BALDWIN PARK, like many cities in the San Gabriel Valley, is looking to use redevelopment financing as a tool to bring in new commercial, residential and office space.

A plan to tear down dilapidated, poorly built and sited shopping centers – their nearly empty parking lots looming for acres in between the street and the stores – and abutting homes and apartment buildings, after purchasing them at fair market value from property owners using eminent domain, is picking up steam.

Though the scope could change, right now the redevelopment agency, through exclusive agreement with Bisno Development Co. of Century City, is trying to buy 81 residential properties and 289 businesses in a 125-acre project area that stretches along Ramona Boulevard from La Rica Avenue on the west, Clark Street on the north, the border with West Covina on the east and Sterling Way on the south.

In their place would be as many as 8,000 new residential units (two- and three-story condos and townhomes), 3 million square feet of commercial (including small department stores), 750,000 square feet of retail and entertainment (including a movie theater and chain restaurants), a 300-room hotel and possibly a 1,000-student charter school.

There’s no doubt that if even a portion of this is realized over the 15 years of the project, the city’s downtown will benefit, as will its residents. The developer’s vision is an urban village reachable by foot by seniors and residents of all
ages living near the mixed-use downtown village.

About a third of the homeowners targeted have settled with the agency/developer and many others have signed petitions in favor of the project. But a healthy opposition continues to post signs and voice concerns.

Those who oppose the use of eminent domain – tying the opposition to the bogus state Proposition 98 – are missing the big picture. Yes, in other states, and in other eras in California, eminent domain has been woefully misused.

Take a walk through this area of Baldwin Park, both homes and commercial, and see if you think it would be misused here. The city has been successful in the past with similar projects. It has a good track record of development that have greatly improved the city.

Baldwin Park, through redevelopment and eminent domain, has cleared away seedy motels, numerous houses and old shopping centers and relocated residents and businesses to make way for a Wal-Mart Supercenter, Target and most recently, the Smart & Final center.

When the city bulldozed prostitution-ridden motels, the residents cheered. More recently when homes were taken to make way for a thriving commercial district at Baldwin Park Boulevard and Francisquito Avenue near the San Bernardino (10) Freeway, not many complained. And we can bet that those who did shop there now.

It’s a simple fact that mid-century Los Angeles County cities that grew in crazily haphazard ways, as did Baldwin Park, need redevelopment and yes, eminent domain as a last resort, to pave the way for new development. When redevelopment is done right, it can add new shopping choices for residents and increase city revenues, which help pay for services needed by all residents, including public safety, libraries and recreation.

To do nothing is to increase the decline of property values and accelerate the flow of sales tax dollars outside the city, mostly to West Covina.

Many project details and potential impacts are still to come. We’ll wait until the Environmental Impact Report is completed in a few weeks to shed more light on these issues before we reach any further conclusions.

Pasadena Star-News: