Are we insane?

Listening to Gary and Jay speak at the candidates forum last night, it was almost like they were making the case for their own defeat.  They went through a litany of the stores that have closed on their watch, and a litany of failed efforts to keep stores here or to attract new national chains to our city.

Ask Jay why they have failed, and he tells us it's because of our failed redevelopment effort.  I wish he would have clarified when this failure occurred.  As near as I can figure, he's talking about events from back when Ken Pike was recalled, and the four years or so after that.  Because of that, he says that Rosemead has gotten "a bad reputation."

That excuse might have carried some water back in 1978 or 1980.  But here we are, thirty years later.  If you "tried and tried" but have failed and failed to bring new businesses to Rosemead these past thirty years, I say you've had your chance.  After all, they say that the definition of insanity is to try the same thing over and over and expect different results.

Are Gary and Jay the people who can lead our city forward, into a renaissance of economic development?  Rosemead, you only need to ask yourself one question:  "Are we insane?"


"Yes" is the correct answer.

I don't see what the big deal is. There aren't that many locations for big stores, and the ones that do exist, aside from the mall, all have some accessibility problems. Some sites in the area didn't make it as national chains, and became Chinese malls.

Other ones became Mexicanized. The national stores failed to compete. They don't know how to cater to the existing demographics. Moreover, the two stores that still exist, Del Mar Foods and Beach's, both adapted to the changing market, and thus, still exist.

The new big trend is middle class people freaking out about traffic, and moving downtown to be closer to their jobs, or into specific suburbs (near their jobs) with good school scores. Again, demographics change, and stores that adapt will continue to exist.

Personally, I would like to see a little bookstore in the area. Maybe the time isn't quite here yet, but, eventually, the immigrant/native ratio will fall (because their kids will be around), and with all the more affluent (rich) people around, you'd think they'd want a book store around for their kids. Today, most of the bookstores around here are Christian or Chinese. If I really need to buy a book for work or something, I head to Pico Rivera or Pasadena (or to Fry's, or online, or Bittorrent*).

* Bittorrent is a great source of books. Entire libraries of ebooks, mostly obscure university press books, self published tomes, and free classics, are being distributed legally and illegally. It's a great way to find books that you may never see at Borders or Barnes and Noble, or in most bookstores in Los Angeles for that matter.


I'm going to stress that I'm only speaking for myself.  I'm not speaking for anyone currently in office, and I'm not speaking for anyone who's running for office.  This is just me, looking at a map, looking at where my city has been heading, and wondering why we're doing so poorly in comparison to our neighoring towns.


John, you're thinking too small.  You keep looking at the way the city looks today and then conclude that this is the only way it can ever look.  And, yes, from where we stand now, it's hard to imagine our city becoming vital.

But there are some sizeable areas that could be developed into something real.  That corner of Temple City and Valley is an example.  Move beyond that immediate corner and look behind those businesses.  What do you find?  A surprisingly large amount of land that could be developed into new retail and/or residential properties (particularly if we could cooperate with Temple City and El Monte).

A few years ago, when we were looking for an alternative site for the Wal-Mart, I used Google Earth to browse our city and look for places big enough to accommodate a supercenter.  When I looked north of Valley, near Temple City, I saw a lot of space.  The Wal-Mart EIR only looked to the northeast corner of those streets, and said that, at only about (as I recall) 8 acres, it wasn't large enough to accommodate a Supercenter.

Well, first of all, I recall seeing a story in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune a few months ago in which Pico Rivera was going to build a shopping center anchored by a Best Buy and a supermarket on a parcel no larger than that.  And the tax revenue to Pico Rivera?  About $600,000/year.

Think about that:  Using about 1/4 of the acreage of the Wal-Mart Supercenter, we could have a grocery store and roughly the same amount of tax revenue coming into our city.

Now, look around that parcel.  Immediately to the east, across the Eaton Wash, is El Monte.  Their side of the wash is mostly either vacant land or industrial land.  Immediately to the west, across Temple City Blvd, is, again, mostly industrial or vacant land (most of that land is in El Monte, but there's no good way they can develop that land without coming through Rosemead).  Go on up north and cross the railroad tracks and the wash, and you're in Temple City.  And, again, the land is mostly vacant and/or industrial.  While you're north of the railroad tracks, cross back over Temple City, and you're in El Monte.  And, again, the area is mostly industrial.

Put that all together, and you've got a scary-huge area that could become anything you can imagine, particularly if the three cities cooperated.

Now, I wouldn't actually want all of that area to become some sort of mega-retail center.  But that's the beauty of thinking big.  When you have that much land to "play with," you can imagine all sorts of things.  I can imagine some of those wash-adjacent areas becoming part of the "Emerald Necklace."  I can imagine some of this area becoming residential or mix-use.  I can imagine realigned and widened streets.  And I can imagine parts of that area becoming the sort of large retail development that people in Rosemead actually want.

It can't happen today.  But if I had thirty years to try to realize this vision, I think I'd be a lot closer to seeing something great happening in Rosemead than we are today.


