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Los Angeles County, CA March 5, 2013 Election
Smart Voter

"Rebuilding Downtown Azusa"

By Sandra Benavides

Candidate for Council Member; City of Azusa

This information is provided by the candidate
With the Gold Line coming to town, we saw an opportunity to revitalize a sleepy Downtown. The Citizen's of Azusa dared to create a special place where we could be proud to take out-of-town visitors for dinner or coffee. We said no to "placeless" strip center development. We imagined a distinctive shopping experience where families could stroll down a tree-lined Azusa Avenue or enjoy the serenity of the Civic Center Park. The Citizens of Azusa were promised that our hard work would be honored!
In or around 2003, the City of Azusa invested an enormous amount of time and money to chart a new course to lead Azusa into the 21st Century. We did it through the formation of a new General Plan (the General Plan is a set of policies and programs that form a blueprint or road map for physical development throughout the community. It is a long-term document........). This general plan would be "the People's General Plan". The City was determined to get maximum participation from Azusans in order to create a Plan that the citizens would embrace and defend. So the City created "The Citizens Congress" to represent the People of Azusa.

At the time, I was an employee of the City in the Redevelopment Department. We were heavily involved, along with the Planning Department, in facilitating the unprecedented amount of public input that went into the creation of the General Plan. The people (Citizens Congress) came out in large numbers because the City promised them that their participation would not be a waste of time. The City promised that, if the citizens overwhelmingly supported the new General Plan, future Councils would not be able to easily stray from the policies that we helped create.

With that promise, hundreds of citizens gave up countless nights and weekends to attend workshops and neighborhood meetings. We rolled up our sleeves, and got to work. The City supplied the resources, including nationally known experts in architecture, transit-oriented development, and retail development. They helped us understand the fundamentals of good city design and introduced us to the principles of New Urbanism. They showed us countless examples of elegant village environments, both local and national. They showed us how to revitalize our sleepy downtown into one that we could all be proud of. And we ended up with a GREAT PLAN!

This new General Plan covered the entire City, but much of the public interest and priority was on the downtown. The aging and neglected downtown. This was the "Heart of the City", yet it had decayed over the years, and its traditional pedestrian-friendly fabric and charm had been eroded by neglect and the introduction of strip commercial development. To a person, we all believed Azusa was better than that. We dared to imagine a special place that would be noticed and admired throughout the region. Under our Plan, the downtown would once again be a source of civic pride and identity.

With the Gold Line coming to town, we focused our efforts on planning the area around the future transit station between Azusa Ave and Alameda. This would be our "Transit Village" area of downtown. We saw this area as a combination of stores, great public spaces, and high quality housing in a pedestrian-friendly mixed-use setting. This would be the northern gateway to the downtown and an enormous opportunity to repair the damaged urban fabric caused by the decades of apathy and bad planning. It would be an opportunity to give Azusans what they demanded. As I talk to my neighbors, so many of them tell me that they have to leave the City to shop and dine in places like Old Town Monrovia, Old Pasadena, and The Americana at Brand in Glendale. They crave the ambiance, the energy, and the vitality of these cool places. They tell me they don't want to leave Azusa, but we've given them no reason to stay. They are not interested in hanging out in a shopping center parking lot. The Village Plan was going to change that. We were on our way but have yet to get there.

Today, we continue to see several areas in downtown Azusa composed of dead space, consisting of surface parking lots, poorly maintained vacant lots and vacant buildings. These lots create a barren wasteland in our downtown, contribute to the perception that downtown is unsafe, and contribute to the further neglect of downtown Azusa as a whole. The status quo is not acceptable, devalues property, and is not desirable for private investment or attracting businesses looking at relocation options downtown. I believe our leaders need to take a holistic approach to thinking and planning out the rebuilding of our downtown.

The downtown business district should be the prime economic engine for all Azusa, to attract the appropriate mix of local and national businesses that are needed to sustain a vibrant downtown retail hub for all Azusa residents and visitors. The downtown should incent businesses to remain in the downtown district and stop their departure to other suburban communities. Downtown Azusa needs to have a vigorous business community that can support development, as well as the amenities residents and visitors expect.

With the right leadership, our downtown plan should specify incentives to attract retailers, restaurants and businesses that will bring jobs and employees to downtown Azusa, to stay in downtown Azusa, and to become a part of the fabric of downtown.

We need the kind of leadership that will deliver on the Village promise. We need leaders that know what it takes to build good urban places and vibrant downtowns. We cannot let our leadership destroy our downtown Transit Village Plan with strip center developments in place of our Village Plan. Leadership means having the intelligence, determination, and patience to identify and actively pursue the right developer who will give us what we want.

I am running for City Council because I "get it". I was in the trenches during the formation of the General Plan. I understand how to make great urban places. I know the difference between strip development and a wonderful village environment. I plead "guilty" to sometimes going to Monrovia, Pasadena, Santa Monica and other beautiful village environments to enjoy the day. And it never fails. Every time I go to one of these places, I find myself asking the same question: "Why can't Azusa look and feel like this?"

By now the answer should be clear to everyone. We need leaders that want to deliver the vision of the "The Citizens Congress" to represent the People of Azusa. I am determined to change that.

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