A tale of two cities

Pam
Pam Frampton
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There's a city called Chula Vista in California, home to 230,000 people and smack dab in the middle between San Diego and Mexico, with just seven miles separating them on either side.
"Chula vista" means "beautiful view" in Spanish, and if the city's website is anything to go by, Chula Vista certainly boasts plenty of them, including sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean.
So it should come as no surprise that the fine folks of Chula Vista take their views seriously, and they don't want them all blocked by out-of-proportion office towers.
Go figure.
And in 2005, when a developer with deep pockets proposed building a 19-storey condo in an area of the downtown where the building height limit is seven storeys, he met with some serious opposition.
Critics worried the building would ruin the view, create traffic congestion and displace citizens who would no longer be able to afford the neighbourhood.
"It's completely out of scale with the area, and it just isn't right for the community," realtor Earl Jentz said in an article for the magazine South Bay Review.
"Even though it would increase property values, it's a bad idea which would have negative impacts on the occupants of that street, including occupants of my buildings."
The developer argued that his project would inject fresh money into the economy, stimulate further development and increase property values.
And, proponent Jim Pieri pointed out, lower buildings attract lower demographics.
"You can't get the higher prices you get as you (build) higher," he said, adding that the condo tower would bring more "spendable dollars" to the city's urban core.

Familiar story
The rest is history. What happened in Chula Vista is essentially what just happened with the Fortis proposal for a view-blocking office tower in the heart of downtown St. John's. The project was revoked in the face of opposition or, as Fortis prefers to call it, "insufficient support on council."
Fortis withdrew its proposal without fanfare and with not even a whiff of sour grapes.
Thank you, Fortis.
Meanwhile, Chula Vista continues to prosper and grow as, undoubtedly, St. John's will. The oil industry and a hot real estate market will continue to attract business and development to the city - and, yes, in spite of the fact that, occasionally, the city actually adheres to its own development regulations.
Buildings are going up all over St. John's, and just within walking distance of where I live, there are several condos in progress, a new upscale cul-de-sac being developed, and a plan in place to redevelop Pleasantville.
Hear anyone complaining about those?

Criticizing citizens
In both Chula Vista and St. John's, you could say it was a simple matter of the people making themselves heard and city hall listening.
But in Chula Vista, there is nothing to suggest the city council felt the need to lambaste citizens for having opinions.
Here, on the other hand, rather than gracefully accepting Fortis's decision to withdraw its proposal, some members of St. John's city council reacted by launching into patronizing, sermonizing diatribes aimed squarely at constituents who had opposed the project.
Now, having covered council for a time, I've heard some pretty ridiculous utterances at public council meetings, but this has got to be some kind of record-winner.
And first prize goes to … the father-knows-best performance of Coun. Bruce Tilley, who said the company was "literally crucified by members of the general public" (best dust off your copy of Webster's, there, Coun. Tilley, and check out the standard usage of the word "literally.") Surely that turn of phrase is just a tad over-the-top, not to mention in incredibly poor taste to be trotted out on Easter Monday.
Tilley then went on to lecture citizens about what they'd done and what they'd lost in opposing the project.
Well, guess what? Fortis' plans to revamp its current building will generate economic and construction activity and they'll still be paying taxes.
Second prize goes to … Coun. Tom Hann, for his histrionic hissy fit in the council chamber.
"We slammed the door in their face!" he bellowed. "They didn't even get their day in court!"
Well, Earth to Coun. Hann: the company withdrew a plan that did not meet the city's own guidelines and should not even have been considered. And, last time I checked, there's no court action pending.
Spare us the melodrama.
And third place goes to … you guessed it - ol' Rubber Stamp himself, Mayor Dennis O'Keefe. Before the plan was pulled, he was so fervent about its merits you'd think he'd been hired by Fortis to sell it, and when sweet talk didn't work, he threatened that taxes would rise if residents didn't support every single development that was currently in the works - and Hann soon took up a similar refrain.
Bravo! Truly some fine performances.
"What (Fortis) heard the loudest was the naysaying," the mayor lamented at the council meeting.
Yes that's true, but unfortunately it took a group of taxpayers to get an unsuitable proposal off the table, when it should have been all of council doing the naysaying from the get-go and adhering to its own regulations.
Next time - and there will be one - an out-of-whack proposal comes before city hall, perhaps some councillors should spend a little less time huffing and puffing and wagging fingers in citizens' faces and a little more brushing up on development regulations and gauging public opinion.
That's what we pay you for, after all.

Pam Frampton is The Telegram's story
editor. She can be reached by e-mail at pframpton@thetelegram.com. Read her columns online at www.thetelegram.com.

Geographic location: California, Chula Vista, St. John's San Diego Mexico Pacific Ocean

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Recent comments

  • W
    July 02, 2010 - 13:34

    and a plan in place to redevelop Pleasantville. Hear anyone complaining about those?

    = = =

    Yes, actually.

  • Polly
    July 02, 2010 - 13:32

    There are women who do not like to cause suffering to many men at a time, and who prefer to concentrate on one man: These are the faithful women. ~Alfred Capus . Your very personable writing style has the ability to stir the emotions and make one feel like they are being drawn in . Pam Frampton , women of your generation really have broken-down those old stereotypical prejudices .

