MYTH 1 - The state will turn Nelles into a prison if Whittier does not approve the proposed development: The developer and their supporters have claimed that this is the state’s intent but have offered no evidence. If the state had any such desire, it would have turned down the two-year extension of the purchase agreement that the developer recently requested and received after failing to meet their escrow deadline. Whittier killed a previous attempt to return the site to prison uses, and since then the Department of Corrections has expressed no interest in retaining it.
MYTH 2 - The proposed development benefits the community: The Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the developer’s plan indicates that the project will have significant adverse impacts to traffic, air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, and cultural resources. Promised fiscal benefits are uncertain and commercial projections are questionable, if not illusory, since the neighborhood-serving retail proposed would be inserted into what the DEIR describes as an “over-saturated market.” Meanwhile, the proposed project provides no public open space, no affordable housing, no playing fields for youth, no continuum of care facility for seniors, no venue for the living arts, no unique destination commercial component, in short, nothing that this community really needs. It makes Whittier bigger, but not better.
MYTH 3 - The project will bring tax dollars to Whittier.So will any mixed-use project: There is nothing unique to Brookfield’s plan that offers an unusual windfall for Whittier. Their projected $1.5 million in annual revenue to the city is speculative at best and pie-in-the-sky at worst, based on a myriad of often unrealistic, best-case-scenario assumptions. And once the costs for city services are deducted, the promised riches dwindle to around four-tenths of one percent of Whittier’s total annual budget.
MYTH 4 - The developer should be able to do what they want with their property: It’s not their property. Nelles was built by the public and has served the public interest for over a century. It belongs to the public today. The issue here are the conditions under which our property is turned over to a private entity. We have the right to demand that it meet our needs, not simply be used to fill corporate coffers.
MYTH 5 - The potential developer’s plans to preserve four historic resources are adequate: No preservation organization has made such a determination. To the contrary, the State Office of Historic Preservation, the California Preservation Foundation, the L.A. Conservancy and the Whittier Conservancy have all formally stated that current plans are categorically inadequate because they demolish a majority of the designated historic resources on this official state historic landmark.
MYTH 6 - The potential developer can’t afford to do better when it comes to historic preservation, open space or senior facilities: Consultants hired by the developer have dramatically understated their projected profits and artificially inflated potential losses to make the case that modifications cannot be made to their plan. However, the developer’s own pro-forma, provided as part of the purchase and sale agreement with the state, projects profits of $46.6 million, which is at least $26 million more than claims made by their consultant surrogates.
MYTH 7 - The proposed development will bring 1,600 jobs to Whittier: This figure includes approximately 1,000 temporary construction jobs which will go predominantly to the developer’s pre-existing crews. The Draft EIR projects either 491 or 622 permanent jobs, most of them low-paying retail and food-service positions with no benefits.
MYTH 8 - The potential developer has tried to compromise with preservationists: After early talks with the Whittier and L.A. Conservancies, the developer unilaterally withdrew from negotiations. The only preservation they have proposed is what was specifically mandated as a condition of sale, or required by the city as mitigation in the EIR process.
MYTH 9 - Projected new homes will revitalize the neighborhood: The impact on the neighborhood is likely to be minimal because the development is to be completely cut off from surrounding homes. Further, the immediately adjacent residences are all single family and primarily owner-occupied while almost 40% of the proposed residential portion of the development is high density rental apartments with less than 1 1/2 parking spaces per bedroom. Another 35% is medium to medium-high density townhomes or condos. Given the relatively high densities and lack of open space in the projected development (less than the city’s minimum requirements), it is doubtful that the rosy projections for home values will be realized.
MYTH 10 - The Whittier Conservancy is only interested in saving all the old buildings: While it’s true the Conservancy believes that more of the historic resources can be adaptively re-used in creative ways that would enhance any development, it is not our sole focus by any means. We see Nelles as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for 74 acres of urban infill that embraces the 21st century vision of a sustainable, pedestrian-friendly, inter-generational, transit-oriented community with a strong sense of place, where residents can work, shop and play where they live. Instead, Brookfield is serving up a standard car-centric dense suburban sprawl-with-a-mall project straight out of the 1980s, safe and profitable for them, but meeting none of our city’s needs for open space, affordable housing, senior facilities or high-quality destination retail. We don’t have to settle for ordinary.