With a shiny new movie mecca energizing downtown to the west, and construction crews busily upgrading the Buenaventura Mall to the east, the tousled charm of midtown Ventura is starting to look more and more like plain old shabbiness.
That is why city leaders are so hot to get moving on their redevelopment project to clean up, fix up and revitalize the commercial corridors of East Main Street and East Thompson Avenue from Ash Street to Mills Road, including parts of Loma Vista and Telegraph roads.
Overall, we believe the goal is a good one and we support the city’s efforts. But we believe area merchants have raised some valid concerns. These, plus the fact that Ventura is just beginning a “visioning process” intended to guide development and redevelopment projects all over the city, prompt us to urge that the city proceed with caution.
Midtown didn’t lose its luster overnight; there is plenty of time for care and sensitivity in the effort to bring it back.
The plan, which offers low-interest loans for property owners to make improvements, would use a portion of property taxes collected in the designated area through 2043 to pay for enhancing public and private properties, infrastructure and housing.
Some of the resistance to it comes from people who resent having their businesses or blocks labeled “blighted,” one of the designations that qualifies the city for redevelopment funds. In the competition for such money, cities can get a little casual in their use of the term; Oxnard was criticized recently for declaring a swath of farmland “blighted” so it could be included in an urban renewal project.
Others feared that the project would lead to abuse of the city’s powers of eminent domain. What would keep Redevelopment Agency officials from condemning property belonging to owners who resisted the plan and turning that property over to more cooperative, or otherwise favored, developers?
After several meetings with neighborhood residents and property owners, the city agreed to waive its powers of eminent domain and acquire property in the project area only through negotiation, not force.
The city also stresses that participation in the plan is voluntary, and has increased from one to three the number of times its Redevelopment Agency is required to notify area residents and owners of any changes to the plan.
City officials were wise to listen to the concerns of area residents and property owners and find ways to make the process more palatable. That kind of two-way conversation will be absolutely essential if Ventura’s visioning exercise is to be worth anything at all.