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By Councilman Sam Allevato
I ask this question because it is truly perplexing why a very small vocal segment of this wonderful community wants to keep our town in the downward spiral of stagnation, vacant storefronts and vacant lots, especially downtown and other areas planned for development. First it was an In-N-Out Restaurant, which was planned for Del Obispo, but is now an auto parts store where you can watch folks repairing their cars in the parking lot instead. The latest victim of this “sky is falling” mentality is the retirement community planned for the Vermeulen property. The new majority on the City Council voted (4-1) this past council meeting to rescind the approval of the project after a referendum was circulated at Von’s and other places asking people to sign so this issue could be put to a vote of the public. But what does this new majority do? For the first time in San Juan history, they voted to rescind the approvals themselves, denying the public the right to vote on this project as promised by the signature gatherers. Mindboggling to say the least; disingenuous at its worst. This project would have provided much needed housing for our seniors, allowing them to stay in the community they love. Oh, did I mention that this project would have also paid approximately $10 million in developer fees and would have been the single highest property tax generator in the city, and would have had an aquatics complex for our residents, and with no significant impact by traffic? Now the opponents of this project want the city to buy this land for ball fields. I ask where the city is going to get the $20-$30 million to buy this land—even if the property owners consented to sell to the city—which they have withheld twice in the past.
Now you are being asked to sign a petition to block a boutique hotel project for our downtown by the same group of individuals that killed the retirement community. In spite of the fact that this hotel would bring new vitality and synergism to the downtown, much new revenue for the city (estimated at $1 million in transient occupancy and property tax annually) and new residents that could actually live, work and shop downtown as our Los Rios residents do, you are being cajoled at Von’s again to sign a petition to block this improvement to downtown. Do you want our downtown to continue to not have any new development or progress? Or do you prefer the revolving doors of restaurants and businesses that continue to open and then fail due to the lack of commerce downtown, where no new buildings have been built in the last 20 years in spite of the fact that 10 buildings have been knocked down in the same time period? Do you want more consignment stores and dollar stores for retail businesses or another restaurant that struggles to keep its doors open?
Which project will be next? I predict that the Trader Joe’s shopping center next to the Mission (Goveia Project) will be in the crosshairs next. Why would we want a really successful retailer in our town that our residents would actually use, when we could have the current vacant lot covered with weeds, trash and the unfortunate homeless? I am asking residents to wake up to what is happening before it is too late and our town reverts to the 1950s—no shoppers, no commerce, no revenue and no residents who want to live here any longer.
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