Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Monday, April 5, 2010

Overbuilding California: the case of Hemet

I´ve found this article today in Los Angeles Times, by Alana Semuels, dated March 30, 2010.
The article is about a gated neighborhood in the City of Hemet, suffering the consequences of too many foreclosures. Before I reproduce some paragraphs, to illustrate this sad situation, I want to highlight the issue that the Cities, all Cities, are looking for money, as there are no new constructions, or maybe a few.
First strategy, is to send inspectors to the streets looking for illegal constructions.
Second, increase the plan checks and permits, for example, plot plan review for an illegal construction in Los Angeles County is more than $800. Plus permits, etc.
Third, close public buildings at least once a week, like the crowded Library in Huntington Beach. By the way, we don´t have the lake surrounding the library any more.
Fourth, and this is exclusive from the City of Hemet. Whoever wants to submit a commercial project, has to submit together with the architectural plans, structural and mechanical calculations, what is worst, the surrounding area, parkings, driveways, lamp posts, signs, etc, have to be represented on plans in the preliminary step. You have to make your own urban plans without any GIS or further information from the city. Plus full color elevations showing ¨the mountains behind¨, etc. The expenses for developers are huge, even if the project is too smaill, and just consider if there are corrections –as always- in planning review, all engineers´calculations will be re-paid, as they work based on final plans. For 2007, maybe middle year, I remember 7 commercial projects, in Hemet, let´s say, nothing. This is not the way to help the City grow. I wouldn´t recommend anybody to invest in Hemet, unless the City changes its attitude.
Historical landmark in Hemet. From
From Los Angeles Times From bucolic bliss to 'gated ghetto':
Hemet's Willowalk tract was family-friendly. Then the recession hit.
The 427-home Willowalk tract, built by developer D.R. Horton, featured eight distinct "villages" within its block walls. Along with spacious homes, Willowalk boasted four lakes, a community pool and clubhouse. Fanciful street names such as Pink Savory Way and Bee Balm Road added to the bucolic image.
Young families seemed to occupy every house, throwing block parties and holiday get-togethers, and distributing a newsletter about the neighborhood.
"We loved how everything was family-oriented -- all our kids would run around together," said Lopez, a 41-year-old construction supervisor and father of seven. "Now everybody's gone."
Home foreclosures have devastated neighborhoods throughout the country, but the transformation from suburban paradise to blighted community has been especially stark in places like Willowalk -- isolated developments on the far fringes of metropolitan areas that found ready buyers when home prices were soaring but then saw an exodus as values crashed.
There are dozens of places like Willowalk, and they are turning into America's newest slums, says Christopher Leinberger, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. With home values at a fraction of their peak, he said, it no longer makes sense to live so far from the commercial centers where jobs are concentrated.
"We built too much of the wrong product in the wrong locations," Leinberger said.
Thanks to overbuilding, demographic changes and shifts in preferences, by 2030 there could be 25 million more suburban homes on large lots than are needed, said Arthur C. Nelson of the University of Utah. Nelson believes that as baby boomers age and as younger generations buy real estate, the population will abandon remote McMansions for smaller homes closer to shops, jobs and the other necessities of life.
Whatever their number, the presence of unwanted or abandoned homes stands to be a burden on local governments for years to come, as cash-strapped cities and counties have to spend precious resources to patrol the neighborhoods and clean unkempt yards and abandoned houses.
About 80 California municipalities are striking back, enforcing ordinances that fine lenders up to $1,000 a day for not maintaining properties that have been foreclosed, Higgins said. But most cities don't have the resources to force absentee owners or renters to keep up their properties.
In Hemet, city officials have simply boarded up homes in some troubled neighborhoods. Plywood covers the windows of dozens of apartments on Valley View Drive; resident David Hall says it keeps prostitutes and drug dealers out.
Many of the people answering a knock say they are renters, and won't open their doors more than a crack to see who is on their doorstep. Red-and-white "for sale" signs dot the neighborhood, clashing with the golds and browns of the homes. The contrast between occupied and empty houses is evident on one block, where high grass in weedy clumps gives way to a neatly mowed lawn with handwritten signs pleading "Please do not let your dog poop on our yard."

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