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Fixing Newhall: Bigger project than imagined

Posted: September 27, 2008 8:37 p.m.
Updated: November 29, 2008 5:00 a.m.

If there is one blot on the otherwise pristine visage commending Santa Clarita, argument would say that Newhall is it.

But Paul Brotzman, our city’s director of community development, envisions the gradual death of that blot.

He recently assured me that, through the progressive but irresistible lure of free-market capitalism, much-deteriorated Newhall will be “revitalized” into an economically thriving arts, business, and historical destination that will eventually attract hundreds (if not thousands) daily.

Bureaucratic assurances notwithstanding, the line “high apple pie in the sky hopes” from the Sinatra song “High Hopes” would have been the right lyrical accompaniment for much of what Mr. Brotzman told me.

Admittedly, Mr. Brotzman, an experienced former city manager of West Hollywood, has helped to craft a serious strategy for New-hall’s “redevelopment” and “revitalization.” Yet it is there, in the project title, that my skepticism begins to surface. Possibly the city chose those summary terms for the naked political purpose of softening the perceived impact of the gutting that “redevelopment” in Newhall really means.

Rather, it lays bare the skin-deep assessment that has furnished the city’s innocent perspective of Newhall.

Financial limitations
Theory is for Newhall to be wholly transformed (“redeveloped” doesn’t half cover it), following a 10- to 15-year formula, into SCV’s hub for historical relevance, for the arts, and for a dynamic economy fueled by varied boutiques and other free-market ventures.

Newhall’s rebirth will culminate — reading between Mr. Brotzman’s lines — in a mini economic metropolis for SCV whose appeal will consistently draw an extensive clientele “from as much as 15 miles away.”
But getting consumers and entrepreneurs to travel from, say, Westwood to Newhall necessarily involves, from a realist’s perspective, a candor and realism that the New-hall Redevelopment Project has thus far lacked.

Financially, Mr. Brotzman said that parts of Newhall have a districtwide lowest revenue/income scale. That obstruction logically entails a sizable fiscal barrier to sustaining the mini economic metropolis that City Hall envisions.

Walnut Street, Newhall Avenue, Forth Street and other corridors of Lyons Avenue and Main Street show that much of Newhall is the polar opposite of being able to fiscally provide the necessary home base for the dynamic economy that City Hall envisions.

Mr. Brotzman commented that Newhall’s partial deterioration, seen in negligent code enforcement, shows the need for “redevelopment.” But the needs of the oft mold-infested, decrepit housing that lines those streets goes far deeper than “redevelopment.”

From my perspective, possibly a significant tear-down and rebuilding phase along certain streets could be encountered. Bottom line, the general aesthetics of much of Newhall demand money and effort that City Hall’s plan has not anticipated.

From there, what method will City Hall undertake to reverse that barrier? Mr. Brotzman was clear that the city “doesn’t have the legal authority to acquire residential property.”

So if eminent domain cannot be used to undo that barrier, then what? He would “much prefer to see the community evolve.” Those words reveal a plan to have the varied, growing expenses of a “redeveloped” Newhall naturally change Newhall’s residential population.

Admirable, but what of those displaced without funds to afford a move? Mr. Brotzman, a self-described social liberal, proposes building “public non-profit housing.” Unlike public housing, “public non-profit housing” would be fully funded by non-profit organizations, the residents would have to be employed, and they would have to contribute to some of the expenses of the non-profit housing.

What is Plan B?
But I ask, where would the “public non-profit housing” be located in Santa Clarita? Will potentially nearby residents be OK with it?

And without the unanimous backing of every needed non-profit in town and the bulk of SCV residents, will this “public non-profit housing” materialize? If not, what is Plan B?

Andre Hollings is a Santa Clarita resident. His column reflects his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.


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