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Pedestrian District Gets Its Walking Papers : Development: Planners reject proposal for a neighborhood- oriented area around the Westside Pavilion after pleas that it would be bad for business.


RANCHO PARK — In a time of sluggish growth and apprehension that Los Angeles might not be sufficiently business-friendly, the City Planning Commission last week decided to do a group of Westside merchants a favor.

Responding to the pleas of dozens of Westside commercial property owners and business people, the commission voted 3 to 1 Thursday against implementing the city's first pedestrian-oriented district on commercial streets near the Westside Pavilion.

"The business community throughout Los Angeles is in dire straits and to impede their ability to do business will be irresponsible," said commission Vice President Lydia H. Kennard before announcing her intention to vote against the proposed district.

The district, which had been endorsed by area residents and homeowners, as well as Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, would have imposed commercial height and land-use restrictions along Pico and Westwood boulevards and on Overland Avenue. Supporters said it would have eased traffic along those congested arteries and prohibited businesses such as auto repair and machine shops near residential areas. It would also have been a step forward in a citywide effort to make areas more neighborhood-oriented.

But commercial property owners opposed the district, calling it too restrictive and impractical to implement. Ben Reznik, legal counsel for the Pico Westwood Property Owners' Assn., termed the district "a good idea in a wrong place." According to Reznik, such a district would not only discourage new businesses from moving into the area, but also do little to reduce regional traffic congestion because most motorists drive through the area on their way to other destinations.

"To think that you can create an artificial pedestrian environment in an area where there are thousands of cars going to Century City, the freeway and the Westside Pavilion is absurd," Reznik said. "Traffic is not going to be reduced one iota by implementing this district."

The Westwood/Pico Boulevard district would have been the city's first since the City Council approved an ordinance in July, 1992, to allow such districts. Among other things, the new rules would have required that 75% of the ground floor space of new commercial establishments be used for retail stores and that no surface parking be permitted within 50 feet of the street. Business that generate heavy traffic, such as movie theaters and nightclubs, would have been prohibited in the area. Height limits of 25 feet were proposed for commercial buildings next to single-family homes.

Despite the new restrictions, district supporters said rules took into account the concerns of the area's small businesses. "Ninety-six percent of what would be on the street today would be able to stay, no questions, no problems," said Terri Tippit, a board member of the West of Westwood Homeowners Assn.

Galanter, whose district includes the West Los Angeles-Rancho Park area that would have been affected, said the arguments of district opponents were often illogical to her but that she understood the new pro-development sentiment.

"There's a lot of knee-jerk stuff going on right now that any restriction is too restrictive," said Galanter, adding that she intends to appeal the commission's decision.

Although the commission's vote does not eliminate the possibility of the district in West Los Angeles-Rancho Park area, it does mean that it would now need to be approved by 10 members of the City Council instead of a simple majority. Tippit, who calls the Westwood/Pico district a test case, said she was not optimistic about mustering enough votes for approval.

"If this had happened a year ago, this would have sailed through," she said. "We were in the wrong place at the wrong time."

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