Looks like the Tribune finally made some calls to figure out what the hell is going on in Ghost Town West Covina.
As the Watcher's already reported back in March, all the great businesses excited for a "downtown revitalization" have packed up and left, such as Romano's Macaroni Grill, Dono Sushi, Vieta Coffee, Juice it Up, Red Brick Pizza and the Hawaiian restaurant that later became Seafood Bay and the Red Room.
Some blame the economy.
I blame petty politics.
The thing is this: Since being elected to City Council, Mayor Pro Tem Hernandez has been talking about downtown revitalization to anyone who would listen. He's been pushing for it for, I don't know, five years or so now.
When the new Lakes development started, everyone was talking about it being a catalyst for something huge -- pedestrian friendly, mixed-use where commercial and residential can co-exist in the same building, and so on. It's all the rage. They even have one of those developments in freakin' Maywood! Maywood, for crying out loud! I used to date a girl from Maywood and my mother wouldn't let me go see her there because she was sure I'd get shot.
Fast forward just a little: The council changes and Hernandez happens to have a beef with re-elected-after-being-ousted Mike Touhey over God knows what, and all of a sudden -- Downtown West Covina revitalization is not plausible, even after the city spent a QUARTER MILLION DOLLARS on a plan and a gazillion citizen meetings. In fact, at one point, the City Council, with Herfert absent, offered to take the plan off the shelf.
The very next meeting, when Herfert was back, it was re-shelved. Wonder why.
While doing research for this post, I came across a very interesting article from the Los Angeles Times, and I think I'd like to post it in all its glory on this very site:
In West Covina, where "downtown" could best be described as a pair of mid-sized avenues anchored by a movie theater, there's talk of transforming the city's core into a bustling urban village. But there's been talk before.
For at least 10 years, the city has fostered visions of a busy downtown where high-end loft-dwellers stroll around the corner to restaurants and locals pass the time chatting at coffee bars. Plans were made and community meetings held. There were even whispers that the city was ready to use eminent domain. But nothing happened.
Earlier this month, talk started up again when the City Council proposed creating a subcommittee to revisit downtown revitalization. What the committee will actually do isn't clear.
There's widespread agreement that downtown businesses are in trouble, but little consensus on how to fix their problems, officials said. Even those who agreed to create the committee disagree about its goals. And the question of whether high-end development addresses the community's affordable housing needs is hardly on the radar.
Business leaders, city officials and community members are split on whether mixed-use development, which blends high-end lofts and condos with office space and entertainment venues, is a good idea, said Gary Lawson, who heads the West Covina Chamber of Commerce. But he said that most agree: "Something needs to be done."
Since 1994, nearly $2 million has been spent on downtown infrastructure improvements and almost $500,000 has been allocated for area planning studies, according to city reports. But downtown still isn't attracting enough customers, Lawson said.
Locals often head to Orange County, Pasadena and downtown Los Angeles for entertainment and restaurants.
Some local businesses are struggling to stay open, said developer Ted Slaught.
"I think downtown is a more idle place today than it was five years ago. We have fewer retailers," said Slaught, who helped develop the city's Lakes center, which includes an Edwards movie theater, a Barnes and Noble, a Macaroni Grill and other restaurants and stores.
Red Brick pizza, Juice It Up and Vieta Coffee have all failed at the center and others are looking to leave.
Slaught blames the city for not moving forward with revitalization plans.
"The Lakes Entertainment Plaza was always envisioned to be the centerpiece of a downtown pedestrian village," he said. Now, "there's a centerpiece but nothing surrounding it."
Councilman Steve Herfert said downtown isn't as troubled as some paint it. There's no need for dramatic change, he said.
"We're a city that's pretty well built out," he said. "Most of the businesses that are downtown are doing OK." But he acknowledged that most restaurants in the area "do well on the weekend, but they don't do well during the week."
The existing downtown area isn't on a major thoroughfare and doesn't attract pedestrians, said Doug McIsaac, city planning director. Without a natural center, the city has to "create the attraction," he said.
He looks to Old Town Pasadena as one possible model.
"Maybe you don't know what you're going to do when you get there," McIsaac said of Pasadena's popular center, "but there are multiple entertainment venues and restaurants and you can park in one place and walk to where you want to go."
Still, plenty of skepticism over revitalization remains. Three years ago, the city spent nearly $230,000 to develop an ambitious plan known as Scenario C. It called for realigning Glendora Avenue and Lakes Drive to create lofts and office space and would have cost nearly $20 million for the improvements necessary to get started -- $14 million was planned for parking upgrades, McIsaac said.
Initially, council members agreed to move forward, but plans were scrapped after elections changed the makeup of the board, officials said.
Councilman Roger Hernandez expects the new subcommittee to revive Scenario C, pushing West Covina into a future where dense housing meshes with entertainment and restaurants, he said.
"The goal is to spruce up the area and create a higher-end village downtown," Hernandez said.
But Mayor Sherri Lane said turning downtown into a bustling urban center isn't a reality.
"That's a major overhaul of that whole area," Lane said. "I'm not in favor of doing something that drastic . . . I have concerns regarding density, traffic and congestion and the strain on city resources."
Councilman Herfert said there may be unrealistic expectations surrounding the committee's overall goals.
"I just don't want to mislead people," he said. "We've gone through this thing so many times. I don't anticipate a whole lot coming out of it."
Interesting... Herfert thought all was well when, obviously, it's not. I can't help but wonder, with his head in the sand so much, how does Herfert's face maintain a perpetual sun burn?
Like I said, we could blame the economy, but before this horrific downturn, we had the money and the city probably had developers salivating to get in there and shake shit up. I know how those bastards work.
But, you know, since Roger Hernandez wants it, we'll probably never get it as long as he's on the council. But if he ever leaves, how much you wanna bet it'll be back on the table?