LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – The largest owner and operator of indoor malls in Los Angeles County leveled criticism at officials Friday over their handling of COVID-19 as it relates to retailers.
A letter from Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW) addressed to the Board of Supervisors slammed the county’s policy on reopening indoor malls as “arbitrary”, adding that “indoor malls are safer.”
The letter reads in part: “There is no doubt that indoor malls are as safe, if not safer, than hair salons, which the County has seen fit to allow to operate while refusing indoor malls the same right. The focus on retail is itself perplexing as the vast majority of COVID–19 cases arise outside the retail environment, which makes the Board’s position even more challenging to accept.”
Citing what it calls a “staggering” 16.3% increase in unemployment county-wide over the last year, the letter says L.A. County’s decision to break ranks with California guidelines for reopening indoor malls “allowing functionally equivalent, large retailers to operate inflicts undue hardship on URW, our tenants, and the thousands of Angelenos whose livelihoods depend on indoor malls being open.”
URW has more than 1,300 tenants, many of which are small and local businesses, and Westfield malls employ more than 24,000 residents, according to the company.
The letter also takes aim at the COVID-19 statistics provided by the county, which URW says doesn’t add up.
“Indeed, just 3.7% of the 447 million square feet of total retail space in Los Angeles County is indoor mall space,” the letter states. “Thus, even if assuming retail to account for 1/3 of the 2% of total “non-residential” cases (alongside “workplaces” and “educational settings”), indoor malls would account for a mere 3.7% of cases attributed to “retail” – which would be approximately 0.025% of total confirmed cases.
“To put this in perspective, 0.025% represents about 61 cases of the approximately 244,000 total confirmed cases in the County.”
There was no immediate response to the letter from county officials.
Westfield Century City mall and other shopping centers reopened earlier this summer after being closed for months due to the coronavirus, but Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order shutting down malls for second time in July.