  • dave
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    I am not really sure about St John's city hall but the boys in mt pearl should chase after this fortis crowd.big tower,beautiful view , build it in mt pearl with a view of the narrows and bell island at the same time.should be easy with fifteen stories.

  • Polly
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    According to estimates by the San Diego Association of Governments, the median household income of Chula Vista in 2005 was $64,110 (not adjusted for inflation). When adjusted for inflation (1999 dollars; comparable to Census data above), the median household income was $52,084. According to recent estimate, the population was 227,723, making it the second-largest city in San Diego County, the 14th-largest in the state of California, and 89th-largest in the United States.

  • Icare
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    Chula Vista is not doing well. Most of the commercial area where the tall building was going to be built is in economic tormoil. Many businesses in the area have gone belly up. The city is broke. Chula Vista is a bad example.

  • Taxpayer
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    Oil is not going to be around forever. And that is not only true in Newfoundland, but in the entire world. The gold rush will be over here by around 2030. So what is City Hall and the business community creating to replace it. Expensive office towers. I don't see a rosy future unless you consider the future to be the next 10-20 years. And by the way I do have a nay to say about Pleasantville development. Not that it should not go ahead, but that assuming that 50% of the residents would take the Outer Ring instead of residentials streets shows the pooooor planning by the traffic division of council. This was pointed out to council at meetings but po-po by them as not necessary. Similiar to Stavanger Drive I believe with a two lane street for numberous big box shopping complexs and a mess at every Christmas

  • Gen X
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    Pam, I completely agree that you should move outside the over pass and keep your opinions to yourself, but wait... you didnt listen to yourself then either and proceeded to write this tripe...

  • April
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    Get over yourself, Pam. Let's let every other city prosper while St John's fades into the past with heritage or run-down buildings that would be better off gone in the horrible excuse for a downtown core nobody can look at without shivering...ahh, living in the 1800s is great, isn't it? No opportunity in this place anymore - new development in da pearl rejected too by eat your cake and want it too residents. Is this your third disgusting column on this subject? Might be time to find something else to write about. it's obvious the majority of the city supports this but as usual the artsy senior citizen heriage lovin` minority prevails. C'est la vie.

  • W
    July 01, 2010 - 20:23

    and a plan in place to redevelop Pleasantville. Hear anyone complaining about those?

    = = =

    Yes, actually.

  • Polly
    July 01, 2010 - 20:21

    There are women who do not like to cause suffering to many men at a time, and who prefer to concentrate on one man: These are the faithful women. ~Alfred Capus . Your very personable writing style has the ability to stir the emotions and make one feel like they are being drawn in . Pam Frampton , women of your generation really have broken-down those old stereotypical prejudices .

  • dave
    July 01, 2010 - 20:13

    I am not really sure about St John's city hall but the boys in mt pearl should chase after this fortis crowd.big tower,beautiful view , build it in mt pearl with a view of the narrows and bell island at the same time.should be easy with fifteen stories.

  • Polly
    July 01, 2010 - 20:03

    According to estimates by the San Diego Association of Governments, the median household income of Chula Vista in 2005 was $64,110 (not adjusted for inflation). When adjusted for inflation (1999 dollars; comparable to Census data above), the median household income was $52,084. According to recent estimate, the population was 227,723, making it the second-largest city in San Diego County, the 14th-largest in the state of California, and 89th-largest in the United States.

  • Icare
    July 01, 2010 - 20:03

    Chula Vista is not doing well. Most of the commercial area where the tall building was going to be built is in economic tormoil. Many businesses in the area have gone belly up. The city is broke. Chula Vista is a bad example.

  • Taxpayer
    July 01, 2010 - 19:59

    Oil is not going to be around forever. And that is not only true in Newfoundland, but in the entire world. The gold rush will be over here by around 2030. So what is City Hall and the business community creating to replace it. Expensive office towers. I don't see a rosy future unless you consider the future to be the next 10-20 years. And by the way I do have a nay to say about Pleasantville development. Not that it should not go ahead, but that assuming that 50% of the residents would take the Outer Ring instead of residentials streets shows the pooooor planning by the traffic division of council. This was pointed out to council at meetings but po-po by them as not necessary. Similiar to Stavanger Drive I believe with a two lane street for numberous big box shopping complexs and a mess at every Christmas

  • Gen X
    July 01, 2010 - 19:57

    Pam, I completely agree that you should move outside the over pass and keep your opinions to yourself, but wait... you didnt listen to yourself then either and proceeded to write this tripe...

  • April
    July 01, 2010 - 19:51

    Get over yourself, Pam. Let's let every other city prosper while St John's fades into the past with heritage or run-down buildings that would be better off gone in the horrible excuse for a downtown core nobody can look at without shivering...ahh, living in the 1800s is great, isn't it? No opportunity in this place anymore - new development in da pearl rejected too by eat your cake and want it too residents. Is this your third disgusting column on this subject? Might be time to find something else to write about. it's obvious the majority of the city supports this but as usual the artsy senior citizen heriage lovin` minority prevails. C'est la vie.