Residents sound off on Tierra Luna proposal

DOWNEY − Since the Planning Commission unanimously approved preliminary plans for the Tierra Luna Marketplace development at Downey Studios last month, many residents have expressed a wide range of sentiments, from enthusiasm and anticipation to bewilderment and disdain.
Over the last two weeks, several Downey residents have been engaged in lively debate on Facebook, discussing the merits of the city’s proposal.
While a majority of citizens applaud the city’s efforts to spur economic development and create jobs, others fear the project will erase decades of Downey’s aerospace history leaving the community “just another strip mall.”
The project, which has been under consideration for several years, covers the 77 acres between the Downey Landing retail center and the Kaiser Permanente Hospital.
Tierra Luna calls for two big box stores, 13 “junior anchor” retail stores, a 16-screen movie theater, up to 300,000 square feet of office space, a 150-room hotel, four stand-alone restaurants, a food court, gym and more. A new, four-lane private street – Aviation Boulevard – would run through the shopping center from Lakewood Boulevard to Bellflower Boulevard, according to the proposal.
While no retailers and tenants are attached to the project yet, the city submitted a list of pre-approved restaurants, retailers, and hotels it would welcome at Tierra Luna Marketplace. The list includes a number of outlets such as Whole Foods, Nordstrom, T.J. Maxx, Cheesecake Factory, Barnes & Noble, and 24 Hour Fitness.
The original 2009 plans called for 1,500 multi-family residences, but due to the recession, developers scrapped the idea.
Nonetheless, city officials claim the project would create nearly 3,286 new jobs, which many residents consider a dire necessity in Downey and the Southeast Los Angeles region.
“Our economy needs this right now,” said resident Oseme Claire Jiménez-Galván. “I'll gladly deal with traffic, just leave home a little earlier for the sake of improving our city.”
Downey resident George Manzanilla, on the other hand, believes the development will ultimately stifle small local-owned businesses.
“Krikorian Theaters in Downtown Downey would most likely go out of business, and countless other restaurants may be cannibalized by this development,” he said. “Downey has always been behind the curve and this development is no different. This is something that was done in the middle and late 90s… the city should focus its sights on developments that create wealth and good jobs in the region.”
JC Mendoza agrees, unconvinced that the new jobs would benefit this community.
“The jobs being proposed will be part-time jobs that will be filled by people from other local cities,” said Mendoza. “We will get more traffic and more crime by people from other cities. Do we really need this?”
Gus Fuenmayor, however, defended the new proposal, which he believes would be a welcomed expansion of the retailers nearby.
“I love the Downey Landing and I hope to fall in love with this new place,” said Fuenmayor.
“We don’t even have capacity at the Landing yet,” noted Wil Stanton. “This is clearly a case of Downey leadership falling for the old ‘something must be done, this is something so this must be done.’”
Mark Echmalian similarly called on the city to rethink the development taking into consideration the historic attributes of the former NASA site.
“What I don't think we want is the glorified strip mall that’s currently proposed for that site, the site that took us to the moon and back, built an international space station, and helped lead to numerous advances in medicine and other sciences,” he said. “The history of space flight deserves to be represented with so much more than a couple big box stores, food court and motel.”
As mandated by federal law, the city would preserve a portion of Building 1, where rockets and landing capsules for the Apollo missions were built, but everything else on the property would be razed to make room for Tierra Luna.
While local resident John Zander acknowledged the new development might not bring in the technology and manufacturing jobs that many hope for, he encouraged everyone to embrace the Tierra Luna project.
“Well, having a large corporation bring in high-paying tech jobs would be wonderful, I just don’t see that as being a reality,” Zander said. “As planned, the project will provide hundreds of jobs, low paying, but jobs. And I’m sure it will be beautiful and bring dollars in from surrounding cities.”
“To me, we’re in a competition with the Valley, the Westside, San Gabriel Valley, Long Beach, etc. If we continue to do things that are just ‘ordinary,’ we’re never going to get anywhere and do things better than those areas,” said Manzanilla who envisions another possible use for the land. “A university/college would be amazing. Any educational use would be great for the region.”
The City Council is scheduled to discuss the project this Tuesday, Jan. 10.