Thursday, June 28, 2007

Getting Rid of Chainlink Fences

Chain Link Fence
Originally uploaded by BrittneyBush
There's an interesting post in today's L.A. Times about the City of Paramount, and what they credit with a huge rise in property values there. Paramount, like Pomona, is a city that combats a widely negative image to the general public (well, okay so Pomona's tarnished image is a bit well known). I think the powers that shouldn't be in Pomona could take a lesson or 2 from this article. WE just need to get people in office like the ones in Paramount:

Where picket fences make good neighborhoods
Civic improvements begun 25 years ago are turning Paramount, a former eyesore, into a success story.
Where picket fences make good neighborhoods
Civic improvements begun 25 years ago are turning Paramount, a former eyesore, into a success story.
By Louis Sahagun, Times Staff Writer
June 25, 2007

Not even civic boosters were prepared for the stunning news last week: Paramount, once labeled among the worst places to live in the nation, scored the second-largest gain in property values of any city in Los Angeles County.

Property values in the working-class, mostly Latino community grew 17.2% in 2006, placing it ahead of Palmdale and behind Lancaster — both perennial growth magnets. "We were very surprised by this finding," said Robert Knowles, a spokesman for the county assessor's office. "A year ago, Paramount had 12.3% growth, which was not even close to the top 10."

Authorities in Paramount, 15 miles southeast of Los Angeles, attributed the city's achievement to a long and hard parcel-by-parcel slog out of a municipal funk and relatively simple improvements that redefined its image.

Can other troubled suburbs hope to match Paramount's success?

To answer that question, Paramount City Manager Linda Benedetti-Leal likes to lead visitors into a new civic center oasis near the City Hall serving the city's 58,000 residents. She sweeps her hand past the native California plants, Mexican fan palms and a fountain-fed koi pond and says, "Our perception of ourselves starts here. This beautiful place sets a tone and raises expectations."

Richard Hollingsworth, president of Gateway Cities Partnership, a nonprofit community development corporation representing 27 cities of the southeast county, put it another way.

"There's a lesson here," he said. "Smart growth is not done in weeks or months or even years — it takes decades of plodding along. You start with a good plan and stick with it."

Many cities have defining characteristics. Lakewood has 40,000 trees. In Monrovia, it's classic California bungalows. Cerritos touts a titanium-clad library.

Paramount's sense of place is reflected in its little parks and white picket fences. The city's White Picket Fence Program pays 75% of the purchase and installation cost to replace chain-link fences with rust and graffiti-resistant polyurethane picket fences.

Satisfied customers include Jose Luis Romero, who a year ago adorned his two-bedroom home with a fence he described as "a heck of a deal, almost free. The city lets you pay your 25% portion on a payment plan.

"I've noticed a few more fences have gone up on the street since I got mine. I bought my home in 1994 for about $120,000. Now, I could get $400,000 for it, no problem," the 44-year-old warehouseman said.

The fences tend to serve as catalysts, motivating nearby property owners to paint a house, add an awning or plant a garden. They also embody one of the city's strategies: modest expenses for improvements with ripple effects.

Paramount has spent $708,380 on the fences in the last decade, about $70,000 a year, city officials say. About 325 homes have been spruced up. The average cost for each household — about $770.

A few blocks away from Romero's house, Alicia Alongi and her husband, Gus, prepared for the lunch crowd at their Cafe Corleone, an Italian restaurant that opened June 14.

"This city is amazing," said Alicia Alongi. "City officials said they will pay 75% of the cost of improving our facade, up to $26,000."

The couple had explored the possibility of opening their restaurant elsewhere, perhaps in Westwood or Culver City, but "fell in love with Paramount because of the way they have welcomed us," she said.

It helps that Paramount has a cohesive City Council. When it comes to renewal projects — from the first major redevelopment plans in the 1980s to recent agreements to make room for Wal-Mart and Home Depot stores — the five-member council routinely votes unanimously.

This year, the Paramount Unified School District is rolling out a new arts program and is building a new science building and football stadium at Paramount High School. This month, three Paramount High seniors were recipients of Gates Millennium Scholarships, which funds minority students' college education from the undergraduate through doctoral level in science, engineering, mathematics, education and library sciences.

Now, as Paramount celebrates its 50th anniversary as a city, officials are exploring proposals to upgrade their 20-year-old downtown core with new restaurants and condominiums.

Recreation Director Vince Torres said he was particularly proud of what he called the "Paramount welcome wall," a new public sculpture at Flower and Downey avenues. The wall, which masks a bus maintenance yard, incorporates a waterfall worthy of an upscale Orange County suburb, Torres said. Foot-high silver letters that spell Paramount are on the wall.

