Councilmember Ali Saleh uses smart growth to build economic resilience in Bell, California

City of Bell, California. Photo via Joshua Orizaga on Google.

The City of Bell is a small two-square-mile suburb on the outskirts of Los Angeles, CA. Following a political scandal in the early 2000s that left the city almost bankrupt, Bell has made a remarkable recovery. With their finances back on track, it is more important than ever for the city to make fiscally responsible decisions and improve the lives of residents. The city is using smart growth to make that happen.

Councilmember Ali Saleh, a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, has been instrumental to the City of Bell’s fiscal stability. Elected in 2011, Saleh first served as mayor and now sits on the City Council. Saleh has supported several smart growth strategies that will improve the economy and the day-to-day lives of residents.

One of the city’s goals was to attract new business to the city. In December 2012, the City Council passed an ordinance to reduce the fees for site plan check and building permits, which has made it easier and more attractive for businesses to relocate to the City of Bell. The setback requirements have also been amended for new buildings, which will eventually create wider sidewalks and a livelier streetscape. “These new requirements give the city another important tool to improve the look of our main corridors and encourage other creative smart growth strategies like parklets,” said Saleh.

Beyond economic growth, Councilmember Saleh knows that improving public transit and biking infrastructure improves the lives of Bell residents, many of whom rely on alternative modes of transit. “We have rebuilt City Hall,” says Saleh. “Now it’s time to focus on the residents and make sure they can get around the community with ease.” To reach that goal, the city is working on a bicycle master plan and has received a $2 million grant from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority to improve the bus and transit systems.

With no bike infrastructure currently existing, the city’s Bicycle Master Plan, which is still in the planning stages, will identify prospective locations for an extensive network of bike lanes throughout the city. Because Bell is so small, Saleh hopes that the city’s bike lane network can connect with those of surrounding cities to make an easy commute for Bell residents.

The grant from Los Angeles County will be used to improve on existing bus and taxi services. The current bus service, La Campana, is an inexpensive transit option that runs in a fixed route around the City of Bell, taking residents to important landmarks including the schools, the library, and shopping center. Dial-A-Ride is one the of the taxi services. It is a free ride that residents can share that will take them to common destinations within Bell’s city limits and the immediate surrounding area. Dial-A-Cab, the other taxi service, is a low cost alternative for elderly residents that provides transit to medical and other locations in and around Bell. The grant will not only allow these services to keep running, but also improve their quality in the coming years.

Despite financial challenges, the City of Bell has recovered from the brink of bankruptcy, and is now expanding city services. “Smart growth is the future and the time to implement is now,” says Councilmember Saleh. He is clearly putting those words into action by using smart growth strategies today to improve quality of life and ensure Bell’s economic resilience for years to come.

Local Leaders Council