Kalish Morrow

Just about every town across the nation has some antiquated laws on the books. A town in Tennessee says it’s illegal to throw snowballs at trees. You cannot harass Big Foot in Washington. And don’t you dare use anything but your hands to eat fried chicken in one county in Georgia.

Quirky and outdated ordinances that seemed relevant at the time of their adoption can serve as entertaining talking points today; however, there are others that have not only outlived their usefulness but begin to harm the very community they were meant to serve.

The antiquated zoning I’m referring to is Hanford’s unique approach in creating protective zoning with regards to the city’s historic Downtown. Written in the early '90s, I do believe that the idea behind these restrictions was made in good faith, and came at a pivotal time where the retail landscape was going through massive reimagining. Big box and malls were coming so Hanford carved out its own path to balance the old with the new.

Thirty years have passed, the Downtown is a shell of its former self, the Costco Development struggles to build new businesses on its empty lots, and the mall is at risk of becoming our largest blighted building to date. This is not to say that the zoning that restricts professional and financial offices from going to these Commercial Zones may have played some role in keeping Downtown alive, such is the case with the refurbishment of the old Sears building which is now home to FAST Credit Union — one of the many types of businesses glued to the Downtown.

Yet, what about the rebuilding of the Vendome to be residential and retail space after its fiery destruction? Or the revamping of a blighted building to be a stylish coffee shop? 

The vision of yesteryear was a vibrant downtown with loads of shops and entertainment that is anchored by service-based industries. Therein lies the flaw. A downtown that’s turned into a financial district which reflects those very hours; nine-to-five and closed on weekends. 

There is a market-driven need to expand these services out to the commercial areas allowing for market diversification, and potentially freeing up some of the viable retail and restaurant space in Downtown. Why can’t sales tax-generating revenue also be expected from the downtown? Why is it only the commercial zones carry that charge — especially seeing as how the spaces are empty to begin with? And this doesn’t even start to discuss the job opportunities this community would benefit from filling those empty locations. 

Now to my main point; how this zoning negatively impacts peoples of lower socioeconomic means. This segue touches on unmet medical needs as many of these service-based businesses are medical.

Optometry is one of these unmet needs. The lack of access to affordable eye care in this community contributes to the CDC statistics which states that nearly 40% of adults over 40 years of age that suffer from moderate to severe visual impairment skip care due to cost and lack of insurance. 

Many people are lucky enough to enjoy the quality of care a small practice has to offer. But for the rest who cannot afford it, they rely on large vision centers, such as LensCrafters, who offer their services roughly 60% cheaper. Add in the inconvenience of being reliant on public transportation and we start to get a better understanding of why we cannot continue on with the status quo.

Much has changed over 30 years. The '90s faced down large retail industries gobbling up the market. Now those large retail industries are falling victim to the convenience of online shopping, not to mention the current crippling effects we’re seeing with the supply chain. The land use balance between retail and services will not, and have not, adhered to the plans of yesterday’s visionaries.

Hanford might not have any laws forbidding messin’ with sasquatch, but keeping things the same and expecting a different result is arguably just as senseless. 

Kalish Morrow is the City Councilwoman representing Hanford City Council District B. She contributes to the Sentinel column, "A Voice of Reason" regularly. 

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