Shared Vision: Livingston residents voice ideas to bring new spark to downtown

tmiller@losbanosenterprise.comJune 24, 2013 

— Livingston is a friendly town, said Marge McFadden, but it could use some making over.

"I think it would be nice if it was walkable," the 91-year-old said, adding that downtown is less active than in past decades.

"It would be nice to walk and enjoy yourself in a park, especially downtown," she said.

McFadden is one of the many Livingston residents who voiced their opinions to the City Council, architects, urban designers, planners and economic development professionals during planning sessions Thursday and Saturday.

McFadden has lived in Livingston for more than 60 years and has seen the population grow from about 3,000 to more than 13,000. She said she would like to see more locally owned stores, so less money leaves the city.

City Manager Jose Ramirez said the city was awarded three grants that are paying for professionals to shape residents' ideas into a plan. The first two grants, from the California Chapter of New Urbanists and the Local Government Commission, were in effect during the planning this weekend.

"We have a downtown that's basically dilapidated," Ramirez said, adding that little retail shopping exists in town.

"The community knows what they want, so (we're) having a good venue to share ideas, vet ideas and then have professionals massage those ideas," he said.

The third grant, from the American Institute of Architects, will be used later this year.

The planning could benefit the city's aesthetics, infrastructure and visibility, among other aspects, Ramirez said.

As the city grows, Ramirez said, improvements to downtown will draw business. The city's residential sector is expected to grow by 3 percent to 5 percent over the next year, he said.

"If we address these things, (businesses) are going to be easy to attract," Ramirez said. "People are going to want to invest here."

Mayor Pro-Tem Gurpal Samra, who has been a member of the City Council since 1998, said the consensus from locals was different from years past.

"It's been about wider roads, faster traffic — get them in and out of there quickly," Samra said, adding that residents said they want to move away from that.

Many of the ideas floated, Samra said, focused on ways to slow down traffic and encourage walking. People would be more likely to interact, which creates a sense of community.

The meetings are a way to bring the community in on planning and compromise.

"We want voices (and) we want voices to interact with each other, not necessarily just with the council," he said.

Today at 5:30 p.m., the professionals will hold an open house at the council chambers. Ideas from residents and area leaders on "A Future for Downtown," as well as the Winton Parkway-Highway 99 interchange, will be discussed, according to a news release.

Tuesday at 6 p.m., the concepts developed over the week will be presented to the City Council and Planning Commission for their initial reactions.

Development of those concepts will continue throughout the year and feed into a planning effort led by the American Institute of Architects in September.

Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or tmiller@losbanosenterprise.com.

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