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Ace Muffler Wins Surprise Victory : Santa Ana Agency Changes Its Stance on Condemnation

Times Staff Writer

After hearing advice, warnings and pleas from dozens of residents and community leaders, the Santa Ana City Council--sitting as the Redevelopment Agency--voted unanimously Tuesday night not to condemn Ace Muffler.

The decision surprised both supporters and opponents of the beleaguered business, coming after the agency had voted last month to begin condemnation proceedings to wrest the muffler shop site from owner Miguel Armando Pulido and his family.

Last June, the city entered into a written agreement with Urbatec--a Santa Monica-based developer of apartments and condominiums--to deliver the entire four-square-block redevelopment site to the developer so that a neighborhood shopping center could be built there.

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Pulido had already advised the city that he did not want to move from 401 East 1st St., where he had done business for 25 years. He had recently finished building a new shop--a move necessitated by the widening of East 1st Street, a project completed last year.

Thus began a back-and-forth series of moves and agreements that appeared to reach a climax late last year when City Manager Robert C. Bobb told a Latino business group that the seven council members were opposed to condemnation.

Then, in February, Mayor Daniel E. Griset paid a personal visit to Ace Muffler to advise the Pulidos they would not be forced to move. “You can rest easy,” the mayor said.

In March, however, City Atty. Edward J. Cooper advised the council that the contract with Urbatec was ironclad, and that Santa Ana stood to lose anywhere from $1.5 million to $3 million if Urbatec sued for breach of contract. To make his point, Cooper shared a letter from an Urbatec attorney threatening a lawsuit.

The council, “caught between a rock and a hard place,” had no choice but to begin condemnation proceedings, Griset said then, placing the written contract with Urbatec above the city’s “gentlemen’s agreement” with Pulido.

Meanwhile, community backing for Ace Muffler continued growing. One speaker at Tuesday’s meeting, Gerald Wolf, chairman of the Greater Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber’s board had approved a three-part resolution the previous night supporting Ace Muffler.

The resolution called for Ace Muffler to remain at its present location and for all involved parties to do everything they could to negotiate an equitable solution within 30 days. In addition, recognizing the divisiveness that the issue has wrought in Santa Ana, the chamber board asked the city to take every precaution to prevent a similar situation from occurring in the future, Wolf said.

The city had offered Pulido, a Mexican immigrant, $465,100 for his property, and officials have said the shop could have been relocated 200 feet to the east to a $250,000 site at no cost. City officials say that site would have been a better location, but the Pulidos disagreed.

The shop’s frontage on East 1st Street would have been reduced, and the new Ace Muffler would have been adjacent to a larger building that would block it from the view of westbound motorists, said Miguel Angel Pulido, a son. And since the street has a median divider, all of Ace Muffler’s customers would have been driving to the west, the younger Pulido said.

He also decried the city’s use of the word “blighted” to describe his shop. A thriving business, Ace Muffler grossed more than $400,000 last year, he said. City officials concede that while the surrounding mix of residences, vacant lots and small businesses are blighted, Pulido’s shop is not.

Rudolfo Montejano, a prominent Santa Ana attorney, told the council Tuesday that the Santiago Club--a group of Latino businessmen--had voted unanimously to support Ace. Like many of the speakers, Montejano said the council members were vulnerable to recall.


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