WEST COVINA — A drive on the San Bernardino Freeway through West Covina is like a drive through El Monte. Or Baldwin Park. Signposts and some neon lights dot the flat vista. Buildings are barely visible through the trees. Only the exit signs distinguish one community from another.
West Covina officials want to change all that and hope that a $180,000 study by a Pasadena planning firm will help them develop a new look that will entice more of the 140,000 motorists who pass by on the freeway each day to stop and spend money.
"We think they ought to feel something special as they enter the city and as they leave the city," said Planning Director Paul Curtis.
But even though the "futuristic look"--complete with high-rise office buildings, hotels, a performing-arts center, small retail businesses and restaurants--is still only a vision in the minds of city planners, some homeowners are already having nightmares.
Assurances that the study is merely a guide--any change is at least five years away--have not allayed the fears of some residents that the projected commercial development might push them out of their homes or increase traffic so much that their neighborhoods would become unsafe.
"Everybody seems like they want to make a Beverly Hills out of West Covina," said Katherine Castucci, who lives about a quarter-mile from the freeway, on South Pima Avenue.
"Maybe people don't want it. I don't want high-rises in my backyard," Castucci said.
She fears that the study will lay the groundwork for city officials to demolish homes to make room for office buildings.
City officials have held a number of community meetings in an effort to ease such fears. They emphasize that only one of three proposed alternatives would eliminate any housing, and under that plan, only a few homes would be demolished.
They also point out that there is no plan at present to formally adopt any of the proposals.
City officials are convinced that development of a corridor parallel to the five-mile stretch of freeway from Merced Avenue to Grand Avenue has the greatest potential to generate more tax revenue and that careful and early planning for any new development is essential.
The freeway corridor "will be the salvation of the city in terms of property and sales tax," one council member said at a recent council meeting.
Concentration of Business
About 860, or 70%, of the city's businesses--including those in the central business district and Eastland Shopping Center--lie within the corridor.
Each of the plans has the same basic concept but differs in the number of buildings that would be constructed and where they would be placed. All three plans include suggestions for land use, marketing, traffic flow, landscaping and building designs.
The study also will make recommendations about whether West Covina Parkway should be extended east to ease traffic in the residential areas, or whether the city needs a transportation link, such as a shuttle or monorail, between downtown and the restaurant row on Garvey Avenue north of the freeway.
City officials expect formal public hearings on the study to begin at a Planning Commission meeting Oct. 15, with final recommendations to be forwarded to the City Council by the end of the year.
Not a General Plan
Officials say that the study was undertaken after a number of developers sought information about the potential for building along the freeway.
"We are not changing the (general) plan or zone for anyone's property," Curtis said. "It's not like a general plan. It doesn't mean that it will happen."
"There's no plan to overnight come in and with a wave of a wand replace all existing uses with something else," said Mayor Chester E. Shearer.
"We feel that the freeway corridor is so important that we ought to have a master plan," Shearer said.
Fear for Homes
But Michael Abbondante, who lives about 75 yards from the freeway, on Shamwood Street, said after one of the community meetings that he is not convinced.
"They say right now there's no intention (of taking homes), but they're not putting on a stone tablet that they will not ask us to move," he said.
Phillip Vasquez, who lives about 500 feet from the freeway on Orange Avenue, said he is concerned about parking problems that may result as traffic in the area increases.
As it is, traffic generated by El Dorado College on West Pacific Avenue is causing problems for some residents, including Vasquez.
"I have to get up early in the morning to park the car on the street so I can get out," he said.
Other residents voiced concerns about night-time traffic.
"We don't want restaurants that are open until 2 in the morning and cater to night-time business," said Edna Owen, president of the East Hills Homeowners Assn., who lives within the freeway corridor.
The group currently has about 250 active members and, Owen said, "we're constantly getting requests for additional participation" because people are concerned about the study.