Residents Protest Plan : Signal Hill Agencies Give Green Light to Price Club

Times Staff Writer

More than 100 angry residents stormed City Hall Tuesday night, sporting buttons reading "I LOVE SIGNAL HILL" and "NO PRICE CLUB," to protest the proposed construction of a Price Club warehouse store because of fears that the outlet will increase crime and traffic and decrease property values.

After a heated, four-hour public hearing by the City Council and the Redevelopment Agency, both bodies voted unanimously to approve the first major step toward construction. The hearing was the core of a 7 1/2-hour, standing-room-only council meeting that adjourned at 2:30 Wednesday morning.

"You're about to sell us out if you put the Price Club in there," condominium owner Steve Sabin told the gathering. "You won't be able to continue to build fine quality residences here anymore, with that type of business across the street."

At the meeting, the council and Redevelopment Agency each approved a resolution (called a disposition and development agreement) that solidifies the site and financial terms of the proposal and begins a more detailed planning process.

According to the agreement, the warehouse store would be located on a 10.78-acre site bounded by Willow Street to the north, an as-yet-undeveloped lot to the south, Junipero Avenue to the east and Cherry Avenue to the west. The 200-unit Willow Ridge condominium complex in which Sabin lives is separated from the site by Junipero.

Staff Study Ordered

Although adopting the agreement is the first step toward construction, it does not guarantee that the store will be built at that site or any other. In addition to adopting the agreement, the combined agencies asked that city staff study the possibility of changing the site.

However, if a new site acceptable to the Price Club and the owner of the existing parcel is not found, the city is committed to approving the Willow Street construction.

The facility would be at least 100,000 square feet, with between 400 and 800 parking spaces. Although the fair market value of the property is an estimated $3.9 million, the Redevelopment Agency is selling it for $2.6 million.

Such government subsidy is a common redevelopment practice, city officials said, and is justified by the benefits the project should bring the city--an estimated 230 permanent jobs and approximately $18 million in total sales tax revenue between fiscal 1987 and 2010.

If the project gets final approval from the council and redevelopment board in upcoming months, construction could begin in July, 1986, and the store could open for the 1986 Christmas season.

Although the proposed development will have some negative impacts on the surrounding area, city officials say the problems of increased traffic and crime can be handled.

James Biery, the city public works director, said the store will bring 6,000 extra cars to the site on weekdays and 8,500 cars on Saturday, the peak shopping day. Willow Street already handles 30,000 cars each week day and 20,000 cars each weekend day.

Crime Increase Forecast

If the store is built, he said, signal lights will be added at the Willow Street intersections of Junipero and Dawson avenues, and Willow will be widened from four to six lanes.

Police Chief Michael McCrary said "there will also be an increase in petty theft, auto theft, check crimes and burglaries, but the increase in crime will be confined to the facility and will not spill out onto the surrounding properties."

The restive crowd--some of whom complained that the Price Club was a far cry from a more desirable department store such as a Bullock's or a Nordstrom's--was not swayed by the confidence of city officials.

Angry rhetoric, verbal abuse, stacks of anti-Price Club petitions and slides of Price Club operations in nearby cities combined to make the long, emotionally charged meeting "almost better than TV tonight," as one disgruntled resident put it.

"I shop at the Price Club all the time," said resident Jack Ward, "and I oppose those who say that the quality of people who shop there is not good. But I am more opposed to where you plan to put the store.

Objects to Location

"I don't see putting this huge building next to all those residents (in Willow Ridge) is enhancing life in Signal Hill," said Ward, who lives in another condominium complex. "We have to start taking into consideration those people who live here."

"I think that in truth, money is the key issue here," said Jeff Salinas, another angry Willow Ridge resident. "I moved to Signal Hill because I was interested in a small-town atmosphere, but you're setting up a discount haven.

"I don't think you'd put your money on the table to invest in property where 4,000 vehicles will be going by your door every day--4,000 vehicles," Salinas said.

Howard Gewertz, another Signal Hill condominium owner, asked whether this proposed Price Club would have the same architecture as most of the others-- "a brick square box with a sign saying 'Price Club'?"

When store representative Louise Miller told Gewertz that "all of the stores are basically rectangular, concrete buildings, because that's how the operations function," he could only grimace.

The emotional rhetoric reached a peak with Jeffrey Harris, another condominium owner: "When I find a guy in my basement trying to steal my car, I'm going to tell him that he can't steal my car because the chief of police says crime is held to the Price Club property alone," Harris said.

Color Slides Shown

But it was condo rights activist Sarah Dodds who stole the show, as the few remaining minutes of Tuesday ticked away and Wednesday morning loomed. Dodds brought along a carrousel full of color slides taken at Price Club stores in Cerritos, Santa Ana and Fullerton.

"This is my way of bringing it all to you," Dodds said, as images of crowded parking lots, yawning warehouse-like interiors and store shelves loaded with unpacked cartons were projected on a screen in the council chambers.

"It's not just the people across the street (from the site) who are opposed to it," she said. "It's the feeling of people throughout the city. But you have to remember the 400 residents at Willow Ridge who will begin and end each day by looking out at this very real blight and thinking of you.

"I propose that a plaque with all of your names on it be put on the Price Club when it fails," Dodds said.

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