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Friday, Jul 12, 2024

The Valley’s Future Economic Hub

If you read the previous issue of the Business Journal, you may have seen the Valley Economic Forecast section in which economists forecast 3.4 percent GDP growth this year in the Los Angeles portion of the San Fernando Valley – faster than about any other region in the state not named Silicon Valley. That’s the fourth straight year of unalloyed economic overperformance by the San Fernando Valley, leading Matthew Fienup, the executive director of California Lutheran University’s Center for Economic Research and Forecasting and the economist who analyzes the local scene for the Business Journal, to declare the Valley a “true economic hotspot.” After Fienup finished releasing his findings at our breakfast event a few weeks ago and the crowd was thinning out, one man offhandedly remarked to me on his way out that he was particularly enthused because the Valley was “just getting started.” Oh yeah? How so? Well, he explained, since the Warner Center area is being transformed into a kind of little downtown, it means more residents and businesses will pack into the West Valley. That will lead to more activity and growth, boosting the Valley’s economy even more. His observation stuck with me, so I began looking back on the development occurring around Warner Center. Once you take it all in, it is impressive. Just counting up the announced living units in the Warner Center area of Woodland Hills in recent years – including those in the planning stages through the recently finished – amounts to at least 6,000. One of the most active residential developers in the area is California Home Builders, which is hammering away on four complexes under the brand name “Q” totaling 1,400 units. One of its more conspicuous complexes now under construction is on Topanga Canyon Boulevard directly west across the street from the Village shopping center. In all, a couple of dozen projects have been announced in the last few years for the Warner Center area, the big daddy being the $1.5 billion planned makeover of the nearly dead Promenade shopping mall. That plan calls for 1,400 condo and apartment units, two hotels, a park, gobs of restaurant and retail space plus office buildings – the largest being a 25-floor tower northwest of Oxnard Street and Owensmouth Avenue. That’s the project notable for proposing a 15,000-seat stadium that has since been chopped in half to 7,500 seats. And a few blocks to the southeast of the Promenade, Adler Realty Investments Inc. plans to scrape a string of low-slung office buildings at Burbank Boulevard and De Soto Avenue, just north of the Kaiser Permanente Woodland Hills Medical Center, and construct a mixed-use complex. It is planned to have nine buildings with more than 1,000 living units, another hotel and several office towers including a 24-story one. Why this flurry of construction? Because the Los Angeles City Council several years ago approved what’s called the Warner Center 2035 Plan. Championed by City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, it temporarily reduces (until 2035) regulations and long permitting processes so builders can actually build. For example, residential builders are not required to include affordable units; indeed, none of the aforementioned projects include any. (Although the mandate to include affordable units may be re-imposed soon.) So, Warner Center appears to be on its way to becoming to the Valley what Century City has long been to the Westside of Los Angeles: a kind of regional downtown. Such a transformation comes at a price, of course. Residents throughout the Woodland Hills area have complained, quite understandably, about the urbanization of what has been a suburban neighborhood, albeit a fairly dense one with office towers and scads of retail. (It was because of those complaints that the size of the proposed stadium was scaled back and the requirement for affordable units may return.) But if Warner Center is built out as envisioned and if more businesses and people move there and if the area is generally appealing and successful, then yes, it could help power the economy of the Valley for years into our future. Economically, the Valley may indeed just be getting started.

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