Friday, July 15, 2005

Redevelopment Planning Continues

I went to the Architect Talk last night. The architects on the project (KMD) presented three ideas of how the redeveloped downtown area may be organized. (They stressed that they were only starting-off points and not finalized ideas.) Each of the models included a plaza area which would serve as a town center and hopefully as place where people would gather. Many attendees had strong opinions, but most people seemed excited to be at a stage in the planning process where they were actually looking at physical models and discussing concrete details of the development such as: whether to take down or leave particular buildings (mostly banks, in this case), fountains, walkways, parking, etc.

Cary Lowe, the chair of the South Pasadena Community Redevelopment Commission (CRC), opened the meeting by reassuring attendees that neither Decoma nor the city has any secret plans for development. He also pointed out that the city has gone about redevelopment differently from how many other cities would have done so. He said that other cities would have put out a Request for Proposals and then would have selected the proposal that they liked the most, effectively circumventing community input. Instead, he said that the city evaluated six different firms, looking for the one that they felt would best help them walk through the process of coming up with a plan for redevelopment. He said that Decoma has not yet even submitted a proposal, but will do so at the end of the Town Talks and Architect Talks--after they have taken into account the input of the community. At that point, the city will review their proposal and make a decision on whether to go ahead with their proposal. It seems clear that the city wants the community to be happy with the project. I don't think they are living in the delusion that they are going to be able to make everyone happy, but as an outside observer it seems that they have gone to great length to give everyone who wants to be heard a chance to give input.

Marinel Robinson, the Decoma team leader, responded to a letter published in the South Pasadena Review that I have yet to read, but which by her account sounds libelous. She wanted to make it clear that the project is, and has always been, driven by the community and not Decoma.

I don't really understand the stance of no-growth proponents. It seems like not planning for the future would only lead to things falling apart and individual developers determining the direction of future growth. Doesn't an intentional effort driven by the community increase the likelihood that changes (which at some point are inevitable) will most likely reflect the desires of residents? It seems like the crux of the city's redevelopment plan is to answer precisely that question: how do we redevelop without losing what makes South Pasadena special? To ignore that question seems short-sighted and counterproductive.

3 Comments:

Blogger marielle said...

You hit the nail right on the head with those last two sentences!

The thing I find downright scary about the no-growth proponents is how it isn't much of a stretch to tie that sentiment into the bigger picture of our country's current political climate. Rather than progressing, we're reverting, IMO. And as a former history scholar, I'm firmly convinced that the past (or the status quo) just ain't all that.

Preserve what can and should be preserved - the safety and peacefulness of our streets, the beautiful architecture, just to touch on a few points - but eradicate elements of the status quo that don't contribute to the greater good. Like South Pas's lack of economic opportunity, which is my current obsession. We need good restaurants, we need local independent shopping (a bookstore! a CD store!) we need the Rialto to become a vital gathering place - and all of that would create jobs, which we need more than anything.

Whew.

(Steps down from soapbox.)

9:39 AM  
Anonymous Ken said...

I haven't been to the meetings, but I've been in lots of discussions with my favorite local merchants and they are clearly worried. Why are they worried? Well, because from their standpoint it appears that the city and developer are attempting to set a roadmap for the ideal city that may not include them.

And this is the thing which I don't understand about this process. It is true that a real downtown with gathering places and cultural opportunities are what we need--and everyone has a list of local businesses that we want, but let's be honest. If we develop a wish list of businesses we "need", how do you think those businesses will show up in South Pas?

For example, if we need a book store (as a writer and someone who actually buys books at the Book House, I agree) then where does that come from? We hope that the perfect smalltown bookstore miraculously appears? Or do we contact all the chains and see if they'll open a location here. Likewise restaurants. Opening a restaurant is expensive and risky. If we lure more large or chain restaurants to town, what about those who have taken that risk already and need our support like Gus', Firefly and Patakan, Yasmine's and the Munch Company the Oak Tree and so forth? Do we need an Applebee's? I think not, but that's what we might get.

What I'm trying to say is that my feeling is that building a shopping center and hoping to get the right tenants seems risky to me. Wouldn't it be better to concentrate on making South Pas more business-friendly? Tax breaks and zoning help and the like for locally-owned businesses? Loans for current businesses to expand and upgrade?

An arbitration committee to work with derelict and unused businesses (like the Rialto and Cappy's) to improve or find new partners? Marketing and business support for stores that want to compete with neighboring chain stores?

Maybe this is being covered in the KMD meetings, but this is what my friends and I are talking about.

10:14 AM  
Blogger South Pas Blogs said...

Ken, I don't have the expertise to comment on what the city could do a better job of in terms of tax breaks and zoning. It sounds like there are ways that they could be friendlier in terms of attracting new businesses. I definitely hear what you're saying about building a shopping center and then trying to get tenants. All I can say, based on the meetings that I have been to, is that both the city and Decoma have been very intentional in how they have gone about the process. And I have never gotten the feeling that residents are not the driving force. I know the city has been slowly moving towards a redevelopment effort for at least the last 20 years. Maybe I'm naive, but South Pas seems so conservative when it comes to these things that it seems unlikely that they would get behind a process like this only to have all the new businesses that come into town go belly up because of uncalculated risk or short-sightedness. There is another Architect Talk this Thursday night, and I know that Decoma genuinely wants as many people as possible to come listen and give input.

1:21 PM  

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