The Los Angeles Planning Commission has delayed voting on a proposed expansion of the Westside Pavilion shopping center until the city attorney's office reviews an environmental impact report on the project.
The panel was scheduled to vote on the project June 30, but the city attorney's office asked for more time to review the report's analysis of increased traffic that would be generated by the expansion. The delay will also give city officials time to study whether plans to ease traffic on some neighboring streets would make conditions worse on other streets.
Commission President Daniel P. Garcia said the review will protect the city from legal challenges once the commission adopts the environmental report. "We thought it would be better to be safe than sorry," Garcia said.
Garcia said he expects the commission to vote in August on a zone change required for the shopping center expansion. The proposal will then go before the City Council for a final vote.
The new building would be across the street from the existing mall at the corner of Westwood and Pico boulevards in West Los Angeles. It would replace a vacant bowling alley and a bank on the southwest corner of the intersection.
The 3-story, 160,000-square-foot expansion proposed by developer Westfield Inc. would generate an average of 4,687 car trips per day, according to a traffic analysis included in the environmental impact report. The building would include 1,000 parking spaces, more than are required in the area by the city's parking code.
Westfield President Richard Green said the new building's extra parking spaces are needed to make up for a shortage of 456 parking spaces in the original mall, which was completed in 1985. That shortage has caused customers' tempers to flare on busy weekends, when parking is at a premium, Green said.
The parking situation "is appalling," Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky said. "We have the opportunity to do something to solve the problem. In solving the problem, I hope we don't create another one."
While Green argues that the new mall would address parking and traffic problems created by the existing shopping center, many neighbors complain that the building would bring even more traffic and illegal parking to their streets.
The neighbors and Yaroslavsky, who represents the area, want the project scaled back to the 105,000 square feet permitted under the current zoning. They also want to reduce from 71 feet to 20 feet the width of a proposed bridge over Westwood Boulevard connecting the two buildings. In addition, they oppose the developer's plans to build shops and an overhead car ramp on the bridge.
The smaller building would generate 273 car trips during the busiest hour of the weekday afternoon, contrasted with 415 trips for the larger building, according to a Department of Transportation study.
Green said at a Planning Commission hearing June 16 that he will pull out of the project if he is allowed to build only the smaller mall, because he would lose money on the smaller project.
"If you want us to try to take care of (the parking shortage), you've got to help us get the square footage," Green told the commissioners. "We will effectively step away from the development if we can't convince you to give us the 160,000 (square feet)."
The city attorney's office asked city officials to prepare a report specifying how extensively the new project would burden neighboring streets, some of which are already heavily traveled by Pavilion customers driving from one end of the mall to the other in search of parking.
"Until and unless such a plan can be provided, the traffic impact on the local streets and neighborhood must be considered adverse," Planning Department officials concluded in their environmental impact report on the project.
Many residents south of the mall worry about increased traffic on streets connecting Overland Avenue and Westwood Boulevard. Because motorists are not permitted to turn north from the mall's Overland Avenue exit, many drive several blocks south, then use residential streets to get to Westwood Boulevard, where they make right turns northward.
Officials and some residents fear that partially closing some of those streets, as proposed in the environmental impact report, would only push the traffic to other streets farther south.