At the debate, someone asked a question that drew the parallel to Monterey Park about twenty years ago.  I wish I had the chance to answer that question, because I think we're going down the same path:  An over-reaction by retailers to serve the "new" residents.  Of course, now Monterey Park is trying to shift gears.  Now they're talking about trying to bring in those national chains in their new developments (some of which seem a little insane, themselves--how they're going to fit all of those residential units and the commercial component of their project slated for the southwest corner of Garvey and Atlantic is a mystery to me).

I'd say a city council with vision would be able to get Rosemead to skip that intermediate step and leapfrog ahead of Monterey Park.

I walk down Valley Blvd now and I see what must be a reaction to an epidemic of sore feet.  A few years ago, there was an epidemic of thirsty patrons in search of a boba.  In between, it seemed everyone thought that baguettes were what Rosemead residents wanted to eat.  I hate to beat up on the small entrepreneur, but they're just chasing one fad after another.  If we want to be a city with nothing offered but the latest fad, then, by all means, let's leave things the way they are.

Now, I don't blame the small businessman for wanting to cash in on these fads.  But that's where a city's leadership is supposed to come in.  Unless you want continued random development like we've had in the past, the city's master plan has to be revised, and revised properly.  Then we've got to follow that road map if we're ever going to get out of this rut.

So, for example, I would suspect that, 30 years ago, the folks in Alhambra figured out that they needed to bring in more sales tax revenue, and that one way to do that would be to develop an "auto row" along Main St.  So they went ahead and did it.  Year by year, they brought new dealers to Main Street, and now it's a true auto row.

Now I admit, a  a car dealership is not particularly attractive.  But they are a gold mine of sales tax revenue, and they bring in that revenue without having much of an effect on congestion (they bring in a lot of money with very few customers and very few shoppers).

Meanwhile, Rosemead did nothing of the sort.  Until, that is, about ten years ago, when someone (Jay Imperial, I think) decided that we should try to bring an auto dealership to Valley Blvd, just west of the McDonald's that's on Walnut Grove.  That's the "New Century Automall."

It's hardly surprising that the dealership failed.  Rather than being part of an "auto row," it was plopped there all by itself, with no other new car dealerships in the city, and no other new car dealerships within three or four miles.  I look at that lot, and think to myself, "What kind of a fool would think that plopping one small dealership in the middle of Rosemead is a good idea?  Especially after Alhambra and El Monte have already developed their own auto rows?"

To me, that's the definition of "Too little, too late."


And it's not just about demographics.  Alhambra's got a Ralph's, and an Albertson's, and we don't have either.  Temple City also has a Ralph's and an Albertson's.  Monterey Park has two Ralph's.  Each of those cities have Asian populations comparable to our own.  Montebello has a Von's and an Albertson's, and they've got a comparable Hispanic population, as well as a large Asian population.  San Gabriel has an Albertson's.

Of course, Rosemead once had a Ralph's.  But I almost have to imagine that the Wal-Mart boosters were happy to see it go--the better to sell their idea of a Supercenter as our savior.  Besides, if you were Ralph's and you knew that Rosemead was pulling out all the stops to bring in a Wal-Mart, you'd be a little reluctant to try to keep your piddling little store on Valley Blvd open.  Now, if they had been able to expand that store into something more comparable in size to the Ralph's in Alhambra, or the Pavilion's in Arcadia, they would have been much more willing to stay.  But that would have required a major renovation of that shopping center, and a more efficient store layout.  And our city council wasn't willing to help make that happen.


Bring this all together:  For the last thirty years, we've had haphazard development.  There's been no effort to develop any particular retail core.  And no effort to assemble parcels from willing sellers into something more rational.  We still have those ridiculous freeway on-ramps and offramps (I think the winner has to be the one from westbound I-10 to northbound Rosemead Blvd--the offramp goes THROUGH the Rosemead Square parking lot!).  And we still have no city center.

Thirty years of this rudderless city hall is way too long.

The ironic part is that the supporters of Jay and Gary will also look at Valley and Garvey and Rosemead Blvd and say the same things about the retail choices on those streets as I will. But they can't seem to make the connection between the shopping choices they despise and the city council members they love. That's insanity.

Are we insane?

I'm not defending haphazard (lack of) development; I'm just not a big fan of national chains. There's a Target (and now a Wal-Mart). That's one too many for me :-).

I was driving down the 101 recently, and it seemed like every city had a big outdoor mall with Home Depot, Costco, Office Depot, Wal Mart, Target, Staples, Best Buy, Circuit City, and some supermarket. You know that, in the mall, there's a Subway, McDonald's, L&L, Quizno's, Starbucks, Panda Express, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Carl's Jr, Outback, BJs, Hometown Buffet, Chili's, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, KFC, Jamba Juice, or Applebee's. It was like that, on and off, for around a hundred miles. I guess it's what people want, but, it was also kind of a bummer.

Drives like that make me appreciate the funkiness of our ethnic region. It also makes me a little upset about the unrealized potential here, because there's a lot of money being spent in this area, and a lot of interesting things are happening.

Thanks for your comments. I'll respond at length later.