WOODLAND HILLS, Calif.—Cheers of celebration and sighs of relief marked the March 24 groundbreaking ceremony of the Village at Westfield Topanga in Woodland Hills. The ambitious $350 million mixed-use project will feature a Costco and 100 other shops and restaurants, creating 1,400 jobs for the Building Trades during construction and thousands of permanent jobs once the project is complete in late 2015.
Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council Executive Secretary Ron Miller said the achievement represented “a victory for everyone involved,” since the coalition supporting the project had to overcome many hurdles over several years, including most recently a lawsuit from a neighborhood association.
But Miller said that tenacity and the belief in progress won the day. “The political power of the Building Trades and our affiliates helped drive this forward,” he said. “We have a voice in City Hall, and we interjected Building Trades support at every step of the way.”
Painters and Allied Trades District Council 36 Business Manager Grant Mitchell said, “We’re happy to see the work start. Westfield has a relationship with unions, internationally.” The company is based in Australia.
Los Angeles City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield told “Building Trades News” that hiring union for such a vital project is essential. “We insisted on union labor,” said Blumenfield, whose Third District includes the Westfield site. “You get a better product, and it’s more reliable. The city has invested heavily in this project, so we insisted on union labor and livable wages.”
It’s Never Easy to Get to “Yes”
Blumenfield’s predecessor, Dennis Zine, described the daunting “bureaucracy, red tape and frustration” of the project’s journey through City Hall, but thanked Ron Miller and others for seeing it through. Twelfth District Councilmember Mitch Englander said with a project as large as the Village, it is “never easy to get to yes,” but that the result will be “truly a great thing for the region and the economy.”
Westfield Joint CEO Peter Lowy said his company acquired the 30-acre site at Victory and Topanga boulevards in 1994. “It took us 20 years to get here. It’s wonderful to be here after such a long journey.”
Numerous representatives of Building Trades local affiliated unions showed their support at the groundbreaking. IBEW Local 11 business agent Marc Greenfield said, “I’ve been looking forward to this day for at least five years. I’m glad it’s 100 percent union. That means the work will be done on time and on schedule. And it means jobs for our members.”
Adolph Navarro of UA Local 761 Plumbers and Fitters said it paid off to bring members to the many meetings and hearings on the project. “This was a long time in the making. We’ve been going to City Hall for years, so we’re excited.”
Tile, Marble and Terrazzo Layers Local 18 representative Pete Gerber agreed. “We’re a finish trade, so we’ll come in later, but this will be a lot of work.” Gerber said that hiring from the Building Trades is a sound investment. “It’s to Westfield’s advantage to use union, for the quality of work. We have a trained labor pool and no problem supplying workers for the job. Plus our members will spend their money in the mall once it’s built.”
Anchoring the West Valley
Westfield’s vice president for real estate development Larry Green said that community buy-in is crucial for an enterprise of this magnitude. “It’s important that we talk to our customers and neighbors, to make sure this works for them. But there’s a time for talk and a time for action, and today is about action.”
Iron Workers Local 433 business agent Martin Rodriguez said the construction work will demand top skill, since it must meet LEED Silver and California Green Building certification standards. “It’s not new to us. We’re not just jumping on the bandwagon—we’ve instituted many of the processes now being used.”
Rodriguez, who represents his local in the San Fernando Valley, said the region is producing exciting construction opportunities. “This project anchors the west end of the Valley for us as a destination for future businesses. Along with our work at Universal Studios, this project shows the Valley slowly but surely evolving from just an industrial center to a technical, retail and blue-collar hub.”
Timothy Barker, a journeyman with UA Local 761, said he could barely wait to start work. “I want to get on this job. We finally got it. It’s been a long time coming, but better late than never.”