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Uprooted by Santa Ana Auto Mall : Horticultural Firm Regrets Leaving

Times Staff Writer

Soil & Plant Laboratory Inc. might sound like the setting for one of those teen-age science flicks that hit the big screen this summer.

Instead, the Santa Ana horticultural firm will soon be the setting for about 1/44th of the Santa Ana Auto Mall.

“They want us out by Oct. 1, but that will be absolutely impossible,” said Oris Matkin, 68, owner of the company at 1534 S. Trotter Ave. and a Santa Ana resident. The city of Santa Ana plans to build a $50-million auto center on a 44-acre site that includes Matkin’s nine-tenths of an acre. So earlier this year, the city condemned his property and paid him about $600,000 for it.

But Matkin doesn’t want the city’s money. He’d prefer to stay right where he is.

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He said that he bought the property 13 years ago because it was so close to both the freeway and John Wayne Airport. “For what the city is giving me, it looks like we’ll have to settle for a much less desirable location,” he said.

Matkin’s company, which employs a dozen workers, is not the only firm that will be forced out by the new auto mall. Two service stations were also condemned to make way for the auto park. It’s a shame, Matkin said, that the auto center couldn’t have picked a different site, or at the very least, tried to co-exist with its neighbors. After all, the Tustin Auto Center, now under construction, picked unused land on which to locate.

Santa Ana officials, however, are hardly impressed with Matkin’s gripe. They said that they’ve selected a fine site for their center and not only paid Matkin a fair price for his land but are trying to help him relocate. “Everyone is being very well-compensated,” said Cindy Nelson, the auto center’s project manager. She noted that the center will nearly double tax revenues the city receives from its auto dealers and eventually will add 200 new jobs to the city.

But Matkin, looking at the rooftop greenhouse atop his two-story building, wondered why the company he built will soon be crushed by the wrecker’s ball.

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“It may not be his emotional choice to relocate,” answered David H. Grosse, executive director of the city’s Public Services Agency. “But we are a developing city in a developing county.”


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