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Friday, Jun 21, 2024

Spotlight

WADE DANIELS Staff Reporter With the closure of a Hughes Aircraft missile division in 1994 and the more recent shuttering of the headquarters of Coast Federal Savings, many of the small merchants in this affluent West Valley community have fallen on hard times. Mo Kazrouni, owner of Mo’s Sub Shop located about a block from the former Hughes site saw a 40 percent drop in business when Hughes and its 1,900 local employees moved away. “There hasn’t been a rush hour for a long time. We mainly keep going on business from our old customers who pass by,” he said. Rita Humm, owner of the West Hills Rubber Stamp Shoppe, which is also located near the former Hughes site, agreed times have been tough. “It’s not been nearly the same for most merchants that I know of since Hughes moved away,” she said. Conditions improved in 1996 when Coast Federal Savings bought 35 acres of the 86-acre former Hughes site, bringing 850 employees. But the boost turned out to be short lived. Coast was acquired by H.F. Ahmanson & Co. and the property was vacated in February. Ahmanson has hired commercial real estate brokerage firm Cushman & Wakefield of California Inc. to find a buyer for that entire 35-acre site, which contains 379,000 square feet of empty office space. But Kazrouni, Humm and other shop owners have reason for hope. There are several development projects in the works for the other 51 acres of the former Hughes site, and those projects together are expected to bring 4,000 new jobs to the area. The largest of the three projects is being developed by a partnership between Beverly Hills-based Regent Properties Inc. and Burbank-based Shamrock Holdings of California. That partnership is building 590,000 square feet of office space on its 30-acre parcel, where it projects 2,500 people will work. The partnership has already landed a major tenant for the project, with Boeing Co. signing a lease in May for 123,000 square feet. The project will be ready for move-in by the end of the year, the developer said. The presence of these Boeing workers alone would provide new life to the area, merchants said. “We are waiting for the new companies to come in,” said Kazrouni. The second project being developed on the former Hughes site is a 16-acre college campus being built by Chicago-based Devry Inc., which plans to employ 150 full-time and 350 part-time people there. Starting this fall, as many as 1,200 students a day are expected to attend school there. The other land owner at the former Hughes property is the Los Angeles Police Department, which is establishing a 911 dispatch center on its five acres. “Those new employees will boost (retail sales) in that area considerably,” said Don Leehey, vice president of the Canoga Park/West Hills Chamber of Commerce. “The big question is, who will buy the Coast Federal property?” Not all of West Hills’ retail business hinges on what happens with new office developments in the area. In addition to a smattering of mom-and-pop stores, the community has two large shopping centers located a mile or so away from the former Hughes site the Fallbrook Mall and Platt Village. There is no industrial business in the community. “Fallbrook has a Starbuck’s and a Gelson’s and, like Platt, mostly serves the West Hills residents,” said Ron Clary, immediate past president of the Canoga Park/West Hills Chamber of Commerce. “The residents tend toward the affluent.” The affluence of West Hills residents, who number about 38,000, is a big part of the reason the community exists at all. Until the mid-1980s, West Hills was simply the wealthier, western edge of Canoga Park. But in 1987, homeowners lobbied to break away, forming their own community. Business owners in the new community formed a chamber of commerce. But the chamber couldn’t gather enough support to make the organization viable, and merged with the Canoga Park chamber in the early 1990s. “We were struggling because some businesses like the Fallbrook Mall wouldn’t join us. They wanted to stay part of Canoga Park,” said Leehey. Other than the new office developments, little newly created business is foreseen for West Hills. Mainly, this is because there is no room to build, said Shelly Samborsky, president of the Canoga Park/West Hills Chamber of Commerce. “There’s a tremendous amount of new houses in the area, but no large parcel of land we know of for commercial use,” Samborsky said. “It’s possible that some land owner is keeping a (commercially zoned) piece of land quiet, but I doubt it.” Even if a proposal for a new commercial project comes along, the developer would face a tough battle getting it past neighbors, Clary said. “It seems like the community would prefer to keep the area not so densely developed,” Clary said. “Anyone who wants to develop (a new commercial area) would likely face a lot of opposition from the community.”

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