Go See Hal: City’s Community Development Director Talks Straight about La Verne’s Business Prospects

May 8, 2009
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Al & Ed's, under new management, is typical of La Verne's thriving entrepreneurial spirit.

Al & Ed's, under new management, is typical of La Verne's thriving entrepreneurial spirit.

This year marks Hal Fredericksen’s 10-year anniversary as La Verne’s community development director, overseeing planning, building and redevelopment. A La Verne resident, he also serves as the City’s liaison to the Chamber of Commerce and the Old Town Business Improvement District (BID) If a building is going up or down in town, or a business is moving in or out, Hal’s going to be among the first to know about it, and have some input or measure of influence over the project. Before joining La Verne in 1999, Hal was a member of Montclair’s planning department for 18 years. He’s a graduate of Cal Poly Pomona, where he studied urban and regional planning. 






Hal was gracious enough to sit down with La Verne Online and our questions concerning the city’s growth, development and future prospects.

How’s Old Town looking these days?

The nice thing about Old Town is it’s beautiful. It’s doing fairly well. It’s pretty quaint. Although it’s really too small for effective economic growth, I think it fits well with the character of La Verne. We try to feed Old Town with events like the Cool Cruise, which attracts 10,000 to 15,000 people. Yet, it’s still amazing how many people don’t really know what Old Town is.

What would you like to add Old Town wish list?

One thing we’re doing, which is really very, very important, is the preparation of a specific plan for Old Town La Verne and the Gold Line Transit Oriented Development Area. That’s a project we’ve been working on in various stages for the last three or four years, or more like seven or eight if you go all the way back to the first proposals. In particular, the specific plan will provide the zoning to see what kind of transit oriented development we will eventually encourage and see built around the Gold Line station. The Gold Line, depending on whom you talk to, could be coming to La Verne in three or four years, or 13 or 14, or 20 years.

What’s the exact location of the future Gold Line station?

It’s off E Street, and the railroad right of way between Arrow Highway and First Street. There’s an old packing house there that the University occupies. Actually, the word “station” is kind of a misnomer in today’s world for light rail. It’s really a platform with shelters on it. The one thing about transit oriented development planning is that it would be nice if the train comes, but in our view we’re building a community there, whether the train comes or not. What tends to happen, and we know this from studying other areas, from Portland, Ore., and Seattle, to communities back east, as the housing and the business build up around it, it provides all the more emphasis for the train to come. And I guarantee you that the federal dollars are highly based on that. The government’s asking, “If we bring the train, do you already have people there or not?” That’s why if you go to Claremont, or you go to South Pasadena or you go to Monrovia, you’ll see they’re building live-work housing and mixed-use housing in their downtown areas.

So, is that our plan, too? Is there a new downtown housing project on the books here?

There will be. We foresee higher density, classic transit oriented development housing for different areas of downtown. It’s not the traditional single-family by any means that we now have in La Verne. We also anticipate some mixed-use, loft-type housing. But preservation of our historic single-family neighborhoods also remains one of our very highest priorities.

Garden Square, on the site of the former Baker's Square, also is now open for business, serving delicious meals daily. Give new owner David and his new venture your support!
Garden Square, on the site of the former Baker’s Square, also is now open for business, serving delicious meals daily. Give new owner David and his new venture your support!


How many stories would be allowed?

That’s the idea of a specific plan. A specific plan is custom zoning. That’s the short term for what a specific plan is. Our focus goes beyond the proposed station. We’re also looking at the University area to keep old town growing. And when I say “growing,” then people say, “I don’t want to change a thing,” but the fact is we are in competition with our surrounding communities for business and for an identity. When a Claremont builds a Village West, when Glendora builds a Marketplace, each project directly impacts us. Retail constantly has to reinvent itself, so the trick is to try to preserve the character of La Verne and at the same time keep us competitive enough so that people want to come here.

Twenty-five years ago, old town was pretty sleepy. It’s much better today. We’re not anxious to get back to the time when it just about folded up.

Are you talking about a second kind of village downtown?

