Love where you live!
The Former Police Station Land Now Sits Vacant
A Heart Transplant For La Mesa?
LA MESA -- The Village Property Based Improvement District debate can get tiring.
Months, even years, go by and the issue can quickly join the cross on Mt. Soledad and seals at La Jolla's Children's Pool -- seemingly insoluble conflicts in which the merits of the debate lose out to the intransigence of the combatants.
Maybe what is needed are game-changing proposals that shift the focus completely.
Here's an idea: A Heart Transplant for La Mesa.
Rather than fussing forever over how much to polish the few blocks between Fourth Street and Acacia along La Mesa Boulevard, let's encourage the building of a new downtown.
There are roughly ten open acres of land stretching from Interstate 8 along Spring Street to the vacant lot that was once the city's old police station. Much of the land is already publicly owned and the parcels that aren't public are owned by a civic-minded local family already interested in redeveloping the land.
The land borders the trolley line and is served by a bus hub -- the exact recipe regional planners are calling for future smart growth and development. In short -- it is a gold mine.
The roughly 1.5 acre former police station land has already been appraised at more than $8-million. The acres north of there, now designated for a "civic center'' in the city's General Plan, are worth many millions more. Add to it the possibilities already being probed for the Park Station land further north, and, in concept, you have a game-changer. Not many fully built-out cities -- Detroit is an exception! -- can point to such a blank canvas at its heart.
With the possibility of building America's next great downtown, La Mesa might even attract a developer of national caliber, someone who could put the Jewel of the Hills on the world map. Imagine tourists from cruise ships jumping on the Orange Line for a short train ride to the Perfect City. Take that Gaslamp!
It is natural that issues like the PBID in La Mesa Village stir such emotions. It is a pleasant stretch of street, a throwback to Mayberry even, and it is as close as La Mesa comes to having a "town square.'' It is lovely and with new streets and sidewalks, it will be even more pleasant. But a clear-eyed look at the mix of what now calls the Village home certainly suggests economic forces have already moved the traditional meaning of "downtown" elsewhere.
Once the economic heart of the city, La Mesa Village is now only a symbolic heart. There are as many businesses operating along the portion of La Mesa Boulevard between University and Jackson and, frankly, many of those businesses appear more inviting and vibrant than many in the cherished Village. For all its charm, the Village has become home to more service-oriented businesses - realtors, lawyers and financial advisers -- while retail has moved elsewhere. The city's list of significant contributors to its sales tax take relegates the Village to "sliver of the pie if that,'' as one city official put it.
With some creative thought and marketing to the open land that rests at La Mesa's heart, perhaps a New Village emerges, one that can carry its weight and can, with the refurbished Old Village nearby, sustain La Mesa's distinct image as one of America's great small towns, even as urban life grows up around it.
That settled, perhaps we can erect Jewish, Islamic and Atheist symbols on Mt. Soledad to accompany the cross and teach those seals to swim nicely with children in La Jolla!