Torres also likes to show off Paramount's "pocket parks," which have become the city's antidote for trash-strewn vacant lots. The city entered into no-cost leasing agreements with the property owners to landscape their lots and accept liability while the land is in public domain, but the owners retain the right to sell at any time.

The effect of such enhancements is palpable just driving into town. It's generally tidy, devoid of graffiti and green. But getting to this point wasn't easy. The area once thrived as a center for dairies and hay markets. One of the few reminders of that time is a 50-foot-high, 120-year-old camphor tree — now a state landmark — that stands where hay dealers gathered to set the commodity's price.

Paramount was incorporated in 1957, combining the communities known as Clearwater and Hynes into a city of 5 square miles that now is bracketed by three freeways.

Paramount's fields, feedlots and more than 25,000 cows gave way to auto salvage companies, pipe yards and chrome platers. Many residents moved out.

In the 1970s, the demand for industrial use of former dairy lands, which initially had created a strong tax base, began to wane. Paramount then became a miniature rust belt. Some doubted whether the city, which had no discernible downtown, would ever attract commercial-retail development, given its severe shortage of space for basic goods and services, let alone office workers.

Then came a 1982 Rand Corp. report, which labeled Paramount a disaster area of gangs, polluting industries and cruddy neighborhoods. Things got so gloomy that when someone would ask, 'Where do you live?" Paramount residents would often reply, "Near Long Beach."

The year of that report, officials hatched the revitalization plan that continues to this day.

The plan couples aggressive municipal tools, such as code enforcement, with improvement programs designed to soften the "concrete jungle look" of a built-out city. Along with the White Picket Fence Program, the city offers roof rebates, in which public funds help underwrite the cost of a new roof. In the process, the program is eliminating the flat asphalt shingles which once dominated the city's skyline.

In 20 years, the city has planted 10,000 trees, built 11 fountains and created 10 miles of landscaped traffic medians. It added 10 pocket parks with no land acquisition costs. During the last decade, the crime rate plunged 40% and the number of gangs plummeted to 12 from 212.

But the city remains the proud home of Paramount Petroleum Corp., the largest producer of asphalt west of the Rocky Mountains, and the birthplace of the Zamboni, the ice-resurfacing machine invented by Frank J. Zamboni in 1949.

Standing in the machine shop of Frank J. Zamboni & Co. Inc., where ice groomers are still manufactured by hand for use in rinks worldwide, President Richard Zamboni said, "The 5-to-zip votes on the council speak to the town's single-most important purpose: fixing up."

That goal may be among Paramount's most valuable assets, said D.J. Waldie, a spokesman for neighboring Lakewood.

"A sense of place is not something you get by a lucky turn of the card," Waldie said. "It takes decades of focused effort at many levels, from neighborhoods to the retail core."

Nonetheless, the city continues to battle lingering negative impressions forged a quarter-century ago.

"We had to fight tooth and nail in 1999 just to get a Starbucks in Paramount," recalled former City Manager Pat West, now director of community development in Long Beach. "They were nervous about public safety. But we reminded them that two years earlier there had been a murder in Huntington Beach and yet they built a store there."

In an interview at a scholarship fundraiser, which featured wine-tasting and live jazz beneath the stately sycamores and elms of Progress Park, Paramount Mayor Peggy Lemons said, "We've come a long way, baby, but we've still got a long way to go."

"Some people just won't let go of that old negative image of Paramount," she added. "That is, until they come into town. Then they take a look around, smile and say, 'I had no idea.' "


Robin said...

Goddess, I don't know if you will see this comment on such an old post, but I found this article while searching Paramount to see if the name has any significance to Pomona. Recently (Feb. 2010) the name Paramount began to appear on google maps on the west side of Pomona. Type: 91766, CA and see if the mis-label shows on your computer too. I tried to contact google to complain, but I don't see the "edit" link they claim should be there. Funny coincidence... this mislabeling on the map and your earlier comparison of Paramount with Pomona.

It would be very nice to have a similar home improvement program in Pomona. I've long despised chain link fences. Pomona could look so much better with picket fences, what a lovely idea. Pocket parks are a great idea as well. Personally, I would like to see more community gardens.

Keep up the writing. I enjoy it. If you are able to contact google about the map problem, that would be great since I am not able. They claim it should say "edit" in the pop up window by the marker.

Robin said...

where's my brain? the mislabel appeared Feb. 2009.

Robin said...

update- I submitted a report to google maps. Not an easy job to find a way to contact them. I am positive there was never a Paramount in Pomona, especially since they show it to be near Westmont. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I've lived here for 50 plus years.