Lowy himself is a familiar name at City Hall and within L.A.’s business and civic communities (he served as chairman of the University of Judaism and has been on the board of numerous nonprofits). Politics is also part of the picture: Lowy has given tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to local elected officials, though he insists, rather implausibly, that such giving “doesn’t help at all to get any approvals.” One area where the family fortune—estimated by Forbes at $4.4 billion—has caused problems is a long-running investigation by Australian and American officials over possible tax evasion. In 2008, a U.S. Senate subcommittee report uncovered information suggesting that the Lowys used an offshore bank to set up a foundation in Liechtenstein and then funneled money back to the family through a separate corporation. During a subcommittee hearing, Lowy refused to comment on the investigation, and he wouldn’t discuss the case with me, either.
The thing to know about Westfield, beyond all the money, is the single-mindedness. Lowy believes that urban areas offer the best potential for development and that the best urban areas are both densely populated and located near transportation hubs. Busier is better. This is not a new concept in other parts of the world, but in sprawling and congested Southern California, busier isn’t that inviting a prospect, especially for the people who have to live with it. When the company first proposed the Village, a 1.4-million-square-foot mixed-use project in Woodland Hills, residents were furious. They had been putting up with congestion from Westfield’s two nearby malls—Westfield Topanga and the Promenade—and were now faced with still more stores, anchored by a Costco that would attract shoppers from other parts of the San Fernando Valley.