Carson Officials in Closed Talks on Annexation

Times Staff Writer

City officials here have been involved in a series of closed-door negotiations with three Carson-area development firms over what could be a series of major city concessions in exchange for the companies' support of an effort to annex 800 acres of unincorporated county land.

Negotiations between two council members and representatives of three closely associated development companies--Watson Land Sales, Dominguez Properties and Carson Estate Co.--have taken place on three occasions during the last month, since city officials voted to endorse the effort of about 2,000 county residents to be annexed into Carson.

The three development companies are among the largest landholders in the annexation area, which is mostly composed of industries and vacant land.

The residents who have launched the annexation proceedings, all of whom are mobile home dwellers, represent the majority of residents in the unincorporated area, which also includes the historic Dominguez Seminary and Adobe.

Despite repeated requests, public access to the subcommittee meetings have been denied. If approved by the City Council, the concessions now being negotiated by Mayor Kay Calas, Councilwoman Vera Robles DeWitt and city staff could change the face of at least one neighborhood, alter oil drilling regulations on certain properties and involve the funding of several million dollars in street improvements.

While negotiating with the companies about city regulations and funding related to properties in the annexation area, the council subcommittee is also being asked to change laws that relate to at least one property already in Carson. That 340-acre parcel, owned by Carson Estate Co., is adjacent to the Wilmington Avenue. The annexation area is bounded by Del Amo Boulevard on the south, Wilmington Avenue on the west, Alameda Street on the east and roughly by Victoria Street on the north.

City officials say that in addition to the companies' support for the annexation, Carson stands to gain a bicycle path, the right to build city structures at the Dominguez Channel and a "logical" development of Carson properties.

Despite the potential magnitude of the matters being discussed, repeated requests by The Times for public access to the meetings of the council-approved subcommittee have been denied by Calas, DeWitt and City Atty. Glenn Watson (who has no connection with the Watson Land Co.).

In explaining her reason for closing the subcommittee meetings, Calas said that the presence of the public might inhibit negotiations. She said it would be easier to "try to do what's best for the city" in closed meetings.

DeWitt explained, "It might be difficult to negotiate with the newspaper there. It's a very touchy situation; there's a very fine line."

Although city staff and development company representatives have participated in each of the meetings, City Atty. Watson has denied public access on grounds that the subcommittee is composed "solely" of Calas and DeWitt. The state legislation that mandates open subcommittee meetings, the Brown Act, includes an exemption for committees that are composed of less than a quorum of the City Council, and no one else.

In the past, according to Councilman Thomas Mills, Councilman Walter Egan and City Clerk Helen Kawagoe, subcommittee meetings have been open to the public in Carson. All five council members said they were not aware of a specific policy change.

Mills, the only official who expressed concern about the nature of the talks being conducted by the subcommittee, asserted that the participation of major development companies has probably persuaded council members to close the meetings.

"Watson Land Co. is the key," Mills said. "Watson has been in the position previously of getting what they want with certain council members. They don't want the press or the public to see how much control they have over these council members."

Added Mills, "The whole arrangement bothers me a bit. When we created this subcommittee, it never dawned on me that it was solely a property-owners subcommittee. It's taken a different turn than I anticipated when the subcommittee was formed."

Mills and Mayor Pro Tem Sylvia Muise said they would not support making any concessions relating to areas already located in Carson. "I think that's wrong," Mills said.

DeWitt, however, maintained that although the meetings have been closed, the city has negotiated in good faith.

"We're not doing anything clandestine," she said. "We're just trying to get a good deal for the city, like we did with Southern Pacific (Transportation Co.)"

(The city late last year won concessions that could total as much as $10 million from Southern Pacific and the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles in exchange for several environmental permits for a major rail transfer yard.)

Said Calas, "We are trying to reach an agreement where the property owners will be glad to come into the city of Carson. We're looking at zoning laws and land uses. . . . The owners feel freer to talk with the two of us than they would if it was open to the public during negotiations."

No Particular Campaign

During the last 14 months, Watson Land Co., the parent company for Watson Land Sales, has contributed $750 to the campaign chests of each of three council members--Calas, DeWitt and Egan--according to city records. The three council members were up for election or reelection in April, 1984.

Watson Land Co. also contributed $500 to each of DeWitt's previous two city campaigns, in 1981 and 1982, records show.

In addition, the Concerned Citizens and Taxpayers of Carson--a satellite campaign group of the now-defunct Carson-Dominguez Industrial Council in which Watson Land Co. was a major participant--contributed $17,100 each to the campaign committees of Egan and Calas in 1980, city records show. Arthur Lawson, who was head of the Industrial Council, served as treasurer for both campaign groups, according to records.

Included with each of the $17,100 contributions--which are particularly large for a Carson election--was a letter stating, "These contributions were provided for future, unspecified political contributions and are in no way 'earmarked' for a particular election or campaign issue."

The industrial council directly contributed a total of $4,396 to DeWitt's previous campaigns in 1981 and 1982, records show. An additional $826 contribution was made by the industrial council to Calas, who, in turn, gave it to DeWitt, campaign records show.

The Carson-Dominguez Industrial Council has been renamed Carson-Dominguez Business Council, according to Watson Vice President Michael J. Elliott, who said that the company remains an active participant in the group. Michael Genewick, former Watson vice president for energy and governmental relations and currently a consultant for the company, heads the business council.

Elliott said that Watson Land Co. and Carson Estate Co. frequently work together and are the principal partners in the ownership of the third company, Dominguez Properties.

According to Elliott, the process of negotiations between the city and the land companies is as old as the city itself.

"This dates back to when the city was first formed," he said. There were negotiations during the incorporation process and, "four years ago there was a movement in this direction (toward annexation); some deliberations came into play then. This idea of working with the city is by no means a new concept. We resurrected former proceedings, in essence."

Watson, the city attorney, said he expects that negotiations will be completed by about March 1.

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