The goal is not to build a second or separate village, but to meld the two together. Again, that’s the beauty of something like a specific plan. When we put a plan like this together, it’s amazing how powerful it is to the development community. A lot of people have the misconception that cities develop. They don’t. Redevelopment agencies encourage, but for the most part, a city like La Verne, which is really small and modest as you know, can encourage or discourage. By putting a plan together and saying this is what the community wants, it’s a very powerful tool to encourage the right kind of development, and for those of us who have been doing it a while, it’s amazing. You contribute ideas, pictures, and you lay out some standards, and the developer can say, “I can live with that, I can make a profit on that.” They’re in the business of making a profit. When developers and banks are certain about what the community wants, that’s a real positive for the development community. The last thing in the world they want to do is to buy a property and get ready to do something, and then have the city tell them they don’t’ want to proceed after all. If they can work from a plan that’s adopted, that creates more positive momentum for the project.

The former car dealership occupies one of the City's premium parcels of real estate. Email Hal, and he can tell you if you can pick it up for a bargain.
The former car dealership occupies one of the City’s premium parcels of real estate. Email Hal, and he can tell you if you can pick it up for a bargain.


How far along are we on a new specific plan for downtown? Is one still being discussed and debated?

Yes, for at least the next year. And community and citizen participation is a very, very important part of the process. We’ve already had discussions, and we will continue to have more.

Are there other changes we can expect to see downtown?

The University, of course, has a new campus center under construction that will be completed this summer. That’s quite a project. That’s a new center of life for the campus. That’s one of the largest projects we’ve had in the community for some time. They’re making plans to eventually build a sports park south of Arrow Highway. And their long-range plans include a four-story residence hall, or dormitory, if you will, on D Street, where the location of the tennis courts used to be. Now it’s a temporary parking lot.

Will the baseball field be moved as well?

Yes, it’ll move, too. Their long-range plan is to move athletics down to what they call Campus West, which is the southwest corner area of Wheeler and Arrow. That is property that the City and the University acquired jointly from the Metropolitan Water District. The City was going to build a sports park there as well. It didn’t pan out because of the inability to fund the project, so ultimately the City has sold the majority of that property to the University, with the caveat that the City will have joint use of that facility for 199 years.

What it’s like having ULV as the big elephant downtown? Good elephant? Bad elephant?

If they were here, they would correct you and say they are no longer ULV. They are trying to market themselves as the University of La Verne or just the “U.” They even use just La Verne. The relationship is good. We can always improve on “town and gown.” But the University participates with the business improvement district. They are a helpful partner. They have made changes, and so have the city and the merchants to resolve some of the parking issues. As recently retired Mayor Blickenstaff put it, “In old town we really don’t have a parking problem. We have a walking problem.” We’re really not talking about walking very far. It’s just that when you have an old town or downtown area that was so sleepy for so long, where people have been used to parking in a diagonal space directly next to the place where they’re going to go, and now they might have to walk a half block or even a block, there’s this perception, accurate or not, that there’s a downtown parking problem. But the reality is, most successful downtowns are where parking is at an extreme premium, whether that’s the Claremont Village on a busy day, or old town Pasadena, or any other number of places you can think of. That said, we are committed to improving parking. The long range plans will include some parking structures that will have to be paid for, of course.

Parking structures in downtown in La Verne?

I think so. Probably a couple of them. The plan is actually envisioning three to four if you include the First Street area where the Gold Line station would be, and certainly with the University, they’re anticipating one, and probably another at Bonita and C. But we’re a long ways off from that. The work has to be done, and it’s only acceptable if it’s attractive and it fits the community. And we’re very sensitive, because that’s a big issue to our residents, and we appreciate why it would be.

The former Michael J's restaurant occupies another strategic corner in town, that's freeway accessible.
The former Michael J’s restaurant occupies another strategic corner in town, that’s freeway accessible.


What’s missing from our downtown?

With downtown, it’s a matter of critical size. Sure it would be nice to have a market, which we had once upon a time, believe it or not. The Alpha Beta used to be where the University library is today. That’s not identified as a critical need. I would say really becoming a larger area and attracting a little more variety is a bigger thing, but we’re very proud of what we have. Old Town La Verne is the heart of the community, but it’s also kind of our hobby/commercial. It provides a relatively small amount of the jobs and shopping and sales tax generation for the community, but it’s very important in terms of image.

What kind of business does downtown generate in relation to the boulevard? Five-to-one? Ten-to-one?

I don’t have the exact number, but certainly it’s at least five-to-one, and probably between 5- and 10-to-1. The lion’s share of commercial occurs on the boulevard, of course.

