What's Really Happening in Old Town Newhall: Santa Clarita CA Signal, 9/2/07

Guest Commentary

By Chris Price

Back in the middle part of the 20th century, downtown areas were not only the place to shop, they were also the place to catch up with neighbors and socialize. The good old feeling of a city's downtown is being re-created all over the country right now with the resurgence of downtown improvements. Here in Santa Clarita, efforts toward revitalizing Old Town Newhall, the area's first downtown, are again under way.

Redevelopment, a popular tool for revitalizing business and residential districts, has been with us in Santa Clarita for some time now, and most think that a lot of good has come from it, even if they don't know everything that has been done so far.

The first phase of the Old Town Newhall revitalization/redevelopment started in earnest back in the early '90s. The city used Community Development Block Grant Funds to construct new curbs, gutters, and sidewalks throughout all of east Newhall and in places where they were missing in west Newhall.

Prior to that time, the neighborhoods had muddy rivers running down each side of the street whenever it rained, and mothers pushed strollers down the street alongside cars just to get to and from the store. Since those projects were completed, residents began spending much more time and money improving and maintaining their yards to complement the cleaner street scene.

Shortly after the east Newhall project, the city began work on Railroad Avenue, which was completely reconstructed to become a viable "through street" again. Are you old enough to remember what the stretch of land next to the railroad tracks in that area looked like before? It was not pretty.

The Jan Heidt Metrolink Station was constructed shortly after the completion of Railroad Avenue, ending the second major phase of improvements to Newhall. The third phase included construction of the Newhall Community Center and the Veterans Historical Plaza, as well as development of the Downtown Newhall Specific Plan. These projects, all built by the city of Santa Clarita, have provided much in the way of capital improvements, infrastructure and added to the quality of life for residents living in the area and for generations to come.

The city and its Redevelopment Agency have now entered into the fourth and perhaps most controversial phase of improvements to date. Some have expressed concern that "eminent domain" proceedings are already under way to kick people out of their homes and businesses. Nothing could be further from the truth.

While it is true that the Redevelopment Agency may purchase properties, and it is possible that some businesses occupying those properties may be relocated, the agency legally cannot "take" a residence for any reason. And while eminent domain may be used in some instances, the mechanics of that process are very slow, careful, and complicated.

If the city does reach the point where eminent domain is necessary, those affected will be well taken care of throughout the process. Any questions about eminent domain are welcomed and will be answered. Most, if not all, businesses impacted by previous city projects are thriving today.

Many people may not know that Old Town Newhall is home to a historic jailhouse (currently the Antique Flower Garden) and the American Legion Hall. These 100-year-old structures and others are historic treasures in Old Town Newhall. The city's plan calls for the preservation or adaptive re-use of these and other structures.

The current owner of the Antique Flower Garden could, at present, tear the building down after simply pulling a demolition permit (although a historic preservation ordinance is on its way to prevent that). The downtown Newhall Specific Plan, adopted by the City Council and the agency, clearly states the city's intentions for the area, which does not include demolishing historically significant buildings.

Both buildings are already adaptive re-uses of their original purposes. If the agency purchased them, they would most likely be re-adapted to uses much closer to their original purposes than their uses are today.

Maybe the American Legion members would like a newer location more suited to their activities, or maybe they don't want to move one inch. Careful consideration will be taken with each and every decision before any are made. Nothing is a "done deal" with redevelopment until all options have been considered, acted upon, and carried out by the Council/Agency.

As part of our award-winning city government, all decisions like these are discussed in public during multiple public meetings. Newhall Redevelopment Committee meetings are open to the public and are held during on the first Monday of each month (or a week later if one falls on a holiday). The Redevelopment Agency/City Council meets twice each month, and its agendas are available on the Web and at several locations in the city.

For more information, log on to: www.oldtownnewhall.com or call the City of Santa Clarita at 661-259-CITY.

Santa Clarita CA Signal: http://www.the-signal.com

Chris Price is a senior engineer for the city of Santa Clarita. His column reflects the city's stance, not necessarily that of The Signal