Led by Councilwoman Kalish Morrow, three council members are pushing to make major changes to the current zoning ordinances at 12th and Lacey and the Costco shopping center. Ask Councilwoman Morrow why she is pushing the zone text amendment rather than the developer John Kashian paying for the change, himself, as he did when he last sought these zone changes? Ask her why she is using taxpayer dollars to do a developer’s bidding? The same developer who asked for another Commercial Retail Zone to be developed, Costco Shopping Center. The same developer who received over $4 million in incentives for bringing Costco to the City of the Hanford, even though Costco was previously looking to locate within Hanford at the 12th and Lacey retail zone. The same developer whose development is responsible for the City of Hanford currently being sued for $16 million by Helena Chemical.
30 years ago, Hanford was a community of under 25,000 people with a vibrant downtown not unlike many cities. Downtown Hanford offered most of the living necessities a city of that size desired. Its downtown was the center of business and commerce and the center of social life in our community. It had a small shopping center with a JCPenney's on one end and a grocery store on the other — located at 11th Ave. and W. Lacey Blvd. where Staples is located today. Hanford had one high school on two campuses known as East campus and West campus. We had two hospitals, a bowling alley and a community swimming pool known as The Plunge. We also had China Alley in Downtown Hanford which featured a world-renowned five-star restaurant known as the Imperial Dynasty. But Hanford was quickly approaching a crossroads.
In 1988 pressure was mounting on city leaders to make some major decisions that would shape Hanford for the next 30 years. Pressure was mounting from the public and from developers for Hanford to grow. Big box stores like Walmart were interested in coming to Hanford. There was pressure to develop a new indoor mall to meet Hanford's growing desire for new shopping choices. The other mounting pressure was how to pay for essential city services with a growing community without having to raise taxes such as property taxes and sales taxes which are the two largest forms of revenue for any city. One of the ways to increase revenues without raising the sales tax is to develop more sales tax revenue producing property such as retail sales centers.
Between 1988 and 1992 Hanford City Council leaders would begin shaping a vision that most city Council members have embraced for 30 years. How do we create a regional shopping center that would allow a big box like Walmart and the other major shopping stores that wanted to come to Hanford and at the same time maintain a vibrant downtown that would be the heart of Hanford.
The answer, was to create a new shopping zone at the corner of 12th Ave. and Lacey Boulevard that would become the retail regional shopping center for all of Kings County. Zoning became the key element that city leaders would use to clarify and bring forth their vision. Zoning may be one of the most misunderstood powers that local government has. Zoning allows city councils to divide up the city for different uses. Within each zone the city then can decide what the specific use of that zone is should be. And that is what's called the land use element of zoning. For example, most people agree that you don't want a major industrial manufacture next to residential homes where people live. Zoning was created to allow local government the ability to separate and decide what they wanted their local communities to look like. Zoning and land-use is all about shaping the community in a way that best works for delivering city services and creating a quality of life that all citizens are looking for.
Have you ever wondered why some areas of Hanford have certain stores and that other areas of town do not? That is due to zoning. The City Council designates through what is called a general plan which is done about every 10 years how they want the city to grow. In the general plan is the land use and the zoning rules for our city. The city of Hanford looks the way it does today because the city councils of 30 years ago had a vision for our city.
In 1990 the City Council assembled a group of 25 citizens, made up of business and property owners mostly, from the downtown area. This committee, known as the Retail Strategy Committee, was given the mission of helping the planning commission and the City Council develop the zoning and land-use elements that would be put in the next general plan and would guide the city on how it would develop a regional shopping center at the four corners of 12th and Lacey Boulevard, while at the same time ensuring a vibrant downtown. The committee would spend the next 18 months meeting and then recommending what uses should be permitted at 12th and Lacey and what uses should be retained in the downtown to accomplish the vision they wanted for our city.
The two major classifications of uses that the city council did not want at 12th and Lacey in the new retail zone were financial institutions such as banks and savings and loans, and professional office uses as in doctors, lawyers, optometrists and medical uses that generated no retail or taxable sales for the city. The professional office, or PO designation was not restricted to only downtown but it was never intended to be a permitted use at the new retail shopping center because it does not generate sales tax revenue for the city.
