The Folly of the Thousand Oaks Boulevard Specific Plan or Caught in the Weeds
The Planning Commission hearing of September 26th, 2011 was a close-up description. The Staff person spoke in the rarified demi-world of urban planning pedestrian nodes, height limits, setbacks and public art fees to be given to our imminent Michelangelo. There was nothing of the role of the Redevelopment Agency, eminent domain, the land cost to developers, the projected increased tax revenue denied the city or the projected time for retirement of improvement bonds, But most of all, nothing of the demographics, population or life style and everyday experiences predicted for future residents in harmony with the other citizens of the city.
You can easily imagine what this plan would create. Bring to your mind The Westlake Promenade and The Lakes in Thousand Oaks with the addition of 2 to 4 stories of residential units above the commercial uses there. In the case of The Promenade all the parking would be in the rear. The open space in front of the Lakes would be absent and in both instances stores would be right next to the street behind a wide sidewalk. Let’s talk parking – anyone familiar with these projects throughout the year, especially at Christmas, knows that parking is insufficient and only endurable for the short holiday season. Even fewer spaces are required for the commercial uses in the Thousand Oaks Boulevard Specific Plan; while the planned residential spaces are also minimal, but I won’t bore you with the details, since my only point is to show that the planned automobile parking space would be frustrating and unpleasant enough to inhibit auto traffic – exactly the Planner’s intention – remember, this is supposed to be a pedestrian and cyclist town.
Next, let’s talk about life style and social atmosphere for the residents. This may be difficult, but imagine living in 3 and 4 story mixed flats and multi-story town homes crowded together with stairs and elevators. Then add the heat and aroma of the baker’s bread ovens downstairs to the acrid steam from the dry cleaning presser’s table. It would take getting used to as the deliveries and trash pick-up trucks rumble around the units. I have a vision of a typical stair landing - there would be 3 per cluster of units with an elevator also. Each stair landing could be named for a dealer’s franchise: “Blow”, “Meth” and “Weed.” For instance an apartment address could be clearly designated with the street address plus the words “Blow Number 7, above the dry cleaners”. And to round out the picture, the elevator, its walls scratched with graffiti above the corner where someone has peed, is only used by the older folk. I have described housing where a lack of pride in ownership has reduced a Planner’s optimistic vision to slums.
A fundamental question would be “Why did they design residential and commercial uses together?” The answer is “To increase the projected appraisal value by increasing total projected rents and to maximize tax revenue for the benefit of the Redevelopment Agency, who will sell bonds based on a projected rate to investors.” But here is another answer: It is to Smart Growth us – to begin moving people off the land to high density enclaves providing open space for the animals and to reduce carbon emissions according to the protocols of the United Nations Agenda 21 – Smart Growth for a Sustainable Future in furtherance of the Communitarianism that animates the City Planner.
Are there examples of mixed use urban plans? Certainly, Piazza Navona and Piazza Scalinata de Spagna in Rome, and the Lower West Side of Manhattan are beautiful examples, but they have evolved over hundreds, even thousands of years where problems and dislocations have been accommodated. In Thousand Oaks, Planners are forcing in a blink, their flawed imaginary vision, and not allowing for evolution. To understand how unrealistic this opaque idealism really is, you only have to imagine Beverly Hills, hardly a poor community, with low income subsidized housing over Versace, Chanel, Botega Veneta, Gucci and Cartier and kids kicking soccer balls through the streets and alleys. Redevelopment often gestates the monsters of such Planning hubris.
Finally, how does this work to the benefit of the actors involved? The land owners have their property taken by eminent domain, but they eventually benefit by changing their hat to become developers or part of an investment syndicate whose stake is controlled by the Redevelopment Agency. Bond brokers chosen by the influence of the Redevelopment Agency benefit by the sale of bonds, while investors risk suffering losses if projects do not perform. The Redevelopment Agency, without any invidious suggestion, is tempted toward sweet-heart deals. The citizens, through the city’s general fund, loose their control of any increased tax revenue for a number of years and are left holding the bag if things turn out badly and the City Planner’s ideas fail either financially or socially.
Some speakers at the Commission hearing impatiently urged passage, saying they have been working on plans for 19 years; others were opposed and made convincing criticisms. I say if it took that long, their redevelopment concepts must have been flawed all along; and as I see it things have not changed recently. They say “Rome was not built in a day.” Allow a true natural development to emerge through evolution, guided by the ethos of our beautiful town. Plan and suggest, set examples, but don’t coerce all at once through a Redevelopment Agency mandate. The Thousand Oaks Boulevard Specific Plan should be stopped in its tracks, now is the time to have your say, before the minority, who are mostly dedicated to narrow and short term personal interest, gain enough inertia that the majority can not stop them. Contact the Thousand Oaks City Council members. Speak to them personally and say “No to the Thousand Oaks Boulevard Specific Plan.” Once the City Council goes for it, you don’t have much of a chance to change it.
The T O City Council recently approved an extra 200 units for the Specific Plan. It's telling that Al Adam is the Chairman of the Ventura County COG. Agenda 21 is going to be full tilt with his influence. According to the T O Acorn, Caruso was so encouraged by BID"S victory that he's considering doing a mixed use project at the Lakes. Looks like the horse is long out of the barn.