Youth Voices is working with middle school students from three schools in the El Monte City School District: Columbia, Durfee, and Wright. The students, participants in the English Language Development program at their schools, formed teams to explore, investigate, and write about an important issue in their community; all the while they are learning and expanding their knowledge of civic journalism and community engagement. Follow their work on social media by using the hashtag #KCETYV.
Our community cause is to revitalize the Valley Mall in the City of El Monte through a campaign for new businesses that could strengthen our local economy. This topic is important because it would make our mall look better and bring more attention to this outstanding place. Revitalizing the Valley Mall will make people in El Monte happy to shop and gather at our mall.
Our short term goal is to organize a fundraiser to raise funds to change the physical image of the current Valley Mall. A new and an attractive image could improve the residents' shopping experience, but especially the youth. Our goal is to bring more stores that cater to our youth culture, like Zumiez and L.A.'s own Boarders.
As a group we know how the Valley Mall could be inclusive to the needs of youth. So we felt it was important to hear what adults think of the mall. So we set out to interview adults who have a shared investment in our local economy.
The first person we interviewed was Mr. Estrella, an El Monte resident and frequent customer at the Valley Mall. "There should be more stores at the Valley Mall," he said, as he explained that his only critique is that he wished the sidewalks could be cleaned more frequently and that the mall provided free public restrooms.
The second person we interviewed was Ms. Garcia, who said that she likes the Valley Mall, but feels unsafe with the lack of store security. She hopes the mall could also provide better parking facilities, safer crossing lights for safety, and a book store.
The final person that we interviewed was Mr. Gonzalez, the owner of World Piñatas located at the Valley Mall. He told us that he likes the Valley Mall because it's a good place to do business. Changing the Valley Mall is not just an idea birthed in our classroom; it's also the on the long term plans the City of El Monte plans on spearhead within our life time.
Mr. Jason Mikaelin is the Planning Services Manager for the City of El Monte's Economic Development Department. Mr. Mikaelin is part of the city's efforts to develop El Monte's Downtown where the Valley Mall is currently located. The Department of Economic Development has been working on the Downtown plan for over a year. Their goal is to fix the streets and create more room for new types of businesses. So we spoke to Mr. Mikaelin about the plans and the future of El Monte's downtown.
Q: What are your plans for the Valley Mall?
A: Right now we are working on a draft plan for Downtown El Monte. One of the recommendations is to change the name of Valley Mall to Main Street. However, Main Street is just one part of the larger downtown area. The draft plan calls to sub-divide the downtown area into six parts.
Q: Would housing be allowed? If so, how many stories could the housing be?
A: Main Street would remain the centerpiece of the downtown area. The plan calls for it to be a good place to shop and walk. Outdoor dining would be allowed. Buildings would be 2-3 stories high and built up to the sidewalk. Keeping buildings that are historic would be encouraged. There would also be opportunities for new building (infill construction).
Q: What parts of the Valley mall will be changed?
A: The draft plan calls for a variety of improvements along Main Street:
- Using the existing modified street: The City has already done a lot of improvements along Main Street, including adding diagonal parking and landscaping. Here, the plan calls to keep the existing street and add art, additional landscaping where needed, etc.
- Convertible Street: Here, the street would be design to allow parts of it to be closed off for special events. Plug outlets would be in place for street fairs, bollards (concrete posts) could be easily added to close off an end of the street to car traffic, etc.
- New Public Plazas and Green Space: This calls to improve the existing open space areas and possibly adding new spaces on the north side and south side of Main Street. These would not just be like green parks, but would include plaza areas and be multi-purpose for many different community events.
- Paseo Network: This calls to improve the existing paseos or alleyways. Alleys would be made more beautiful to connect Main Street to parking areas and other parts of the downtown. Lighting and signing would also be added.
Q: Who will be part of this change and are they part of the Economic Development Department?
A: Right now, the Economic Development Department (planning, building and other divisions) is taking the lead on drafting the plan. However, they have been working closely with other departments including public works/engineering, recreation, police and L.A. County Fire. They have also been working closely with the Chamber of Commerce, downtown businesses, property owners, and residents. The other big piece of the project is on the private side -- property owners, businesses, people, and interested developers. The City creates the plan and does the public improvements (e.g. street work, paseos, public parking lots, etc.). However, the private side would do the actual buildings for new businesses, etc.
Q: How will this change affect the citizens of El Monte?
A: Once the plan is in place and implemented, it could change El Monte in many ways. The downtown would be a more attractive place to visit and shop and have entertainment. The new businesses would create jobs for El Monte residents and increase taxes (revenues) for all residents.
Q: Finally, when will this change begin and how long will it take for everything to happen?
A: We have been working on the plan for a little over a year. This summer, we will work to finalize the recommendations and draft the plan (which will look like a large book). In the fall, we will complete the environmental review for the project (for example, look at traffic impacts). Then in the winter we will go to the City Planning Commission and City Council for final approval. It does take time for a downtown to match the vision of any plan. Other medium sized cities or communities that have gone through this process include Monrovia, Montrose, Sierra Madre, Covina, Claremont, and La Verne.