WHITTIER — Like a latter-day Marco Polo, Bruce Martin sees the extension of Hadley Street as the golden link to lure shoppers from new markets across the Puente Hills.
The executive director of Whittier's Chamber of Commerce believes untold numbers of San Gabriel Valley shoppers are waiting for a chance to spend in Uptown Whittier if a new trade route is carved through the steep hills above the city.
That route, Martin contends, should be Hadley, a broad, four-lane street that dead-ends a few blocks east of Painter Avenue at the city limits. Rising sharply above the guard rail at Hadley's end are the rounded ridges and grassy canyons that separate Whittier from Colima Road and the burgs of Hacienda Heights, La Puente and Rowland Heights.
30% Store Vacancy Rate
Martin, like many in Whittier, is convinced that the Hadley extension would be a boon to merchants in Uptown Whittier. Since the late 1970s, shopkeepers and city officials have spent several million dollars giving Uptown a face lift to attract consumers and new business, which is needed to reduce a 30% vacancy rate in the shopping district.
Much of Whittier's redevelopment push, particularly on the city's west side, also would be directly affected by the 2 1/2-mile extension of Hadley.
Besides boosting business in Whittier, regional transit experts say that connecting Hadley with Colima is one way to ease traffic in the hills, a growing problem that threatens a half-dozen communities on both sides of the ridge.
"Everybody wants that road to go through," Martin said the other day. "But there's a catch, a big catch. . . ."
Money. It is the same obstacle that has stymied the project since it was first drawn up in the late 1950s. Back then, buying the land, grading the road bed and paving the lanes to extend Hadley would have cost $2.5 million. Today, the price tag is $15 million to $18 million, and nobody seems ready to ante up.
The County's Responsibility
As much as Whittier officials want the extension, they say it is a county project because it lies in unincorporated territory east of the city. County officials say they cannot afford to do it without help from the area's three major property owners--Rose Hills Memorial Park, Chevron U.S.A. and Union Oil Co. All three said they have no plans to develop their holdings in the Whittier backcountry and have no interest at this point in financing any or all of the Hadley extension.
Nonetheless, Whittier officials in recent months have been working privately to get the project moving forward.
Mayor Gene Chandler said a small delegation of city representatives, headed by former Mayor Jack Mele and former chamber president Dave Cannon, met with Chevron officials in January and walked part of the proposed Hadley route. While Cannon said the session produced little movement on the issue, some interpret the behind-the-scenes activity as a signal the city is accelerating efforts to get Hadley extended.
Chandler has dedicated his second term of office to getting Hadley extended. After his reelection last April, he said the project would be his top priority over the next four years.
Clyde Haight, who last week retired as public works director after 28 years with the city, said the Hadley project has been the city's No. 1 priority as long as he can remember.
"When I'm asked what are the city's top three public works projects, I always say 'Hadley, Hadley, Hadley,' " Haight said. "It would make a lot of people happy in this city."
Particularly, it would make happy those living along Mar Vista Street between Painter and Colima. For years, Mar Vista has been a shortcut for motorists who use Colima and want to reach Uptown Whittier or the city's west side. Rather than come south from Hacienda Heights over the hill to Whittier Boulevard, they turn right from Colima onto Mar Vista and go west through the tree-lined neighborhood. Extending Hadley would alleviate the need to use Mar Vista because motorists could take Colima to Hadley to Whittier Boulevard, an easier and more direct route.
Mar Vista residents have complained for years about traffic on their two-lane street. In the early 1970s, they organized and lobbied for the Hadley extension, hoping for some relief from the noise, exhaust and speeding. When that failed, they persuaded the City Council to put stop signs and signals along the street to slow traffic and break up the flow, making it safer to back in and out of driveways. Still, Mar Vista residents believe that extending Hadley is the only way to permanently restore quiet to their neighborhood.
"If Hadley goes through, traffic along here would drop dramatically," said George Corporales, president of the Mar Vista Property Owners Assn.
And, Corporales is confident Hadley will go through one day. The reason, he said, "is the land in the hills is just too valuable not to develop. Soon those oil companies will want houses up there, not derricks, and the road will appear . . . . "