La Vie Bohème in Salinas
Envisioning an artists’ enclave in the Alisal area.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
On what is now a dusty, hidden strip in East Salinas, Victor Mehia sees creative potential. Using his car keys like a paintbrush, Mehia sketches an art institute in place of the used car lot. Along Division Street he visualizes footbridges leading across the green gully to faculty housing and dormitories. And at the end of street, where two mounds of dirt now sit, Mehia envisions a performance center the size of Sherwood Hall.
Young dancers, musicians and muralists, Mehia says, would have a venue in their own community where they could perform and study. “I see this as a way of importing people who want to learn about the arts,” he says.
This is exactly the kind of redevelopment that the Salinas United Business Association (SUBA) and other stakeholders had in mind when it crafted “Vision 2017.” The 10-year initiative seeks to transform the East Salinas business district into an economic hub of the Salinas Valley. Mehia is SUBA’s executive director, but when it comes to Division Street he only speaks as a charismatic resident—SUBA’s board hasn’t directed Mehia to talk about his vision yet. And the city’s Redevelopment Agency wants future plans to remain on the down low since it is in the process of acquiring property in the area.
Mehia says the bohemian concept stems from discussions with artists. City leaders like Councilman Sergio Sanchez have long desired a cultural center in the Alisal area—where schools and recreation centers now house art groups. But like Division Street itself, the plan for an arts venue never materialized.
Division Street was supposed to lead to a commercial subdivision but neither the street nor the properties were ever developed. The green street sign leads to a dead end behind the Teamsters Local 890 building at the corner North Sanborn Road and East Market Street. The weed-lined plot is now a perfect spot to dump an unwanted mattress or couch.
But before this canvas can be scrubbed up and painted, the city must buy it. The Redevelopment Agency is negotiating the purchase of five parcels, totaling about five acres.
Director Alan Stumpf says he’d prefer if the city assembled the properties, sold them to a developer and used the profit to get a different redevelopment project off the ground, claiming the agency doesn’t have the money to develop a cultural center on its own. The City Council, however, will have the final say over what happens with the land. Division Street will likely come up on June 19 when the City Council considers approval of the Redevelopment Agency’s five-year implementation plan. But for now there is no mention of an arts institute or performance center in the plan.
Meanwhile, Mehia points to a brown hillside outside the chicken-wire fence of the county’s Youth Center, a drug and alcohol treatment facility that abuts Division Street. Mehia envisions artists installing sculptures leading to Cesar Chavez Park. “Instead of this place looking all brown and barren,” he says, “it’s an arts park.”