Okay, let’s shift to the boulevard. The Von’s center, The Commons, seems to be off to a great start.

It’s been real good for us. As for Foothill, we have a relatively low vacancy rate of about 6 to 7 percent, but it’s a challenge because we have some very visible vacancies, the Wheeler Von’s Shopping Center, the Michael J’s restaurant location, and most recently, the Foothill Ford/Foothill Hyundai site.

What’s your thinking for the Foothill Ford/Foothill Hyundai site?

Home Depot has at least for now withdrawn their proposal. City Manager Martin Lomeli and I have met with the property owners. We have discussed and encouraged a range of options including other outdoor sales (autos, boats, RV’s motorcycles, etc), other big box stores (e.g. home improvement, electronics, sporting goods), or a shopping center with an alternative grocery anchor (e.g. Henry’s, Gelsons, BevMo, etc) with shops and restaurants. We have assisted the property owners with commercial broker contacts and well as potential developers.

The site is too valuable a resource for the community to consider anything but a sales tax-producing use. We have a very limited amount of such property remaining. Sales taxes are the primary discretionary income source that the community has to maintain a superior level of public safety service (police and fire), streets, parks, and other services.

We are all too well aware that this is a very difficult economy in which to attract new business. On the other hand we know, through discussions, that the best commercial developers are planning their next projects right now. Attracting a high-quality use this year will no doubt prove difficult, but we are optimistic about 2010.

In the meantime we are working with the owners to ensure continued maintenance and security of the site.

And your strategy and tactics for Michael J’s replacement tenant?

We know there are people looking at it. We think that’s an excellent site. We don’t’ think there’s any problem putting a good restaurant there. But in the meantime, it’s vacant. It’s very important to us to have a good, unified retail community. We are not, although we do have some freeway frontage, the competitive giant in terms of being on the freeway. We do not have the auto dealerships. We don’t have the entertainment plazas. We don’t have the sites for the large discount stores, such as the Costco’s or the Wal Marts. But I think that’s what also makes La Verne special and adds to the quality of life here, so it’s a balance. If I could sum up La Verne and what we try to do, it’s balancing economic development with quality of life. We need economic development to pay the bills, let’s face it, besides providing jobs and services to our residents. City Council has always balanced these economic needs with quality of life.

The Commons, another La Verne development success story.
The Commons, another La Verne development success story.


I know we need the money, because as I understand it, city workers’ pensions are underfunded, etc.

La Verne is a full-service community, which is not to be taken for granted. Most communities our size don’t have their own fire department, don’t have their own police department. But personally speaking as a resident here, I think it’s very worthwhile. It’s very important to have our own services. We don’t depend on sheriffs coming out of Walnut, for example, to come and decide whether to put more resources here in La Verne or San Dimas or elsewhere. As a result of that, we are one of the safest communities by far. And it’s probably why we live here more than any other reason. But Public Safety costs a lot of money, as does taking care of your streets and having a wonderful park system. It all costs money.

We never seem to get that P.F. Chang’s or a Yardhouse or a Cheesecake Factory. We want this, but we end up with 99Cents Only store? Is that dagger in our collective hearts?

No, it’s not. I’ll tell you why. People always say we need more nice restaurants in La Verne, and I agree. We all love to go out to nice restaurants. Those you named, they go to regional locations — the entertainment plaza, the regional mall, a freeway intersection — that kind of thing. We are at a competitive disadvantage, certainly against the mall type or entertainment plaza-type locations, but even against our neighbors like Glendora Marketplace or Upland Colonies. Those centers are our direct competition because they have freeway, and they have high visibility. We are a built-out community. We have a lot of residential along our freeway. On the other hand, those same communities that have the Black Angus or have the El Torito, their residents complain that they need some small unique restaurants. Well La Verne has small unique restaurants. Yes, I love PF Chang’s. I’m like a lot of residents here, I would love to see us get a Mimi’s. We’re trying to encourage restaurants like Panera Bread or Mimi’s to go on the Michael J’s corner. We think those are good operators. That’s the kind of level we have to shoot for.

So if a Claim Jumper takes a pass on La Verne, should we feel depressed or elated?

