A New Alisal
East Salinas business district’s plan to reinvent itself.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
At City Hall, a group of East Salinas business owners begins to plot the course of a 10-year initiative to revamp their district. Members of the Salinas United Business Association (SUBA) sit at a U-shaped set of tables with city officials, health advocates, an affordable housing developer and the superintendent of the Alisal Union School District. SUBA members called the Nov. 18 meeting because they realize revitalizing the East Salinas business corridor is a much greater feat than they can handle alone.
But first, a name. After 20 minutes of debate, the group chooses Nuevo Alisal de Salinas (New Alisal of Salinas). The name describes a fresh direction for a historically neglected part of the city.
“Vision 2017” is the name of the 10-year initiative that aims to make the streets safe and clean up the business corridor’s image. One of the goals is to bring in new development, such as a financial services center, and attract customers from across the city and region.
The initiative won’t launch until January, but on Nov. 18 the steering committee was formed. If even some of its goals are accomplished, it could create a better quality of life for some of Salinas’ poorest residents.
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Mothers with strollers and farm-workers returning from the fields typically walk on East Alisal Street between North Sanborn Road and Highway 101. The street is lined with restaurants, clothing stores, beauty salons and food vendors. The 600 businesses along and around East Alisal Street, East Market Street and North Sanborn Road make up the SUBA district.
The predominantly Latino neighborhoods that surround the corridor are incredibly dense with multiple apartment complexes. Families share homes to save on rent. But this doesn’t mean the hard-working residents don’t like to shop.
The district generated about $183 million in sales from July 2005 through September of this year, compared to about $43 million in sales from Oldtown. It’s not a fair comparison—the SUBA district is larger, with grocery stores—but the numbers show the consumer clout.
Yet for the most part, people who live in other parts of Salinas don’t shop there. Many Salinas residents are afraid to visit the area for fear of being shot or robbed.
The borders of the SUBA district form the Sunset Avenue Redevelopment Area, where redevelopment dollars have paid for two police officers for the area and helped purchase a mobile command unit for the Salinas Police Department.
Any plan to revamp the SUBA district must first address crime, and Police Officer Richard Lopez recognizes this. Lopez patrols the district and shops there. “My vision is being able to walk the streets of Alisal with my family without the fear of being mugged,” he says.
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Back at City Hall, SUBA Executive Director Victor Mehia tells the group to look at four pieces of construction paper taped to the wall. On them, concepts like teen center, nightlife, farmers market, and tourism are written messily.
“What you are seeing now is the creating of the vision of the new Alisal of Salinas,” Mehia says.
He then brings up a picture of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Shot from the bottom of the dome, the image shows hikers climbing the steep face using cables. “The ascent begins,” he says.
Transforming the SUBA district into a safe and business friendly area will indeed be a long climb. SUBA now has an annual budget of about $150,000. Moreover, East Salinas was poorly planned and the city is still making improvements such as installing streetlights to bring it up to city standards.
As the group gets ready to adjourn, however, they get some surprising inspiration. Rev. Manuel Dorado of Templo Rosa de Saron walks in wearing a dark suit. Dorado just returned from Buenos Aires, where he attended an international conference on marketplace transformation. “It can happen in Salinas,” Dorado says. “I believe Salinas can become a pattern city for the rest of California.”