Piece of Mind: The city's rarest species is seen alive and shopping

We'd all been told it could happen, that members of the very rarest of species, pedestrianus lacanadanus, could make regular appearances on Foothill Boulevard. But I was chief among the doubters.

Oh, sure, we'd see one or two bipeds along the main drag every now and again, but they were usually attached to skateboards. Or, they were the church-going variety, dashing from the sidewalk in front of La Cañada Presbyterian across the street to the Plaza shopping center, where they'd left their cars for the duration of a Sunday service.

About a dozen years ago some visionaries insisted that the heart of town could become friendly to the species. They exhorted city officials to develop a plan to encourage people to get out of their cars and shop the boulevard on foot. After a lengthy and costly study, the Downtown Village Specific Plan was approved, and pointed to with some pride. It was, everyone said, pedestrian-friendly.

“Hah,” I thought. Like that would ever come to anything. We are all too attached to our vehicles. We'll park in one block to go shopping at Adobe, then get into our cars to drive a block east for lunch at Dish. Why break a sweat walking back uphill to retrieve a car you've parked there when you can just as easily drive?

Or, at least that seemed to be the prevailing attitude for the decades I've called La Cañada home. It did, that is, until the first day of spring last week, when there were literally dozens of people walking on the sidewalks in the 800 and 900 blocks of Foothill, drawn by the grand opening of the Sprouts market.

Realists probably will be quick to point out that the people were on foot because they'd had to park their cars along the boulevard and hoof their way to the store; the parking lot there was full. But the dreamer in me wants to think that at long last, the specific plan's goal to make the heart of the commercial center an inviting place to stroll and shop was actually being realized.

There was a wonderful vitality to it all. It was as though the boulevard had come alive. People were carrying the bright green totes that Sprouts was handing out, and the civic center was swarming with them all day. I like to imagine that they dropped by other businesses, perhaps in the Town Center, and left some coin behind there, too.

Several days later, I took another look. There wasn't quite the crowd I'd seen earlier, but there were still clusters of people walking along the sidewalks in that block.

Of course, I witnessed this all from behind my steering wheel. Hey! I'm an observer, not necessarily a joiner.


Speaking of the view, is it just me, or does the remodeling of the old Sportland building into an attractive new store enhance the Town Center that is directly across the street? Each complements the other.

I did eventually leave the car behind (ever-so-briefly) to shop at Sprouts. After making some purchases and exiting the store, I stood at the corner of Beulah and Foothill for a couple of minutes to take a good look at the surroundings. What a transformation has taken place! One might never guess that the stretch of town between Beulah and Angeles Crest had been hard on the eyes for many years.

Credit is due to everyone, from those who developed the properties to the people in City Hall, the City Council and the many commissioners who studied the projects from all angles. I wish it all could have been accomplished much sooner, and with less acrimony than we all went through before the Downtown Specific Plan was created, but all's well, especially now that we know pedestrianus lacanadanus is alive and shopping.

CAROL CORMACI is the managing editor. She can be reached at carol.cormaci@latimes.com.

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