Those are big restaurants, with lots of traffic. Is that what we really need? I guess I don’t feel that it’s such a great loss, because I happen to know we have some very unique restaurants, and we have some ones that I’m very proud of. Shogun certainly shows us wonderfully, and Miyabe is a great competitor. And Bangkok Blue is a hidden gem. I’ve known Pizza and Stuff since I was in college. Warehouse Pizza is an institution here. T. Phillips is a great place to go and have some adult beverages, and still feel comfortable bringing the family there. So, no I’m not deflated if a Claim Jumper goes elsewhere.

What else goes into their site selection? Or what limits us?

I already mentioned we’re a foothill community. Every foothill community has a bit of a problem. When a retailer, particularly a restaurant, looks at a location, they do a five-mile ring test. How many people live and work inside that sphere? Half of our ring disappears into the San Gabriel Mountains. We also don’t have a real strong daytime population. We are a bedroom community for the most part. Restaurants don’t want to be busy just at night. They want to maximize their investment during the day, too. We don’t have the tall office buildings that empty out during lunch. Last but not least, we don’t buy a lot of alcohol. Those big restaurants you named are heavily dependent upon alcohol sales, which is inconsistent with our conservative family-type community.

Chili’s has a bar. Shogun has a bar, but they’re not the kind of alcohol-sales driven establishments I’m talking about. Those large restaurants need to make their bottom line, and we’re missing a few of those things. So we end with the small and medium restaurants for the most part.

Gambino’s was a nameplate in this town for many years? What happened?

It appeared their investment group wasn’t too happy the way the restaurant was going, and they had some problems; they had some health department issues. Things happen. Frankly, I admire how hard these small restaurant business owners work to succeed, and frankly, many have done very well.

Do you try to limit certain categories of businesses in town? Do we really need five yogurt shops or 10 dry cleaners? These are just arbitrary numbers but you know what I mean.

It’s a free country. Unless it’s a business that’s been determined to be detrimental in high numbers to the community, and requires a conditional use permit. It’s probably pretty difficult legally to do that. Certain uses, you have to limit. Service stations. Certainly adult-oriented uses. Commercial recreation businesses.

When L.A. Fitness wanted to come in, so did 24 Hour Fitness. The city actually ended up approving both of them. This would have been about 2001. It was very difficult for the city council to say, you get to come in but you don’t. Based on what? They are both superior operators. And it’s not like we bid for their services.

So how did La Fitness win out?

The market took care of it. One of them blinked.

How can people influence what comes here and what doesn’t?

I would say shop with your wallet, vote with your pocket book. Ultimately, those businesses that we support are going to stay open, and those that we don’t support, aren’t. In a way, we get what we want by what we buy.

What’s taking place with the housing development on Wheeler above Foothill?

We refer to it as the Worden Ranch. I believe it’s 13 homes. It’s a Hughes development. They are doing the tract improvements. Just about every residential development is on hold right now. To get financing for a project like that, and getting people to make decisions on a million or a million and a quarter dollar development housing … you know the times we’re living in right now. You have to think that things are shaking loose a little bit. I’m optimistic.

What are the City’s best success stories?

I think the orderly and attractive growth of commercial development on Foothill Blvd. And I would cite that specific plan example again. There is a specific plan for Foothill Blvd. that was adopted roughly 20 years ago.

The trick is not to be ivory tower planners. We can put anything on paper. It has to be realistic. It’s got to work but at the same time it has to reflect what the community wants. If the community said we want all parks along Foothill Blvd., well, great, but who’s going to pay for it? And it doesn’t bring jobs. It doesn’t bring services. And we really don’t want to export our jobs and export our sales tax dollars to other communities. We already do a lot of that. There are some things in town that we don’t have, like an electronics retailer, like a nice bookstore. Again, those types of users tend to go into regional type locations.

Construction continues, albeit sometimes at a slower pace.

Construction continues, albeit sometimes at a slower pace.

Also, the basics of the hillside have been maintained. We don’t have those ticky-tacky houses running along the hillside at the top of the ridges. It’s been done very sensibly. We have a very conservative hillside ordinance, and it’s worked well. And it’s mostly built out. We have open space that threads its way through those developments. We have a trail system, though many people use it, it is still under appreciated.






