Thu, Aug

“Costco Truck Stop” at Warner Center Threatens Dennis Zine’s Legacy

PLANNING LA - There are few sites in Los Angeles with the development potential — and the potential to change a regional area for the better — than Warner Center in Woodland Hills.

While other parts of the city are shedding population, the West Valley is growing, a testament to the appeal of attractive, livable suburban communities with some of our best public schools and close proximity to several major regional employers … not to mention access to the California Coast up the freeway or down Topanga.

Before the start of the Great Recession, the “Village at Westfield Topanga” was heading in the right direction, proposed to be a pedestrian-friendly development that would strengthen and bring cohesion to many of the area’s disparate elements by, among other things, literally bridging two shopping centers to allow patrons easy access without moving their cars.

Imagine that: A significant town center for the West Valley at Warner Center with a mix of commercial uses, public space and, potentially, various residential housing types.  Such a town center could feature activities that are oriented to the street (versus to parking lots), leverage the site’s prime location at a Metro transit hub (the Orange Line), and serve as a magnet for businesses, professionals and residents from all over the region.  It’s a compelling vision that would create incredible long-term value for the people of Los Angeles.

But then the economy turned down.  Owners of the Village at Westfield Topanga confronted a choice: Think long term, and build out the planned development in phases, or toss the vision and build for today.

Sadly, short-term thinking appears to be winning out.

In the current plan, the bridge over Victory Boulevard is gone.  A potential two-story retail store that would have anchored the area bounded by Topanga, Victory and Owensmouth has been replaced by a one-story big-box store (Costco), with surface parking, to be built out to the property line and walled off from the street.  A gas station with up to 20 pumps (which I affectionately call the “Costco Truck Stop”) is proposed at the intersection of Victory and Owensmouth.  Pedestrians, including transit riders, and cyclists, are dissed by the new plan; they are left to dodge the vehicular traffic on their own, apparently.

For the people of Woodland Hills who care about the future of their neighborhood and this regional center, the new development plan is a big step backwards.  The plan makes it more difficult, if not impossible, to realize the emerging vision for Warner Center.  We’ll be less likely to see desirable uses, be they commercial or residential, as a result … and less likely to see the type of pedestrian-friendly streetscape and density that should characterize this significant location.

Will the current development plan ultimately be approved?  It remains to be seen.  But one thing is for sure:  Dennis Zine’s legacy hangs in the balance.  Zine is the Los Angeles councilman who represents the area.  He is termed out in two years.

With the July 4th holiday looming, residents of Canoga Park, Reseda, Tarzana, West Hills, Winnetka and Woodland Hills are looking forward to “Dennis P. Zine’s July 4th Extravaganza,” an annual event.  It may not be fireworks for which Zine is remembered, however.  Rather, if it comes to pass, the sprawling warehouse store and Costco Truck Stop at Warner Center will stand as an ever-present monument to lowest-common-denominator development, and to what could have been.

(Cary Brazeman, a CityWatch contributor, is a former executive with CB Richard Ellis in Los Angeles, and founder of LA Neighbors United.  Contact him at [email protected] or through www.LAneighbors.org .)  -cw

Tags: Warner Center, Village at Westfield Topanga, West Valley, planning, Cosco, Woodland Hills

Vol 9 Issue 51
Pub: June 28, 2011