By Mayor Dave Harrington
Have you heard of the Agora Project in Laguna Niguel? How about the Five Lagunas project in Laguna Hills? Or the ongoing upgrades to shopping centers throughout Lake Forest? No? When cities age, they look for ways to modernize their amenities and offer residents opportunities to spend money in the city in which they live. Agora is a “mixed-use” project which will incorporate residential and retail, creating a unique gathering space for residents to enjoy multiple types of dining and entertaining experiences. The Five Lagunas is the revamp of the Laguna Hills Mall. This project has been in the works for many years and will provide the residents of Laguna Hills a diverse array of retail and restaurant opportunities.
What is the City of Aliso Viejo doing to compete with the neighboring cities’ developments? First consider our current situation and business climate. The City is about built out, meaning we have very little greenfield space left in which to develop. Our future development will be infill-based. The City will need to look at existing amenities for improvements and expansion in order to modernize. The City will look to Town Center and surrounding environs for any future modernization and development. Our Town Center is considered middle-aged in the retail world – and while it has restaurants and retail amenities – it cannot remain stagnant and expect to experience the same level of positive returns in the long run.
The economic indicators in the City are strong. We have a higher average household income compared to the County of Orange. We are younger and more educated than the County (or State). We have low unemployment, with much of our employment in the management/business/science and arts category followed by sales and office employment. In many key indicators, the numbers show strength in our local economy, so why bother with development? Because there are some concerning numbers we need to consider, the bad with the good. Our total retail sales are second to last in south Orange County, in front of only Laguna Woods. A recent economic study concerning our City says: “Overall retail sales…in the City are lower than retail spending potential based on resident households, average household income and percentage of disposable income spent on retail. This suggests the City is likely leaking a significant portion of resident retail and restaurant purchases to other jurisdictions.” In other words, we are not capturing enough of our residents spending. The dollars residents spend outside the City are referred to as “leakage.”
In addition, our City’s expenses are increasing at a higher rate than the increase in sales tax revenue. This means at some point in the future, if the City does nothing, expenses will exceed revenues. When this will happen is hard to say but at some point, it will happen.
The City Council has been working on a new vision for Town Center, specifically for the area referred to as the Gateway District. This is the area anchored by the Edwards theatre, including all the businesses north of the Barnes & Noble to Enterprise. The creation of a shared vision will “set the table” to attract top-tier developers that will ensure the quality development, which Aliso Viejo expects. How do we revitalize our Town Center to remain competitive in the market place while retaining our small-town feel? This is where you, our residents, are needed to complete the plan development process. In April, the City will host charrette meetings to get feedback on the plans and ideas for what YOU want to see at Town Center in any future development.
This is OUR City. Get engaged, get involved, contact the City via the website (cityofalisoviejo.com) and sign up for timely updates on Town Center charrette process and much more. Don’t wait until it’s too late to let your voice be heard; participate and have a say in how our City evolves. As always, continue to Live Life Inspired!