A good example that will demonstrate the major philosophical difference is perhaps why optometrists are not allowed to give eye exams inside any business located originally at only 12th and Lacey, optometrists provide a service which does not generate sales tax revenue. Businesses that sell eyeglasses are a permitted use and can sell eyeglasses in the zone today because they generate a sales tax revenue. Some people seem to think it's silly not to allow optometrists to perform eye exams where eyeglasses are sold, however the city council has remained firm on this philosophy because the retail zone was created to produce sales tax and the council cannot simply allow one medical or professional use without allowing the others. If professional office uses were to start competing for rental space at any retail commercial zone designation you will start diminishing the amount of land that is being used to generate sales tax that has allowed Hanford the lowest sales tax in the state for 30 years.
There has been an attempt recently by the developers of the Costco shopping center and management of the Hanford Mall to allow professional offices as a permitted use. While this is good for the owners of those properties, it would be extremely harmful to the city in the long run. Hanford may have too much retail space currently, and yes, the mall would definitely benefit from people renting spaces inside the mall, but it doesn't fulfill the vision nor does it generate sales tax that the city desperately needs. The only people who benefit from allowing professional office are those who profit from renting space such as the out-of-town developers who put that money directly in their pockets.
The Hanford Mall has problems, that's no secret to anyone. The solution to the Hanford Mall's problems is not zoning, but changing from an outdated business model. The Hanford Mall opened in 1992 and was one of the last two indoor malls created in the nation. Not only have developers focused more on building outdoor strip malls with more entertainment and dining venues that the business community and the shopping public prefer but internet sales have grown tremendously.
The developers of the Costco shopping center are struggling to build and fill the center with businesses. Internet businesses such as Amazon have changed the way many people shop. With shopping via the internet and overnight deliveries right to homes, this has changed the way companies are investing in brick-and-mortar development of new stores. Is zoning the problem for this new development or is it something else?
This development has the same zoning that is used at 12th and Lacey for our regional retail shopping center and the retail center at 12th and Lacey is thriving despite the success of internet retail sales. Any modifications of zoning to allow professional office use at new Costco shopping center will also be made at 12th and Lacey since the zoning is identical. This will diminish retail space costing the City of Hanford that sales tax which would be generated by retail sales.
The Costco shopping center developers, prior to approval by the Hanford City Council, performed a retail marketing study which indicated that there was plenty of retail opportunities that Hanford was missing out on which the city could capitalize upon with the development of the Costco shopping center. The report went on to say that approval of this new development would not be harmful nor cause blight to Downtown Hanford and therefore the zoning would not have to be modified.
Before the Costco development was approved, the city failed to do its own study to determine, independent of the developers, what the true impacts may be upon the City of Hanford. In 1990 there was clearly pressure on Hanford to build new retail development. That was accomplished by developing the four corners at 12th and Lacey. Instead of duplicating the zoning at 12th and Lacey that has served this city well, the city should have taken the time to study whether or not the zoning that was used at 12th and Lacey was appropriate or if some new zoning be created that would allow Costco to develop where it did but offer different things than what is offered at 12th and Lacey. This approach would have been similar to what the Council did 30 years ago.
Hindsight is always 20/20. The decisions that have been made over the last eight years are difficult to undo. The question for this Council is what is their vision for the City of Hanford? What do they want our downtown to look like? Do they understand the relationship concerning zoning and land-use and how it can affect the income potential of our city? And if you're one of those people or councilmembers that believe that the zoning is restrictive to competition and that the free market should drive everything, then do away with zoning altogether. If you truly believe that businesses should make the decision where they locate and not city council members and if you believe the councilmembers don't need to make decisions as to how our community should grow, then we don't need them either.
Be careful, city councilmembers, what you ask for, for what you get may be far different than what you envision. I see a city at a major crossroads for the first time in many years. I see the decisions in the next few months affecting the city for many, many years to come. If you make the wrong decision without truly taking the time to understand the impacts of that decision, I see a city having to raise taxes, I see you sitting there desperately trying to save our downtown by pumping millions of tax-payer dollars — which we do not and will not have — into it. I see a city desperately looking for solutions from a Hanford City Council which seemingly lacks vision and the ability to plan.
If the three councilmembers move forward with the zoning changes, what is the vision for Downtown Hanford and where is the plan to ensure that this city has a vibrant downtown for years to come?