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Village District Loses Support

Westwood: Councilman Jack Weiss agrees with merchants that the group, financed through assessments, had not improved the area's business climate.

September 27, 2002|MARTHA GROVES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles Councilman Jack Weiss said he has decided against renewing the 7-year-old city-chartered entity responsible for improving the business climate of Westwood Village.

As of Monday, the Westwood Village Community Alliance, as the business improvement district is known, will no longer be authorized to collect assessments from property owners in the area. However, its obligations to maintain and protect Westwood Village will continue through June.

Many merchants have expressed dissatisfaction with the Westwood district, which they say has failed miserably in its two prime jobs: to improve parking and to strengthen the area's retail mix. Weiss, who agreed with many critics, decided not to support an ordinance to keep the district alive.

"In my view, they've poured the better part of $10 million collected over the last several years down the drain," said Jeffrey Abell, owner of Sarah Leonard Fine Jewelers on Westwood Boulevard and a district board member for the last year.

Separately, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office has found that the district violated the Brown Act, the state's open-meeting law.

In a letter last week to the Westwood Village Community Alliance's board of directors, the public integrity division of the district attorney's office criticized the organization for failing to include notice on its board agenda of a financial settlement with three hotels in the area.

On Jan. 2, 2002, the organization's leaders agreed to pay a total of $14,675 to the Royal Palace Westwood Hotel, Hilgard House Hotel and Claremont Hotel, which basically constituted a refund of assessments the three had paid. The hotels had complained that they had not received an equal share of maintenance provided by the district.

Weiss called the district a "flawed institution" and said he will work with property owners to create a new organization to beautify and maintain the area.

Robert Walsh, the district's executive director, said the Brown Act matter has been referred to outside lawyers.

"We believe the finding was not complete and was based upon a very one-sided point of view furnished to that office," he said.

"We are exploring it further," he added.

As to whether Walsh would remain with a reconfigured district, he said: "There are options for the city and for the community to consider in the weeks ahead. I, too, will also consider the options available to me."

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