By Nick Diamantides
The City of Signal Hill is in good shape financially despite the national housing slump and economic slowdown. Signal Hill City Manager Ken Farfsing brought that news to about 50 people who attended the annual State of the City Luncheon last Thursday. Sponsored by the Signal Hill Chamber of Commerce, the event took place at the Signal Hill Community Center.
“The commercial and redevelopment market is mixed up and very confusing, but a city has things it can to do keep the economy moving along,” Farfsing said. “I’m going to share some of those things with you.” Then Farfsing outlined a list of capital improvements as well as commercial and redevelopments in the city that continue to produce jobs and economic growth.
“One of the first things you’re actually going to start seeing some movement on is our Cherry Avenue widening project,” he said. “About two years ago, Signal Hill received a federal appropriation through Congress to widen Cherry Avenue from 19th Street to about 250 feet south of Pacific Coast Highway.”
Although the widening is actually within Long Beach city limits, the traffic bottleneck that occurs there every day impacts Signal Hill more than it does Long Beach, and a few years ago, the two cities decided that Signal Hill would be the lead agency undertaking the project.
“Unbelievably, this project is $6.7 million for a one-block widening,” Farfsing noted. “It’s just absurd what we are going through to get this project up and going.” He explained that federal and state bureaucratic regulations had unnecessarily added millions of dollars to the cost of the widening, but construction is expected to begin late this year.
Farfsing also described another infrastructure improvement project: the installation of debris nets at the Hamilton Bowl drainage channel, which empties into the Los Angeles River. The city manager noted that rainwater and runoff from about one square mile of the city passes through Hamilton Bowl and the nets filter out debris, dust and oil before the water enters the river.
“We are being proactive and actually trying to solve some of (the region’s) water pollution problems,” he said, adding that if every storm water drainage channel was equipped with such nets, river and ocean pollution would be greatly reduced.
The Hamilton Bowl net project is costing $800,000—paid for with a state grant.
Next in his presentation, Farfsing described the city’s plan to drill a new water well south of the 405 Freeway in the city yard close to the Signal Hill Auto Center.
The city manager noted that currently all the city’s water wells are close to where Cherry Avenue meets the 91 Freeway. He explained that five miles of high-pressure pipelines supply 90 percent of the city’s water needs and an earthquake or other disaster could result in a water shortage of crisis proportions.
Farfsing noted that drilling for the 700-foot-deep well will begin in about a month and take six weeks of round-the-clock drilling to accomplish. A stainless-steel casing will be installed during that first phase, which will cost a total of $870,000. Another $2 million will then be spent on a water-treatment and pumping facility. Farfsing noted that the city also recently spent $1 million to renovate the Gundry Reservoir—a major component of Signal Hill’s water system.
Turning to residential development, the city manager described how in the late 1990s, Signal Hill caught the wave of the housing boom sweeping through this region.
He noted that because of that boom, the hilltop and many of the city’s vacant former oil production parcels were developed, adding hundreds of new homes to the city’s housing stock. Farfsing, however, explained that while several residential projects in the city are nearing completion, not many new ones are in the works presently.
“The meltdown in the subprime lending market has really impacted the residential side of things in Signal Hill and almost everywhere,” he said. “You’ve got the situation where buyers don’t know how far the market is going to sink, so they’re not willing to commit, and sellers don’t like what they see, so they’re not willing to sell until the market comes up.”
He noted that the present state of the real-estate market is discouraging developers from taking on new projects.
On a more positive note, Farfsing pointed to the Las Brisas affordable housing development, which was completed in Signal Hill early last year. A joint project of the Signal Hill Redevelopment Agency, Los Angeles County and Los Angeles Community Design Center, the complex now provides new residences for rents affordable to about 170 moderate- and low-income families.
Farfsing added that, while residential development has slowed significantly, commercial development is still moving forward at a healthy rate. He noted that Signal Hill Petroleum is the city’s partner in that arena. The two entities working together have managed to bring quite a few retail developments to the city in recent years, and more such developments are now in the works, according to Farfsing.
Turning to municipal projects, the city manager noted that the planning process for the city’s new $11-million police headquarters is moving well, and the SHPD’s recently acquired mobile-command-post vehicle has vastly enhanced the department’s ability to respond to disasters and emergencies. He added that the SHPD’s truck enforcement program—started about two months ago—has already resulted in 30 citations to truckers in violation of safety regulations.
Farfsing closed by describing Signal Hill’s parks as some of the best in the region. “We’re very proud of what we have been able to do in the last decade,” he said.