Secession Bid Raises Hopes For Resurgence of Boulevard

Spotlight on Van Nuys

By DARRELL SATZMAN
Staff Reporter

Perhaps no section of the city has as much riding on San Fernando Valley secession as the government center portion of Van Nuys Boulevard.

If Los Angeles voters approve the Valley's breakaway from the city in November, government center a well-worn cluster of local, state and federal administrative buildings and courthouses along a commercial stretch between Vanowen and Calvert streets will suddenly be downtown to the nation's sixth-largest city.

The change, if it happens, is expected to lead to substantial redevelopment along a mile-long stretch of Van Nuys that was once one of the Valley's main shopping destinations.

As yet, however, the anticipation of a new Valley city has not triggered a wave of speculative buying or lifted rents in the neighborhood.

"You try to be in the path of growth and redevelopment, and right now there aren't the indicators of growth and redevelopment there," said Harvey E. Green, president and chief executive of Marcus and Millichap, a Valley real estate investment brokerage.

The department stores, home furnishing shops and upscale restaurants that distinguished Van Nuys Boulevard in 1950s, '60s and '70s have given way to a jumble of discount retailers and bazaars largely serving the area's Latino community.

Still, many are anticipating changes in the months ahead.

"The neighborhood would be very different because of the type of business that's taking place there," said Richard Katz, a former state assemblyman and current executive board member of Valley VOTE, which has led the secession drive. "People would be coming from all over the Valley who need permitting or who have business with their councilmember or the mayor's office."

The merchants whose stores line the boulevard currently pay $1.25-$2.25 per square foot for commercial space on Van Nuys Boulevard. But if secession gets passed, prices would almost certainly go up, with increasing demand for office space and higher-end businesses. With scant office space in the area, there could be a need for new development.

Richard Close, chairman of Valley VOTE, said that a new Valley government would have between 9,000 and 11,000 employees right off the bat. Most would be in Van Nuys, with others at a likely government sub-center in Woodland Hills. Although many of those government employees already work in the Valley, secession would substantially increase their numbers. "The area is principally retail, and there would definitely be a need to build new offices that would house employees of a new government," Close said.

Ongoing changes

Green is more cautious when assessing the potential demand for new office space along Van Nuys. But he agreed that as the center of a new Valley city, the boulevard would be in for substantial changes.

"The opportunities are marvelous there to develop small, family businesses," Green said.

Even if secession does not happen, significant change is already afoot around the government center.

Next March, the City of Los Angeles is scheduled to complete an $11 million, 142,000-square-foot municipal building named for the late City Councilman Marvin Braude. The property, the centerpiece of an ongoing city improvement project, will house city offices, with the ground floor reserved for retail space.

The city also directed $3 million in federal grant money to replace bus benches, improve landscaping and repair dozens of building facades along Van Nuys, said Sandy Kievman, senior field deputy for City Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski.

Kievman said the city has also approved a plan that prohibits more of certain types of businesses from locating in the area. "There will be no more swap meets, no more pawn shops and no more adult-oriented businesses," she said.

That's encouraging news for Dennis Davis, whose Europa Bicycle Center has been located across the street from the government center for 21 years. After being repeatedly victimized by taggers, the city is installing graffiti-proof windows at his store.

"The hope is that if there is a new Valley city, this is a hub and it will draw more upscale businesses," Davis said. "We had it in the 1970s and the hope is it will swing up again. I'm ready."

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