In a surprising disclosure, Simi Valley Councilman Glen Becerra announced that Walmart is indeed the Tenant that will occupy the vacant Mervyn’s building at the corner of Sycamore and Cochran. In February I wrote about the two new locations; both the Mervyn’s and the vacant Von’s on Tapo Street. (see: 3 Walmarts in Simi Valley?)
The announcement at the very tail end of Monday’s Simi Valley City Council Meeting by Councilman Glen Becerra, leaves more questions and concerns, than it helps clear the air. In my February article I was very clear, that I was not against Walmart occupying this location. The old Mervyn’s building is properly zoned for this use. Public outcry could not stop Walmart, as Walmart does not need approvals to occupy this building. Some of my concerns are the following:
Why all the secrecy? Assistant city manager Gabler claims he was sworn to secrecy in interview with the Ventura County Star. Who swore him to secrecy and why was that necessary?
Why are the exterior changes to Mervyns not being sent to the planning commission? A great example is that cell phone antenna locations that are put on top of existing office buildings are required to go through lengthy approval process with the city and must go in front of the planning commission. Yes I know that the CUP triggers a planing commission review, but the wailing and moaning that goes on over the changes to the roof line of the buildings seems to be the bigger deal out of those projects. The modifications to the tops of these office buildings are infinitesimal compared to the exterior changes we will see on the Mervyn’s building. It would have been nice for the public to have had some input on the updating of that shopping center as Sycamore and Cochran hosts “The Simi Valley Business District”. The Sales Tax Revenue and the Jobs at Sycamore and Cochran that the City has benefited from demands the city include the public in these kinds of projects. Even if the developer for the Mervyn’s building refused to name the new tenant (Walmart), the exterior modifications to the building and the shopping center that will be coming as a result of the new tenant, deserved public discussion and input.
How convenient that the disclosure was made after the appeal period expired to bring this issue in front of the planning commission. Kudos goes to Simi Valley Planning Commissioner Bibb for being the lone voice on this issue. From the outside this looks very calculated between the City Council and City Staff. The fact that the other four Simi Valley planning commissioners remained silent and did not help with the appeal may indicate that the city does not understand the importance of keeping the public informed and opening the discussion for public comment. The Simi Valley City Council has a great track record of playing Father Knows Best and the voters got tired of it and voted in two new council members to shake up the council. Lets hope they look back on the poor handling of this Mervyn’s building and get it through their heads that open public discussion will be rewarded.
I don’t agree with Simi Valley Councilman Becerra’s postion that having staff explain how the process is working would be a sufficient explanation why the public was left out of the discussion on the changes to the Mervyn’s building and shopping center. Again going back to my example, last week Verzion was in front of the planning commission because they are going to change out their antenna on a building and raise roof screening 1 foot – in comparison, it makes no sense why the planning staff would handle this Walmart internally and exclude the planning commission, thus shutting down any public input.
Councilman Becerra lamented that Planning Commissioner Bibb could not get support from another Planning commissioner for an appeal, yet Councilman Becerra neglects to explain if he was so concerned, why didn’t he appeal it from the Council and get the project in front of the Planning Commission.
One would think that after watching the train wreck of how the last City Council under Mayor Miller tried to keep the landfill expansion out of the public discussion, that it’s a no brainer that a major retail location in the center of Simi Valley should be up for public input and comment on the exterior changes to the building and shopping Center.
One of the more amusing comments by Councilman Becerra was that he did not think Simi Valley was a two Walmart Town. Is that because Simi Valley is going to be a 3 Walmart town? Councilman Becerra has his share of the blame for Simi Valley becoming a Two Target and Three Walmart Town; past decisions of prior councils set the ball in motion for this to happen, the question remains if Simi Valley can learn from it’s mistakes on the dais. History always provides a lesson as we had a City Council member back in the 1980s that stated we needed “Low Traffic Generators” for businesses in Simi Valley. I am not sure if that disastrous philosophical view has ever left our city. We have built our retail hopes on attracting shoppers from outside Simi Valley and have rejected the needed internal growth that would have sustained our retailers and attracted new employers. Low traffic generators don’t bring quality jobs and only provide anemic sales tax revenues. So far Simi Valley batting 1000 in both those categories.
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