Despite Proposals, Action Lagging in Panorama City By BRAD SMITH Staff Reporter Alex Padilla is a Pacoima native. But he was born in Panorama City, and spent much of his youth working and hanging out at the Panorama Mall. “I was born there, at the Kaiser hospital in Panorama City, and my first job was at the Montgomery Ward’s store that shut down a couple of years ago,” said Padilla, today the president of the Los Angeles City Council. The changes have been significant: along with the Montgomery Ward store, the Panorama Mall lost three other department stores, all major chains, in the 1980s and 1990s. The mall, currently owned by Santa Monica-based Macerich, has a high occupancy rate; and the anchors have been replaced by Wal-Mart and La Curacao. Both department stores cater to the Latino immigrants and their families who are increasingly buying homes in the mid-Valley community. “There have been changes, but there’s still a high density of residents and pedestrians which should equal shoppers,” Padilla said. “Panorama City is very diverse, but there are still people there who have been there for decades, and there are still ranch-style homes on quarter acre lots Panorama City is defining itself for the next generation.” The neighborhood, built as a planned community in the postwar era, has been included in the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency’s East Valley project areas since the 1994 Northridge earthquake. The agency has more than $10 million to spend in order to encourage economic development in the Panorama City/Pacoima area in fiscal year 2005, including commercial development on the 9-acre site of the Montgomery Ward store at Cedros Avenue and Roscoe Boulevard. “It’s the largest single property in that area of the Valley,” Padilla said. “I’d love to see a model mixed use development there at Montgomery Ward, something like the Paseo Colorado project in Pasadena, with shops and restaurants and housing.” Vacant tower The CRA is also seeking a solution for the derelict Panorama Tower, south of Roscoe in Councilman Tony Cardenas’ district, which has been yellow-tagged since the 1994 quake. Cardenas declined to comment, but the CRA is moving forward on the project. A request for proposals from potential developers is pending, and CRA officials believe the multi-story structure can be rehabilitated. “We’re looking at different re-use options for the building,” said David Riccitiello, manager of the CRA’s East Valley region, which includes Panorama City. “It is an eyesore, and it has been for 10 years now.” There has also been new investment elsewhere in the community; the Plaza del Valle project in the 8000 block of Van Nuys Boulevard, developed by Agora Real Estate, which includes small shops, restaurants, and a “Hispanic Walk of Fame.” A new high school is being built by the LAUSD, and the former Robinsons May store south of Roscoe has been purchased for a new business after being closed by the company. Much of the focus of the CRA’s plans for Panorama City include getting the community to buy into whatever proposal goes forward, officials said. “One of the questions is how do you do redevelopment without gentrification?” Riccitiello said. “How do you do it without driving out the people who have chosen to live there?” Even with that caveat, however, redevelopment in Panorama City has lagged behind projects in North Hollywood and Pacoima. Executing the vision Despite the CRA presence and Padilla’s interest, plans for community design standards and an area “vision” have lagged more than a year after planners and architects volunteered their time to study the area and draw up proposals. The non-profit Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley helped assemble the group, called the Urban Design Assistance Team, in 2001. They put together a lengthy report and presented it in 2003. “The government is doing less than they should be doing; there just is not a lot of momentum coming from that side,” said planning consultant Bob Scott, a Panorama City native who was part of the volunteer group. “I expect that to change, and you’ve got the president of the council, (but) there’s not a lot of will on the part of the bureaucracy.” The CRA is exploring creating a Business Improvement District, but the community lacks both a Chamber of Commerce and a Neighborhood Council. “There is no highly visible leadership,” Padilla said. “So we’re reaching out, trying to identify who some of these folks are and partner with them.” Even with the challenges the CRA faces in Panorama City, residents say it is a vibrant and attractive neighborhood. “People are motivated in buying homes here because it is part of the American dream,” said Rene Barrios, 49, a real estate broker who moved from Highland Park to Panorama City three years ago. “It is a very cosmopolitan area; the houses are very good, the businesses are very good, we also have good schools, parks, the hospital is very close by,” said Barrios, who came to the U.S. from El Salvador in 1979. “It’s a good community.” Panorama City -Panorama Mall/Towers/Commercial District project: CRA is discussing redevelopment of the former Montgomery Ward department store site and the Panorama Towers office building, which has been vacant since the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Mixed-use and residential projects are under consideration, along with the creation of community-based economic development entities, including a possible Business Improvement District, Chamber of Commerce, or similar organizations. Streetscape, facade improvement, parking improvement, and beautification efforts are also under consideration.