By Christian Brown
NORWALK – Norwalk City Council members reassured residents of their commitment to safety and quality local businesses during a town hall-style meeting at New River Elementary School on Tuesday night.
“We want you to know that we care about your lives,” said Mayor Luigi Vernola, who addressed the recent rash of deadly shootings in and around Norwalk. “It’s our responsibility to make this city safe for you. Don’t be afraid, this is our city.”
Vernola announced a series of neighborhood watch meetings will take place in the area around the latest shooting of Michael Pina on Horst Avenue near 166th Street.
“Your comments are very important to us, but the people have to be involved,” Vernola said.
Additionally, the council fielded questions from residents on everything from a lack of sidewalks on Littehen Street and flooded streets after rainstorms to complaints about increased traffic and a slow business market around town.
“When are we going to get good businesses here,” asked Norwalk resident Norma Figueroa. “We constantly have to drive outside of the city for restaurants and grocery stores. What’s it going to take to bring them here?”
Figueroa was just the first of several residents with the same complaint.
City Manager Mike Egan acknowledged the city’s problem with slow growth, but ensured city officials have done all possible to attract new business while respecting the rights of local property owners.
“In the United States, property owners have a lot of say,” said Egan, who agreed that he’d like to see less motels and more high-end businesses. “There is no case where we didn’t give someone a permit who when through the process. We are looking for new developers -- and I’m meeting with some next week.”
Kurt Anderson, the city’s director of community development, echoed Egan’s statements, adding that large retailers have requirements of their own when looking for cities they want to invest in.
Last month, the city council approved a new “Fitness Village” that will include a Chick-Fil-A, LA Fitness, and Panera Bread, but the council agreed more should be done.
“Have we ever had the conversation about what type of businesses we want in Norwalk,” asked Vice Mayor Leonard Shryock. “Maybe we’re just assuming what we think [the residents] want.”
Both council members Margarita Rios and Jennifer Perez agreed that a longer conversation about what businesses the city should seek was needed in the near future.
“That communication and dialogue needs to take place,” said Rios. “We must engage the residents and ask them what they want to see.”
City Planner Bing Hyun said the city is actively looking to redevelop the Firestone Corridor between Imperial Highway and Rosecrans Avenue and has recently acquired funding to do some visioning. Nonetheless, he agreed that the private market has to show interest.
Norwalk resident Alonso Mendoza also raised concerns about traffic collisions and congestion at the intersection of Rosecrans and Studebaker near the 605 Freeway.
Egan acknowledged that traffic concerns could grow worse as a I-605 expansion is possible in the foreseeable future, but city officials promised to increased patrols along hotspot intersections to cut down on speeding and illegal turns.
Anderson said the I-5 expansion, which interrupted multiple Norwalk intersections and forced the relocation of dozens of businesses, will wrap up in 2020, according to Caltrans.
“The middle of the freeway will be completed first and then the bookends, the Florence Avenue Bridge and the Valley View Bridge,” he said.
During the nearly two-hour meeting, residents also asked about chronic homelessness around L.A. County, which saw a 5% increase of homeless residents in 2016.
“Norwalk has taken more steps that our neighboring cities on that,” said Egan, who said the city hired a full-time outreach person to tackle homelessness. “It takes time, but Measure H will soon provide $350 million a year to combat homelessness.”