A work in progress is the city’s open space, some 350 acres. Actually it’s north of Golden Hills. You don’t see most of it. Most of it’s back behind the Monterey subdivision, roughly between Brydon and Wheeler, north of Golden Hills. It’s a bit of a struggle right now. We’re doing a community plan for that, and there are all different views as to should there be lots of trail access back there where everyone can use it or should it be blocked to public access and left more or less in its natural state. Those are issues that we’re working on with the neighborhoods. What’s the best use for the land? Those are all questions that we’re working through. The La Verne Land Conservancy was very key in acquiring those properties, and the City, to its credit, accepted them and the challenge of managing them.

Are there decisions by the city it would like to take back? El Adobe Village, perhaps, that used to be on corner of Wheeler and Foothill?

In a way, El Adobe was ahead of its time. That kind of development gets built today in larger scale. La Verne is still a very vehicle-related community. For projects like Adobe Village to succeed, people have to get out of their car and go explore. Well, we’ve got a community that won’t even explore to go to find out if we’ve got an old town, so how do you get them to park their car and walk into a development. You can’t be in a hurry for that kind of development. It’s too bad it didn’t work.

What’s our policy on drive-throughs?

We have conditional use permits for drive-throughs. Quite frankly, we’re fairly limiting. We’re not anxious to have every fast food place in town. Some would say we already have more than we should and other people would say, we don’t have Kentucky Fried Chicken or we don’t have Jack in the Box, but that’s okay. Personally, I don’t think we need every one of those.

When money is tight, it's good to know you can still stretch your buck at the 99Cent Only store that recently opened in La Verne.

When money is tight, it's good to know you can still stretch your buck at the 99Cent Only store that recently opened in La Verne.


Which city would we more like to emulate?

We look at South Pasadena. As I mentioned we’re pursuing this Gold Line possibility. And we really like that little area there around the South Pasadena’s Mission station. They’ve been able to build some higher density transit oriented development housing that we think fits real well with the community, and how the station fits into the community. That’s not Pasadena. That’s South Pasadena, that’s really a better example of what La Verne can be doing, in terms of its transit and land use planning.

Is La Verne simply that diamond in the rough?

Sometimes people stumble on it. They didn’t know what they were getting into. But it has its habit of holding onto people. I think people like living here. They like a little slower pace. At the same time, this is as friendly a community as you’ll find. I don’t know that here in Southern California you’ll find a safer community. I think it’s a particularly a great place to raise kids.

Does the city have a vision for the community?

We do have a vision. We see the city participating in even more partnerships with the University of La Verne and Fairplex. I haven’t mentioned Fairplex, but they are part of our specific plan planning effort as well. We think there are some very big opportunities on the north side of Fairplex and so do they, especially along the Arrow Highway corridor between White Avenue and E Street, where PaperPak is and where there are several transit oriented development housing opportunities.

Partnerships are very big in La Verne. That’s how we do things. We are a small community. We are very interwoven. We have partnerships with the school district, and with people like the Metropolitan Water District and Fairplex and the University and our merchants downtown. That’s what I love about La Verne. It’s not about us and them. It’s about doing things together.

Who oversees the Planning Commission?

We provide the professional staff to the PC. The Planning Commission is appointed by the City Council. There are five members. It might help you to know, when I was working for Montclair, I served on the City’s Planning Commission here in a volunteer capacity, and I also chaired the City’s Environmental Quality Commission. I cared about my community. That doesn’t always happen. That’s been very valuable to me. They serve two 4-year terms, a maximum of eight years. Considering the fact there’s no compensation to serve on the Planning Commission, you can’t believe how much competition there is to be on the commission. And that makes me feel very good that people want to be a part of preserving a quality of life here.

Hal, thank for sitting down with us. From our discussion, I know you have a lot of work ahead of you, but it’s fascinating and challenging at the same time. I hope you keep us apprised of all the City’s progress going forward.

That’s a promise!

The newly opened Habit appears poised to give the burger emporia in town a run for the money.

The newly opened Habit appears poised to give the burger emporia in town a run for the money.





2 Responses to “Go See Hal: City’s Community Development Director Talks Straight about La Verne’s Business Prospects”

  1. Suggestions: a Home Town Buffet or a Carrows — something more of home style cooking restaurant.

    A Home Depot, Lowe’s type of business.

  2. I feel Polly’s Pies would be an excellent restaurant to have in our community. They offer home style meals, freshly baked bread/rolls and wonderful pies. I periodically go to the one in Whittier and they have a very large senior citizen customer base due to their menu choices and food quality. They would especially appeal to residents in our mobile home parks.

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