City plans to create a downtown business hub along Los Alamitos Boulevard came sputtering to a halt Monday night.
After spending $90,000 in grant money for a traffic study and concept designs for a downtown revitalization project between Katella and Cerritos avenues, the council deadlocked 2-2 on whether to take the next step, a $35,800 community outreach campaign to solicit feedback on the project.
City Councilwoman Gerri Graham-Mejia and Councilman Warren Kusumoto voted against hiring a community outreach consultant to hold a series of meetings with residents, businesses and school officials about the project. City Councilman Troy Edgar and Mayor Kenneth Stephens voted for the community outreach. City Councilwoman Marilynn Poe, who would have had the tie-breaking vote, abstained from voting because she owns property near the revitalization area. It remains uncertain if the project is dead or merely tabled.
Graham-Mejia suggested that the project just isn’t feasible during a weak economy.
“I don’t know where we are going to get the money for all these special projects – It certainly isn’t in our coffers,” she said. “I am not going to spend down our reserves especially in a time when we don’t know what the economy is going to bring.”
However, Graham-Mejia suggested that she might be in favor of a revitalization project in the future.
“I think it’s probably a good idea, but right now I am not going to spend one more dollar of our residents’ money,” she added.
In the long term, the Los Alamitos Boulevard revitalization project calls for narrowing a stretch of road between Katella and Cerritos avenues and widening the sidewalks to make the area more pedestrian-friendly. The number of lanes will not be reduced, but the narrower roads and new medians would effectively slow the flow of traffic.
The long-term vision for the project included as much as $2.5 in work on the roads and sidewalks in an effort to revitalize the corridor and make it a destination for businesses and visitors. On the council, it was Edgar who championed the project.
“We believe the community could be much better, but we need to be open to community feedback,” said Edgar.
“These types of projects take time,” said Edgar. “This is something that 10 to 15 years out will make a different view and different footprint for our community.”
Edgar has said he envisions a kind of downtown similar to Belmont Shore with shops and restaurants, and entertainment destinations that invite people to walk and spend the day shopping.
Edgar noted that he campaigned on the promise of a revitalized downtown and acknowledged the often tense political sparring between him and Graham-Mejia. He hinted that the rejection of the project might be politically motivated.
“If we are ever going to stop this project, let’s stop it for the right reasons,” he said. “The economic revitalization of our community is really important to us.”
However, a handful of residents spoke in opposition to the project Monday, arguing that changes to Los Alamitos Boulevard would choke traffic on an already congested street, making it difficult for families to get to Los Alamitos High school.
“The majority of people in Los Alamitos are not in favor of this,” said resident Brad Taylor.
“We are in a bad economy,” he said. “Right now, this is not the right thing to do.”
On the other hand, resident Dean Grose argued for the revitalization project.
The economic downturn means that now is the time to plan so that the city can be positioned to pursue the project when the economy picks up again, said Grose.
Los Alamitos Chamber of Commerce Chairwoman of the Board of Directors Judy Klabouch also urged the city to move forward with the revitalization.
“We need a downtown area,” she said. “We need theses sales tax monies if you want to do anything with this city in the future."