November-December 2005 Year 11, Number 1.
A Long Road to Recovery.
By LEON WORDEN
Editor and Publisher.
Yes, it's back. No, you didn't miss an issue, if the last one you saw was in the summer of 1998. It's hard to believe it has been more than seven years since the last publication of the Old Town Newhall Gazette.
When we left off, the fun was just beginning. Railroad Avenue was just being reopened. There was no Newhall Metrolink Station. The Canyon Theatre building was an unfunded dream. Community Center kids were boxing and folklorico dancing in a leaky, vermin-infested warehouse. (OK, they're still in the same warehouse, but wait till next month.) Graffiti and loitering gave outsiders the sense that it wasn't safe to shop on San Fernando Road. Vacancies were up. Property values were actually going down, while they were on the rise everywhere else in Santa Clarita.
In a word, Newhall was desperate. Business owners were barely hanging on. Many gave up. The old Downtown Newhall Merchants Association was down to two guys, then one, then none.
The transformation in these past seven years is nothing short of amazing.
Today you'd be hard-pressed to find a vacancy on San Fernando Road. Property values are going nuts and buyers are beating down the doors to get in. Old-fashioned streetlights illuminate Railroad Avenue for through-traffic. Buses ferry passengers to the Metrolink. The Canyon Theatre anchors a budding arts district that already includes a second performing arts venue and a showcase for painters, with an independent movie house on the way. Today not one but two active merchants' associations are swelling their ranks.
Special festivals and a seasonal Farmer's Market and a park honoring the nation's war veterans bring thousands of Santa Claritans to downtown Newhall. There they discover new restaurants and bakeries and antique shops amid the venerable holdouts that no economic storm could put asunder, such as The Way Station and Newhall Hardware.
Downtown property owners have put up new fa°ades and screened their back lots with monetary assistance from the city. Loiterers have moved to the periphery. Graffiti vanishes in a flash. San Fernando Road is once again a safe place for East Newhall residents to shop for groceries, and soon they'll have a bigger Tresierras supermarket with actual parking spaces!
All of this and so much more has happened in the last seven years that you can't help but look cross-eyed when your hear somebody ask today, in 2005, "Is redevelopment really going to happen?" Or, "Is the city really serious this time?" Or, in the alternative, "Why doesn't the city just leave Newhall alone?"
Look around you. Redevelopment happened. And considering the millions of dollars the city has put into the Old Town since 1996, when it formed the Newhall Redevelopment Committee mostly with state and federal money, to lessen the impact on local taxpayers it's safe to say the city is serious. And that none of it would have happened without city intervention.
The story of Newhall is no different from that of any small town in America that has experienced the kind of population explosion Santa Clarita has seen in the last few decades.
Nearly a hundred years after Henry Mayo Newhall incited the formation of a town, his successors built another town on the outskirts of the original. Valencia became the upscale place to live and the trendy place to shop. With apologies to Ross Perot, that "giant sucking sound" was the money leaving Newhall when Safeway transplanted itself from San Fernando Road to the Old Orchard Shopping Center. Locals abandoned Newhall Pharmacy and flocked to the great, big Thrifty drug store complete with a copy of the old pharmacy's ice-cream counter. The Sears catalog store was the neatest thing; you could order direct from the factory and have a washing machine delivered to your door. There was even Kinney Shoes and Holiday Hardware for San Fernando Valley transplants who never ventured outside of Valencia.
The heroic efforts of the old Downtown Newhall Merchants Association, although well received, proved to be simply too little, too late. Los Angeles County had already shifted police and other government services to the corner of Valencia Boulevard and Magic Mountain Parkway. When the Ford and Chevrolet dealerships followed, Newhall was all finished.
Then came a momentous event. In 1987 the citizens of Santa Clarita formed a city.
Now, for the first time, local residents could directly control their municipal destiny. Now, for the first time, local residents could make their own financial and land-use decisions.
It can fairly be said that the 1994 earthquake heightened the urgency and the political expedience of revitalizing Newhall, but the truth is, plans were already afoot in 1993 for an assault on Newhall's problems.
The residents of Santa Clarita never forgot that Newhall was their central business district. They weren't willing to let their historic home, the heart of the community, the special place that made Santa Clarita unique among the urbanized, cookie-cutter communities of America, slip away from them.
It is to the hundreds of people representing every demographic, cultural and economic interest who showed up again and again in that vermin-infested Community Center for a series of city-led meetings in 1995 and 1996 that we owe the rebirth of Newhall. It was they who said how they wanted their Newhall to change. It was they who said what they wanted their Newhall to look like. It was they who said what they wanted their Newhall to be.
For nearly a decade, the city of Santa Clarita has been working off of the blueprint that grew out of those meetings. Out of that blueprint grew all of the changes we've seen, from the Metrolink Station to the Farmer's Market to the Spanish, Victorian and Western storefront designs.
Now the city is preparing to take the next step and give Old Town Newhall a real, fighting chance to become everything it can be.
As of this writing, on November 8 the City Council is scheduled to consider the Downtown Newhall Specific Plan, a document that will enable the city to make all of the changes the citizens of Newhall said they wanted a decade ago, and repeated in a series of meetings late last year.
The new plan will allow the type of upstairs living quarters over ground-floor retail shops that are iconic of any Old Town. The plan will enable the city to change the design of San Fernando Road so it feels more like a place where you'd want to stroll from shop to shop on a weekend afternoon complete with a sensible parking configuration.
Already the city has purchased property and is identifying developers to build some of the public structures outlined in the Specific Plan, such as a community building on the site of the abandoned gas station at San Fernando and Lyons, and a children's museum at San Fernando and 5th Street.
Now as before, with the last plan, the Old Town Newhall Gazette intends to be there, with a new edition roughly every two months.
And the Specific Plan won't be the end of it. It's somewhat ironic that just as Newhall is coming back to life, the very shopping center that precipitated its decline is in dire straits, as anyone who has visited the Old Orchard Shopping Center lately knows. The neighborhood cannot long abide the boarding up of its anchor store, the old Safeway (most recently Albertsons).
Neither can the broader community afford it. The Old Orchard Shopping Center is in the redevelopment zone, which extends west to Interstate 5, north to Magic Mountain Parkway and south to Highway 14. Depressed values in any part of the redevelopment zone mean fewer tax dollars are coming in to improve the area.
Lyons Avenue and to a lesser extent Soledad Canyon Road in Canyon Country were victims of another "giant sucking sound" in the 1990s when price-competitive discounters like Wal-Mart and trendier shopping alternatives like the Valencia Town Center drew the dollars away. Today, vacancies are up and property values are down along much of Lyons, where nontaxable medical offices have replaced many tax-generating retailers.
Blight spreads. It cannot be allowed to fester as it did on San Fernando Road. And it doesn't go away on its own.
If you're new to town or you don't remember the old Gazette, it is an independent vehicle with a clear purpose. It is published by Old Town Newhall USA, a not-for-profit organization whose purpose, quite simply, is to advocate the revitalization of Newhall.
The Gazette is neither a product of the city of Santa Clarita nor The Signal, although both are partners in its production. The city provides some of the news copy so you can learn directly from the source what is happening; and The Signal handles the press run and offsets its production costs with advertising. (Call The Signal to place an ad in The Gazette.)
The Gazette also welcomes your participation. If you'd like to fire off a letter to the editor or submit a press release for an organization that's active in Old Town Newhall, your best bet is to send it by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit Old Town Newhall on the Internet.
Editorials like the one you're reading now are solely the opinion of the Old Town Newhall Gazette.
©2005, Old Town Newhall USA. All rights reserved.