In what is expected to end a three-year battle over the proposed expansion of the Westside Pavilion shopping mall, the Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to allow construction of a bridge over Westwood Boulevard linking the mall and the planned annex.
Richard E. Green, president of Westfield Inc., which is developing the annex, said after the vote that construction is expected to begin in January, about two years behind schedule because of neighborhood opposition. He said the annex and bridge are expected to open in early 1991.
"I am glad that we are through the process," Green said. "It is just unfortunate that we didn't get it settled earlier."
By unanimous vote, the council agreed to vacate its air rights over a 60-foot stretch of the city-owned boulevard, just south of Pico Boulevard. The two-lane automobile and pedestrian bridge will connect rooftop parking on the existing mall to parking atop the 105,000-square-foot expansion and adjoining parking garage.
City officials have seen the expansion as a long-overdue solution to severe parking problems at the popular shopping center and in surrounding residential neighborhoods. The addition will provide 1,000 new spaces, including 456 intended to make up for a shortage at the existing mall.
But the proposal has split the surrounding neighborhood. Some homeowners welcome the annex and bridge as the only way to keep shoppers from clogging residential streets. Others say the bridge will be unsightly and will not solve parking problems and that the finished development will amount to little more than a bigger mall with bigger headaches.
The two sides have waged their debate before countless city commissions and panels over the last three years. As a result, the proposed expansion has been drastically reduced in size, shops have been banned from the bridge and Westfield has posted a $500,000 bond to ensure that traffic improvements are made on nearby residential streets.
Tuesday's council action was largely a technical one since the council had already signaled its support for the bridge when it approved an ordinance in January allowing the annex. Homeowners opposed to the bridge, however, saw the air-rights issue as a last chance to delay, or possibly kill, the project.
During a public hearing before the council, one of the opponents cited seismic concerns about the bridge raised by the recent earthquake in the Bay Area. But most of the opponents concentrated on a city requirement that Westfield provide "temporary or permanent closure" of portions of Ayres Avenue on both sides of Westwood Boulevard as a condition of the January approval.
Westfield has not yet closed Ayres, which runs parallel to Pico immediately behind the mall and the proposed annex. The street is one of the most congested in the area because of shoppers looking for parking or shortcuts to and from the mall.
Westfield President Green and Westwood-area Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky have said the company will live up to the requirement. Yaroslavsky said in an interview after Tuesday's meeting that the city wants to experiment with traffic patterns to decide which sections of the street should be closed. He said the annex and bridge will not open until the issue has been resolved.
But some skeptical homeowners said the city should delay bridge construction until the requirement is met. Otherwise, they said, they have no guarantee that the neighborhood will get its due.
As has been the case at previous hearings, other homeowners disagreed.
"I live on Ayres. If anyone is interested in that cul-de-sac, it is me," said Terry Tippit, speaking on behalf of the 1,000-member West of Westwood homeowners group. "I feel the city has really scrutinized the project. . . . It is time now to move forward with it."
In stark contrast to previous meetings on the expansion, Tuesday's public hearing roused little interest on the City Council, which had thoroughly debated the issue last December and January before approving the ordinance for the annex. At one point the council appeared so disinterested that homeowner Sandy Brown, an opponent of the project, scolded members.
"I really doubt that anyone is listening," Brown told the council. "I have to tell you. I took time. I spent an hour and half on the freeway this morning trying to get down here. It would be nice to know that the people that are going to vote on this are listening."
Among the council members, only Yaroslavsky spoke. He reiterated his support for the project, saying it will solve problems in the neighborhood.
"We have to move on and recognize that some people are not in favor of this, and that is the way it is going to be," he said.