Opinion: Let’s Consider Other Ideas for Using the Former Aaron Brothers Retail Space

The now-vacant Aaron Brothers, 8383 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood

After a 20-year-plus run, Aaron Brothers has moved out of the retail space at the city’s first municipal parking structure at 8383 Santa Monica Blvd. We should be grateful that we had a tenant as reliable as that to help defray the costs of construction. But times have changed, and today there is a glut of retail space in most of the mixed-use buildings along Santa Monica Boulevard.

At the next City Council meeting, Councilmember Lindsay Horvath will suggest that rather than attempt to lease the now-vacant space, the city avail itself of this opportunity to create an “intergenerational community center.”

Horvath has long bemoaned the unseemly vacancy rate in new mixed-use construction and has advocated that such space should be used to house community-serving non-profits. In the current market, it makes sense that the city not attempt to rent the empty space at the parking structure and compete with the glut of vacant space.

But, in all due respect, an intergenerational community center sounds a lot like a solution is search of a problem.

I applaud Horvath’s initiative in opening up a discussion about practical as well as creative uses of this space. At 7,500 square feet, this site could accommodate a number of the city’s needs.

First, we should consider the fact that City Hall no longer accommodates all of our staff and that we are leasing office space along Sant Monica Boulevard. Maybe it would make sense to relocated Rent Stabilization or our Transportation Department to the parking structure site, which is within easy walking distance from City Hall. There is a very limited amount of reasonably priced office space in the city, and there is no reason for us to rent when we own space.

Second, there is a lack of meeting space at City Hall. I have attended several public hearings in that claustrophobic meeting room on the first floor that accommodates less than a dozen seats for the audience. I served on the city’s East Side Advisory Task Force, which met in that space despite our repeated complains that the room was inadequate as well as inconvenient.
Nothing says more about the city’s actual commitment to open public processes than the fact that we continue to use this room for important public hearings. The room was so tiny that interested members of the public often could not find a place to sit and simply left in frustration rather than participate in the meeting.

The retail space at the parking structure has plenty of room for a spacious meeting space that would have on-site parking and would be within walking distance for thousands of residents. During the summer it has been almost impossible to find parking for City Council and commission meetings held in the building West Hollywood Park. We could at least have space that could adequately serve most commission and board meetings at the parking structure.

Furthermore, there is a huge demand for meeting space throughout the city. A meeting place at the parking structure could easily be filled just with meetings serving our recovery community. Plenty of people would be relieved to avoid the congestion and parking headaches of the meeting sites on Robertson. Meeting space in the center of town just makes sense.

Third, we could make some of the space available for local non-profits rather than creating an entire new program. SOVA Food Bank had to relocate far outside the city when it lost its lease on La Brea Avenue. SOVA is a beloved and essential non-profit that should be within the city. Having a highly visible site along Santa Monica Boulevard would not only be convenient for many residents, it could remind us of our need to donate and support struggling members of our community. There are other deserving non-profits in need, perhaps even the AHF Pharmacy.

If the city were inclined to create a new program, I would suggest that we use a portion of the vacant space as a homeless services drop-in center. While I know this is probably the least popular suggestion I could make, a physical site is an important missing factor from our homeless outreach program.

A homeless drop-in center could be relatively small but could provide essential services that would attract folks who need to be hooked up with social services. It could offer water, warm coffee, power bars and toiletries such as shampoo and razors to incentivize visitors. It would be an opportunity to provide people with laundry detergent or feminine hygiene products, items that are hard to distribute on the street. It could offer a brief respite for homeless people needing a place to cool down or get out of the rain. It would also offer those of us so inclined to bring in necessary items that homeless people might not be able to afford. The nice thing about this location is that it would be close enough to City Hall for the City Manager to monitor the site to ensure it does not become an attractive nuisance.

This is item 5(b) on Tuesday’s City Council agenda. I hope that those of you that have other creative uses for this site make your views known to City Council. I applaud Councilmember Horvath for thinking outside the box and fostering a public discussion on this issue.

  1. HOLD ON, didn’t the author write
    “We should be grateful that we had a tenant as reliable as that to help defray the costs of construction.”

