Dreaming of lakes, trolleys and the future


Chance of a lifetime.

That’s what the Willowick Golf Course is presenting to residents of Garden Grove and Santa Ana. As you may well have read here or elsewhere, the lease on the 101.5-acre site will be expiring soon, opening the land to development that could be transformative.

Somewhat complicating – or enriching – the situation is the fact that while the land is owned by the City of Garden Grove, it’s within the city limits of Santa Ana. The two cities have taken the first steps in pursuit of a cooperative approach toward making the next use(s) of the land beneficial to all.

Ideas and suggestions are solicited from the public, and I’ve got mine below. As you consider your own thoughts on this matter, reflect on the notion that an open, flat piece of land that size in the middle of Orange County is as rare as fish with bicycles, and we may not have an opportunity like this in, well, our lifetimes.

So here are my ideas about what should be done, starting with the necessities and moving toward dreams. I’ll also be forwarding this to the folks who will do the real work of planning.

Must Do:

  1. Don’t sell the land. Ever. Lease it. Over time, the return in rent will be much greater than the sale price today.
  2. Create a joint powers authority so that Garden Grove continues to have an equal voice in the re-use and forward progress of the site. Bob Hope Airport, for example, is located in Burbank, but is run by a JPA of the cities of Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena.
  3. Get the Orange County Transportation Authority to commit to an OC Streetcar stop on 5th Street to make it easy (easier?) for folks to visit the new project.

Should Do:

  1. Some developers may want to build out every square inch of the property to maximize their return, but resist the temptation. A significant portion of the land – perhaps as much as a quarter of it – should be devoted to open and recreational use. Such amenities will enhance the value of any residential and/or commercial property and actually bring in more revenue to the developer. Garden Grove and Santa Ana are underparked and increasingly urban. More park space is like gold.
  2. Connected to the previous point, a water element would be highly desirable. A pond or small lake, or a circular river (like Riverwalk in San Antonio) would be terrific. People love the water, and – barring a catastrophic earthquake – we’re not likely to get a beach anytime soon. And lots of trees. They provide shade and help make breathable air, something we can all use.
  3. Create a snappy, memorable name for the project.It’s in central Orange County, so how about Centropolis? That has a charming retro sound to it. Right? Or how about Sonder? That’s been called the most beautiful word in the English language (look it up). Don’t rely on something generic like West Pacific Park Viejo Ranch.
  4. Design, build and use an icon. New York has the Statue of Liberty; St. Louis has the arch; San Francisco has the Golden Gate Bridge. Something that’s big and well-lit and will show up well in those aerial shots in the opening of telecasts of Southern California sporting events.
  5. Don’t build it all at once. Design and develop in phases. Today’s hot idea can turn out to be yesterday’s goofy fad. When the project catches on, newer phases will command higher rents, thus maximizing return to the landowner (you and me).

THE CITY CREEK CENTER as designed by SWA group, which could be the master developer for the Willowick Golf Course site, located in Santa Ana but owned by Garden Grove (SWA image).

Could Do:

  1. Create an internal transit system, like an electric trolley. Don’t develop the project like a big, ugly shopping center with big, ugly parking lots all around the perimeter. Integrate the parking through the area, with plenty of room for pedestrians and bicyclists. In a perfect world, I’d drop off my car at the Harbor transit hub, take the streetcar to WhatEver This Place Is Called, ride or walk about and then return on the reverse route. Less pollution and healthier for us to walk more.
  2. Enhance public life. A museum? An outdoor concert hall? Maybe there’s a prestige college or university interested in a West Coast or Southern California presence? Harvard? Stanford? A one-stop state-of-the art government services center where you could register your car, pay your water bill, get a pet license, and mail your packages?
  3. Mixed use development is all the rage, but – let’s face it – a lot of it’s being done half-fast. Big blocky ugly condos and apartments on top of sandwich and nail shops. Let’s get some design smarties on board to insist that the development looks distinctive and is of quality, and isn’t just evidence of the low bid.

And ….

I’ve got a jillion ideas, some of them probably silly. But let’s hear your ideas.  Try to think big. We may never pass this way again. There’s a Garden Grove workshop on this project planned for Wednesday, Oct 2 at the Buena Clinton Youth and Family Center, 12661 Sunswept Ave. from 6-8 p.m. I’ll be there.

Jim Tortolano’s Retorts is posted on alternate Wednesdays.

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