One of the truly wonderful things about Sierra Madre is its downtown. An area as unique and homegrown as the rest of the City. In an era of cookie cutter "could be anywhere" development, strip malls, sprawling car dealerships and large big box convenience stores, somehow our town has maintained its sanity and realized that the benefits of such things are fleeting, and that the loss of our small town charm would be an irreplaceable tragedy.
Michelle Zack, in her gorgeous book, Southern California Story, Seeking The Better Life In Sierra Madre, describes this sense of uniqueness:
As the first decade of the new century draws to a close, the evening scene along Sierra Madre Boulevard or North Baldwin is one of small town charm set against an awesome mountain backdrop. Over time, people by the millions have come to Southern California seeking health, beauty, and personal redemption - and a good few found it here. While challenges, imperfections, and unfinished business will always be around to annoy the human beings who insist on taking these problems on, at this moment they are drowned in foothill scents of sagebrush mingled with more domesticated rosemary and oregano. Background sounds of diners, laughter, and music create a life-filled cacophony. Neighbors out for a stroll, the cry of a baby, words hanging in the air: indeed it looks, smells and sounds like the better life in Sierra Madre tonight.
All things that you will probably not see or experience in the newly redeveloped neighborhoods that can now be found in so many of our sister cities here in the San Gabriel Valley. I personally think that this is something many recognize as being important to our community, and binds us together in that sense of pride we feel from living here.
So it was with some considerable joy that I came across the following comment left on Wednesday's post about the dangerous greenhouse gas effects of high density development:
I just received the mailer from John Crawford regarding seven story condo projects in Sierra Madre. All I can say is, "Wow." Amazing that people think there is an ounce of truth behind this ridiculous and absurd exaggerations (sic). What a waste of money it was to send these out? How dumb to think the residents of Sierra Madre are (sic)? ... It is people like this and their "no-growth under any circumstances" ideals that are to blame for the boarded up building across from city hall. If you like vacant buildings I recommend Detroit. I hear it's great this time of year.
Actually, the picture on my postcard depicts six story condos, not seven. And I for one can recall no such "seven story condo projects in Sierra Madre." However, you can find those 6 (or 7 if there is something behind the fence) story condos in places like Glendale, Pasadena, and Burbank should you wish to do so. Products of the same subprime mortgage insanity that fueled the somewhat similar Downtown Specific Plan here in Sierra Madre. Something that could have been built locally had not the citizens of Sierra Madre risen up against its duplicitous City Council and passed Measure V. But this isn't to say that such a thing couldn't happen now. After all, it looks like the same people who pushed the DSP are now back with a revitalized sense of purpose, and some exciting new historical revisionism. And backed up by the huge state mandated development requirements of SB 375, if they are elected it really could happen here. No matter what they're saying now.
So let's take a second and discuss this a bit more before we get on to the rest our critic's struggles with the English language. First of all, don't you think that comparing Downtown Sierra Madre to Detroit might be just a little over the top? Here is a passage from the Encyclopedia Britannica site that I think brings light to this darkness:
According to the Michigan Association of Realtors and Detroit Board of Realtors, the average sales price of a Detroit home fell to $11,533 in March (2009), a -43.9% decline from the $20,514 average home price during the same period last year.
The article then goes on to declare that you can purchase a home there with a $50 a month mortgage! Now perhaps I've missed something here, but I don't think that level of home price deflation has been happening in Sierra Madre. Quite the contrary, home prices here have maintained their high value quite well compared with many other places, probably because of the unique and pleasantly residential nature of our community.
And as far as the Skilled Nursing Facility and those famous boarded up windows, there is some good news here as well. The City Council will shortly vote on and pass a "blight law" that will make that sort of thing very expensive for persons who commit such atrocities in our community. No longer will real estate investors be able to buy property on speculation and then allow it to sit and rot until an economic uptick makes their investment profitable. Based on a similar law passed last year in Glendale, those who do not keep up their abandoned investment properties will be faced with considerable and repeated fines. As they should be. The lax attitude of the Joffe and Buchanan mayorships towards such blight just doesn't cut it in Sierra Madre anymore.
Our highly exercised critic continues:
Instead of blocking change and common sense ideas, we should work together to promote responsible growth and development that increases tax revenue and creates a downtown that we can be proud of while upholding our unique historical values.
Now I don't know about you, but I'm not sure there is much to be ashamed about regarding our downtown area. As a matter of fact, I take considerable pride in it, as I believe most living here do. Even in times as tough as these it remains the kind of viable downtown that I suspect many cities would trade their eyeteeth to have. Especially those who sold out to subprime era redevelopment when we did not. And doesn't all this downtown bashing sound strikingly similar to what we heard from the "No on V" people a while back? That we should be taught to hate our downtown and want to replace it with something a bit more, um, Burbankesque? A very strange tactic.
Late last year on the Huffington Post site there was a very insightful article called "Zombie Buildings: Are They The Next Economic Calamity? And its description of what has come to be in so many other parts of the country is also a cautionary tale about what almost came to pass here. Check this out and see if you don't agree:
While the overall U.S. financial system is showing signs of stability, a rapidly rising tide of troubled loans for commercial real estate threatens the survival of hundreds of the nation's small and medium-sized banks.
Financial reports this month from federal regulators and industry analysts detail a new cycle of uncertainty that they fear could cripple the economic recovery. Billions of dollars in commercial debt will have to be paid back or refinanced at a time when property values have plummeted. About $500 billion will come due in 2010 alone and an equal amount every year through at least 2012, according to the Federal reserve.
Many banks that cater to regional and community developments were largely unscathed by the residential mortgage meltdown. Bit now they are facing huge numbers of possible defaults by builders who erected thousands of office buildings, condominiums and shopping centers with the easy credit available five years ago. With few tenants, those developments are turning into what industry insiders call zombie buildings.
Ironically, the new blight that is now hitting many cities hard right now (and soon the taxpayers' pocketbooks if the banks get their way), was built only a short while ago. And the kind of economic travail caused to this country by the home mortgage crisis could return. So much for the "responsible growth and development" that was called for by Sierra Madre's DSP advocates back in 2007. And apparently now, by the exact same folks, in 2010 as well. Funny to think that they're asking to be trusted twice.
One more point. I think our commentator friend might be a little confused on the differences between an industrial city and a residential town. I'm pretty sure that there are not many people living in Sierra Madre right now because they thought they'd be able to get a job assembling aircraft or work in an automobile assembly factory here. Rather they came to live in Sierra Madre to get away from all that. They want raise their their families in a place that is secure and clean, and where their kids can grow up safe from drugs and crime. The economic growth in Sierra Madre doesn't come from what we manufacture, it comes from what highly skilled and well-paid wage earners bring back to this town from their jobs elsewhere.
And if somehow Sierra Madre is turned into just another urban core city, with cookie cutter "mixed use" development as far as the eye can see, you will drive this town's most financially reliable source of prosperity away. Its successful professional and business class. The people who came here to get away from that sort of thing, and stayed because this is a pristine enclave in a county of 11 million people. Most of whom would give everything they have to live in a place like this.