Monday, January 30, 2012

Thoughts from the Clovis Shaw planning meeting

The subject of my last post was about the city of Clovis holding three planning meetings concerning Shae Ave.

I attended the second meeting, held in the afternoon. The meeting was not well publicized, as there was no notice (that I could see) in the paper. On the website, the information was listed, but the way the site is set up makes it hard to find.

Apparently, the expectation was that only business owners would attend, because the first question asked was which business each member of the audience owns. I assume they sent out flyers to each business on the corridor.

Now when I say audience, I mean a grand total of six members of the public, less than the 7 members of the city that were on-hand. The lack of outreach and the lack of response is somewhat typical of planning here, both in Clovis and in Fresno. The local population is not very engaged with how the city is being planned, which is partially why there are so many ways in which the planning is poor. According to the city staff, the morning meeting had more people, but that's not saying much. I think that the lack of engagement by the community is taken by the city as a sign that everyone approves of how things have been done. As I'll get to later, according to one of the planners, that's sort of how the council sees it.


Interestingly, the planners all seemed excited to have someone attend that was not directly related to the project (as a business owner). I was told multiple times that they want to see more participation from citizens.


The meeting was simple in structure. First, there were some powerpoint presentations about the project scope, earlier feedback heard by the city, and some proposals (pictures of projects done in other cities). We got stats on vacancy rates (hovering around 30%), and how low vacancy leads to a downward spiral of investment. While I usually take pictures of this type of thing, it felt odd with so few people, so I did not.

The city only has a grant of $250,000, so as the meeting went on, it became clear to me that the main goal is actually to convince property owners to form a Business Improvement District. This self-taxing unit would provide funds for things like better streetlights and landscaping, which hopefully would draw more customers. That being said, the grant must be used for a capital project, and not something like marketing. Also, the grant was given due to the proximity of low-income housing.

I agree that more streetlights and such would be great, but the problem with the Shaw corridor isn't in the minor details, it's in the grand design. It's the fact that walking and biking is too difficult. It's the fact that even driving is a hassle, because to get from one shopping area to the next, you MUST return to Shaw, and the constant curb-cuts and such make driving unpleasant.

That's the kind of thing that can't really be fixed with new street lights....or with $250,000.

The meeting was somewhat disappointing in a realistic way. That is, there were few grandiose ideas, because the planners recognize that there are no funds for said ideas. Also, they are limited by the fact that Shaw "must" remain a 6-lane arterial. Slowing down or limiting traffic is simply out of the question. One of the planners mentioned that he would like to see changes made to improve biking and walking, but that it was unrealistic to expect people to walk more than a mile. However, during multiple instances it was mentioned that when observing the stretch of road, they noted more pedestrians and cyclists than they expected.

As I mentioned before, the planners were happy to see someone outside their small circle. I got the impression that the majority would love to jump on ideas like mixed use development, being more pedestrian-friendly and such, but they simply don't have the resources or political capitol to do so, so all they can do is keep doing what's always been done.

Basically, they said that unless citizens start breaking down the doors of the council members, the ones who actually control how the money flows, and start demanding more progressive planning, there won't be any. That's sort of depressing, but it's true.

The tail end of the meeting was pretty much feedback from those in attendance. The most vocal (I guess besides me) was an older woman who owns a consignment store. She states that she was unhappy with the visibility of her store, and the general upkeep of the area. For example, she thinks the city needs to crack down on the property owners that aren't maintaining their centers well. In her case, she is next to an abandoned Vons, and the owners of that vacant property (who she said was still Vons) do not keep it looking good. She also said that the city should help bring in customers by holding more events and such. The planners responded that when events and festivals are held, they are usually funded by local business owners, not the city.

My participation was to address many of the issues from my last post. Mainly, that visibility and access are poor. I brought up how I'd like to visit stores in the area by bike, but that's not comfortable, so I'm more likely to shop elsewhere or not at all.


One last thing: it was mentioned that the revitalization of Shaw is something they'd expect to take 10-30 years, not something that will happen overnight. That's perfectly realistic, but certainly depressing. Until then, if anyone is looking for vacant storefronts to film a movie....

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