Holiday Spirit Has Gone With the BID in Westwood

By DEBORAH BELGUM and DANNY KING
Staff Reporters

Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade is dressed up for the holidays as part of a $400,000 campaign to attract consumers. In Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive has holiday wreaths, lights and carolers to provide a festive flavor during the year's top shopping season.

And Westwood Village? The merchants there have no decorations for the first time in seven years after its business improvement district was disbanded.

With the decorations sitting in storage, merchants are grumbling that they may lose their competitive edge to other retail areas that have been able to deck their streets with bright lights and decorations.

"It would have been nice to have Broxton Avenue, where my store is located, lighted like it was last year," said Sheldon McArthur, owner of the Mystery Bookstore on Broxton Avenue. "But I'm hoping it won't affect sales."

The Village's business improvement district, whose contract was not renewed by 5th District Councilman Jack Weiss in September and which had an annual budget of more than $1 million, is undergoing a private audit that is expected to be complete by the end of the year.

The audit is part of a process to determine why the group is missing between $200,000 and $600,000, and comes amid word that former Westwood Village Community Alliance Executive Director Bob Walsh received a severance package of about $40,000, according to sources. Walsh left in September, following the decision not to renew the BID.

Phil Gabriel, a member of the business improvement district's board, confirmed the figure, noting that, "it'll come out in the audit."

No public records have been filed regarding Walsh's severance, which is believed to worth as much as three months of his salary.

"I've requested complete documentation of any severance Mr. Walsh was given," said Jay Handal, president of the West L.A. Chamber of Commerce, who said he had contacted the bid's office as well as the city clerk. "Nobody's office has responded."

Walsh could not be reached for comment, while city clerk Mike Carey did not return calls seeking comment.

"Until the audit is done, I'm not commenting," said Frank Ponder, chairman of the board for Westwood Village Community Alliance. "I'm tired of this."

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