    So is the structure and retail space now paid off? Why not lower the cost and attract a business to actually pay rent? Amazing how that works. Commercial rents in West Hollywood are sky high, no parking for customers, permit red tape…these real estate people are selling prospective retailers a load of crap when it comes to running a business and leasing in West Hollywood.

    Now, why would we create another tax payer funded feel good service? The idea of moving other city services here is a good one, however, also makes me wonder if we are bloated with city services which I never get served anything.

  2. i love the idea of a shelter and soup kitchen for the homeless at this location. the upper garage can also be a gathering safe space for homeless travelers and their belongings. being so close to city hall allows for access to learn about city services and allow the city to help these poor souls reunite with family and loved ones. maybe the city can allow for phone and computer services for the homeless to apply for jobs and services.
    i read that in Oregon, a city has set up a farmers market for the homeless to sell crafts and treasures they have gathered and collected. what a wonderful way for the area residents to get better acquainted with their homeless neighbors, build understanding and compassion and perhaps, new friendships.
    wouldn’t it be wonderful if local neighbors, after getting to know someone struggling, might even consider inviting a homeless person into their home a s a room mate?

  3. The homeless shelter is perfect and so badly needed. Surely the liberal WeHo residents would not be against it RIGHT????

    1. He didn’t say a shelter, he said a drop -in center. This would not be suited to be a shelter. It would cost a lot to turn it into a living space. How about you take a homeless person into your home and give them shelter? One less person on the street and one person served. Thanks.

  4. No to a homeless shelter. Stop inviting them into our community. And stop trying to guilt us into it. We have had enough.

  5. There actually are residents of West Hollywood who would welcome a humane response to the homeless crisis, and reject the NIMBY response in all of it’s sad permutations. Homelessness is a regional, indeed national issue and can’t be swept under the rug by sweeping it elsewhere. Let’s do our part, WeHo!

  6. Steve, I like your thought process on this. I have long thought it would be a good idea if The City were able to provide low cost office rental space for non-profits that serve our residents. We’ve long since lost AIDS Research Alliance, Aid for AIDS, PAWS LA and Being Alive probably wouldn’t be here if not for The City’s help. So, I agree, rental office space for non-profits and perhaps some community meeting spaces. I’m not sure the Recovery Center would want to relocate from its existing space it just moved back into and parking is relatively abundant at the park’s structure.
    As for services for the homeless population, West Hollywood already has a five day a week drop in center for social services for them. It’s at the West Hollywood Library, I think it’s 11-2, with a different social service provider present each day. If someone shows up looking for service on a Tuesday but really would benefit from the social service provider that’s there on Wednesday, the staff on hand takes care of getting them towards the appropriate assistance.

  7. I was on board with your excellent suggestions until the homeless center comments. I live near Gelson’s in West Hollywood. Homeowners and renters will not accept any proposal that attracts more homeless men and women to the neighborhood.

  8. How about a drop-off center for illegal scooters? Residents can be deputized to pick-up illegally parked scooters from all over the city and drop them off at this location. (Maybe offer a drop-off value of $15 per scooter) The scooters can then be returned to the scooter companies after they pay the $800 impoundment fee.

    This could bring in as much as $800,000 a month to the city. It’s a great way to support public safety, un-clutter our sidewalks and protect the pedestrian experience.

  9. Or, the city could convert that space into a temporary housing and permanent feeding and showering station for the multiplying homeless human beings our wealthy city allows to amble aimlessly in a shameful convoy of apathy and neglect. Instead of putting up cute signs on bus stops and singing your own praises in newspapers for everything you (the city government) purport to being doing about the problem, you could actually put our money where their (the homeless) mouths are and actually do something meaningful. Or have we forgotten the core tenets that constitute West Hollywood’s raison d’etre ?

    1. Or you could take them to your house for a nice meal and shower. That would help. Love to see you try to get one of the homeless that are strewn around the city, out of their minds, or strung out, to go to your house. I dare you. Stop blaming the city, they have plenty of services. You cannot make the homeless do anything they do not want to do. Period.

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