an image. Westwood, on the other hand, has this sort of troubled image due to a couple of incidents that occurred several years ago. Fortunately, people are finally beginning to return to the village. 

Thus, the vision is to restore Westwood and its image. I would argue that Westwood is the original model of a planned village community. But we have neglected ourselves and now other models have sprung up. City Walk is an artificial model. Santa Monica works very nicely as a small downtown. What we are trying to do in Westwood is in many ways a historic restoration. The buildings and architecture in the area are unrivaled. The domes, spirals, clock towers and other architectural aspects of Westwood are deliberately built to be unusual. We don't want to go back to the 1929 vision. We want to manage the area ourselves in order to serve the three distinct areas surrounding Westwood: the university community, the neighborhood communities and the office worker/corporate core. Westwood went to hell when it neglected those markets, when it went after the teenage crowd. Then when a couple of incidents happened, there was no sense of what Westwood was. 

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What is the public/private partnership that has emerged out of your efforts, and could other communities hoping to revitalize commercial areas take advantage of this model? 

There are probably models better than the one I would offer, but the one I would offer is Third Street Promenade. Santa Monica worked out beautifully because it was a true public/ private partnership. The city of Santa Monica really deserves a lot of credit. They agreed to fund and create an outside group and empower them. The twenty-one people who hired me in 1984 were not the rent-control folks of Santa Monica. They were young attorneys, architects, community activists, and business folks, just a good group of people. The Specific Plan that we adopted in Santa Monica was the only pro-development document that has ever been adopted in Santa Monica and ever will be adopted in Santa Monica. It calls for development that allows for creativity within a tight development framework. The public determined to create an organization, then create a plan and adopt it. As a result, people like Bill Janss and others came to the table and we were able to successfully implement a good plan. I think Third Street is a wonderful orchestration of public/private cooperation. 

But as you've said, Santa Monica is a city of 100,000 with an accessible government. What's the fair model for a city like Los Angeles? 

I would suggest that areas like Westwood need a management entity much more than areas like Third – Street. Herein Westwood, there is no one running the area. I say this with all due respect to Councilman Yaroslavsky. He was the one who advocated our creation, to foster a more effective relationship between our area and his office and staff at City Hall. But this is a city that has local area management problems. I would suggest implementing local area management corporations in areas like Hollywood, Downtown, San Pedro, all over this city. The idea of creating local management groups with annual budgets that attract development and work with the city to coordinate delivery of services and approvals is something I think could work very well.

Could this type of model that you are describing also work in economically depressed inner-city neighborhoods? 

I think so. I think the model would work very differently in each area depending on the sum total of the parts of the area. Here in Westwood, we have a resource-rich cast of characters from the small merchants on Wilshire to the home office of Occidental Petroleum, to UCLA to the Armand Hammer Museum, surrounded by these shabby little neighborhoods called Bel Air, Brentwood, and Holmby. It's kind of ridiculous to say that we are in a neighborhood that needs to be revitalized. 

It's important to remember that lots of these business improvement districts in California got started in simple little cities like Chino and other small communities. The first business improvement district here in Los Angeles is going to be Miracle on Broadway, which will be followed by San Pedro. This isn’t government assistance but rather self-help, so there is no reason it can’t work in a variety of areas. 

What added value can the public-sector departments like planning, transportation, building and safety bring to your operation? 

I find it harder to do in Westwood than in Santa Monica. I work with all or those departments and they provide the services our area needs. I can't afford to build a bureaucracy when I represent a small group to advocate for a business improvement district I can't build a bureaucracy, nor do I want one. I have to go out and try to deal effectively with these departments to get things done. For instance, the planning department controls project approval. So I have to work with the planners to implement projects that I’ve brought to the area to make sure they can get through the system and don't get sidetracked by red tape. In some ways, I'm a public advocate who acts like a local elected official. But I negotiate my salary once a year, and once you agree to it, I do all these other deals as part of my responsibility for revitalizing Westwood Village. The agencies in bigger cities are more intractable. I thought Santa Monica was tough, but now it looks like Camelot to me.

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