Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Happenings: Ribbon Cutting Ceremony Showcases $750,000 in Newhall "Improvements"

DESTINATION: DOWNTOWN NEWHALL

“With more parking and a walker-friendly shopping, restaurants, and arts district, Old Town Newhall will soon be a destination location for locals and visitors.[1]” It’s quotations like this that show Marsha McLean to be one of the most astute mayors ever to govern our fair city.

Indeed, most Santa Claritans, if taken to Downtown Newhall, would presume they were at a rather typical strip-mall in the San Fernando Valley, one where liquor, Laundromats, and labor are all just a five-minute walk away. The road running through the area even used to be called San Fernando Road[2]. But McLean and others know that soon, with some changes to traffic and redevelopment initiatives, Downtown Newhall will be that "destination location for locals and visitors" she promises. All we need to do is believe in the plan that, according to The Signal "envisions downtown Newhall as mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented and arts-friendly.[3]"


Store-fronts in San Fernando Valley? No, silly, these are in Downtown Newhall, a place renowned for its "historic points of interest, a community center, Metrolink station and a thriving arts scene.[4]"

TODAY’S EVENT

The City decided to mark the momentous re-routing of traffic, re-striping of streets, and alleged re-vitalizing of Newhall with a morning event. The red, white, and blue balloon pillar marking the site (no doubt leftovers from the Fourth of July Parade) drew unfortunate attention to a sign that revealed three-quarters of a million dollars had been spent on a project to "provide angled parking, calm traffic flow, and shift commuter traffic" (no wonder they had to re-use the decorations). Uniquely, the first step in revitalizing Newhall appears to rely on diminishing the number of cars driving by shops and making parking harder for those that do come.

While the ceremony felt small-town, the budget was anything but.

Barring the P.R. faux pas that was the sign, McLean and other speakers made it seem like much had been accomplished. It was with great pomp and ceremony that she spoke the word “complete” in reference to the re-striping of streets, garnering polite golf applause.


Mayor McLean, left, unintentionally points to Billy's mural, proof that Old Town Newhall is the Seat of the Arts in SCV. Phil Ellis, right, admires a crowd numbering in the tens.

Phil Ellis, Chairman of the Newhall Redevelopment Committee[5], followed Mayor McLean. Holding his composure as a noisy trash truck drove behind him, he tickled the imagination of the audience with promises of what was next for Old Town Newhall. While the prospect of three new murals drew quiet approval, those in attendance could scarcely be contained when they learned that painted trashcans were also on the way. Indeed, it is a trifecta of painting projects--three murals, parking spaces, and trashcans--that promises to make Newhall the hottest ticket in town.

Back-in parking, which requires you to reverse a considerable distance into a spot without quite knowing how to signal your intention to the car that's probably tailing you, will work particularly well when all the new visitors to Old Town Newhall arrive.

While we were welcome to listen in on these speeches, my friend and I couldn't help but notice that we were considerably under-dressed. For, while the event took place beneath a tent in a dirt lot (the dust from which did much to enhance the flavor of the catered melon wedges), there was no shortage of suit-clad officials ready to show their support for slanty parking. A woman repeatedly asked us to sit in the seats under the tent, no doubt to give the impression that the event had garnered more community support than was evident to the three cameras covering the event. We only barely succeeded in resisting her firm requests. The officials, meanwhile, were happy to take a seat and marvel at such curiosities as trash trucks and day laborers, sights with which many of them were unfamiliar. The whole thing ended with McLean--wielding scissors half her height--proclaiming the glorious birth of "Main Street" via ribbon cutting[6].

Today's event has reassured me that revitalization in Newhall is well on its way. After all, the reason wealthy shoppers in nearby Valencia and Stevenson Ranch haven’t been stopping by Newhall all boils down to parking configurations and street names. But now that they can enjoy back-in parking on newly re-named “Main Street”, they’re sure to flock to the area en masse. And best of all, they'll only need to honk on a street corner to get day laborers ready and willing to help them hang their art and other treasures. Once again, our city finds a pseudo-problem and throws money at it to stunning effect.

NOTES:
[1]From a city press release for today's "Ribbon Cutting Ceremony", found here
[2]Now, the decidedly blander "Main Street"
[3] Reina Slutske, "Redevelopment in Newhall a '50-50 Gamble'". From the July 5, 2007 edition of The Signal. The title puts it rather generously.
[4]From the Old Town Newhall website, http://www.oldtownnewhall.com/index.php
[5] Enjoy their plans and promises at http://www.oldtownnewhall.com/city/otn/development/index.php
[6] An entertaining picture can be seen at http://www.mysantaclarita.com

2 comments:

Linda Slocum said...

Great article!

Your comments are right on target. "All we need to do is believe in the plan that, according to The Signal envisions downtown Newhall as mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented and arts-friendly."

This plan is indeed throwing money at a "pseudo problem" as you say, but likely to a higher degree than you think. Once they complete the eminent domain proceedings on several of the businesses right where you were standing for this grand opening, they will have begun a process where current owners will be thrown out en masse to make room for new developers to get their greedy hands on the vacated buildings. The redevelopment plans call for 78% of the commercial space and 55% of the residential space in the area to be "redeveloped", which means we'll be seeing a lot more of the eminent domain proceedings and wrecking balls in that area.

If you read the studies regarding this plan, they say that 50% of the sales dollars that this area will generate will come from areas like Valencia and Stevenson Ranch, and extending all the way out to Castaic, off the 5 and 405 freeways below the 118 freeway, and out past Acton. These are the areas that the studies say are a "15-minute drive" from downtown Newhall, when in reality these areas are looking at closer to a 20-30 minute drive at a minimum. It's really hard to imagine Valencia and Castaic residents driving past the Valencia Town Center Mall to shop in Old Town Newhall on a regular basis.

You'll find more on this redevelopment farce on my blog at SantaClaritaRealEstateBlog.com.

Joe said...

*snip*
Indeed, it is a trifecta of painting projects--three murals, parking spaces, and trashcans--that promises to make Newhall the hottest ticket in town.
*snip*

I can't believe what we let our city spend money on. And what do we get for giving them our hard earned taxes to use on painted trash cans? Eminent domain!

Linda, you're dead on saying that the city's going to be land grabbing left and right. Too bad it's going to be from some of the people who have lived in Newhall for longer than most of the council men have been alive. It's a shame.