Drawing a crowd of more than 300 people that forced moving the meeting to a nearby church, the Bell City Council on Monday postponed a proposed redevelopment plan to merge a largely industrial section of the city with the downtown commercial corridor.
Although the council heard protests from some residents concerned that their property eventually would be condemned if included in the redevelopment area, most testifying said they favor the project.
The delay, however, was caused by the city's failure to reach agreements with three taxing agencies also affected by the plan.
Optimistic Details Can Be Worked Out
The council, acting as the Redevelopment Agency, will meet again at 5 p.m. Tuesday to consider more testimony and finalize agreements with Los Angeles County, the county fire district and the Montebello Unified School District. The plan could be held up longer if agreement is not reached by then. However, city officials said they are optimistic that details will be ironed out in time for the hearing.
The proposed redevelopment project--which city officials described as a "new beginning" in the community--would merge the two redevelopment project areas near Eastern Avenue and Bandini Boulevard with 357 acres of downtown commercial and residential properties.
City officials took turns describing economic decline and blight in the downtown area, which they said desperately needs a boost through redevelopment.
The city would like to encourage more private investment by offering incentives available through a redevelopment agency, said David Meyer, director of community development. The city would also like to improve other public facilities such as lighting, sidewalks, streets and sewers, he said.
"The whole purpose is to remove barriers that prohibit reinvestment," Meyer said. One example of such a barrier, he said, is the city's antiquated water system, which cannot support larger commercial developments.
When an area is designated for redevelopment, all revenues received by taxing agencies--including the county and school district--are frozen at the existing level. Any increases in tax revenues that result from improvements go back to the Redevelopment Agency for further redevelopment.
If the project is approved, Meyer said city officials will direct their energies toward the Maywood-Bell Ford property on Atlantic Avenue, a vacant auto dealership, where they would like to see a 90,000-square-foot shopping center. The property is now owned by the Los Angeles Unified School District, which wants to build an elementary school somewhere in the area in the next two years. But Meyer said an agreement was approved by both agencies earlier this year in which Bell would share tax increases generated by the redevelopment project in exchange for the right to buy the school parcel.
The school district will purchase another property at Randolph Place and Flora Avenue. Residents living in that area could be displaced, but that would be action taken by the school district and not the Redevelopment Agency, City Administrator Byron Woosley said in an interview.
Tax increases will also be shared with four other agencies, who have claimed "fiscal detriment" from the proposed redevelopment project, Meyer said. That means the agencies believe they may be harmed by loss of revenues. The council approved an agreement Monday with the Los Angeles Community College District.
Agreement With Schools Sought
The Montebello school district and the county want to submit further information before the city council acts on the plan, said City Atty. Robert J. Flandrick. Although an agreement with the county was approved by the council Monday, it must be approved by the county Board of Supervisors. Woosley said city officials hope to strike an agreement with the school district that can be approved next week.
"Just in case we aren't able to reach a final agreement, the taxing agencies will have an opportunity" to address the council at the hearing, Woosley said.
The agencies were not the only ones asking to be heard on the redevelopment project at the hearing, which had to be moved to the Bell Baptist Church on Gage Avenue to accommodate the crowd.
While most of the people present applauded the city's move to revitalize the community, many questioned why 1,700 housing units were included in the redevelopment project area. Small-business owners also wanted reassurances that they would not be forced to move elsewhere to make room for large shopping centers.
Sanford Bothman, who owns property on Atlantic Avenue, asked the council to drop the residential portions from the redevelopment plan since the focus was going to be on commercial property along Atlantic, Gage and Florence avenues.
"I have a hard time understanding the scope" of the plan, Bothman said, noting that it "requires . . . public support. I think the project is more divisive than constructive."
Meyer and Woosley said the residential units included in the plan are located on property zoned for commercial and mixed uses. A small number of residential units were also included in the plan because they are blighted and would be eligible for grants and other incentives aimed at rehabilitating homes, Meyer said.
Woosley said that many residential units are located alongside businesses on the three main streets targeted for redevelopment. "We wanted to concentrate on large areas of land. If we skip around, and get one lot here and one lot there, it would not serve our purpose," he said.
Business owner Elmer McCoy said while the city is "overdue for redevelopment," he is concerned about small businesses being razed and relocated elsewhere if shopping malls move in. "I can't help but wonder if the same thing will happen to me. Can we afford to be part of it?" he said. Another small-business owner, Lino Guevara, said the measure is good for big companies but "discriminates against the small businessman."
Mayor George Cole, who said the project "is the beginning of an important phase for life in the city of Bell, assured business owners that it will "strengthen the small businessman in the community."
One resident, Frank McEwan, blasted the proposal as a "dictatorship in its worst form."
"It slaps down private enterprise. Private enterprise developed what we have now," he said, adding that the plan would mean "higher taxes, higher prices and higher rents."
But Julie Gonzales, chairwoman of the Project Area Committee of residents and business owners, said the committee unanimously supported the adoption of the plan as a move long overdue.
"As a business person, it will be a pleasure participating in a new era," she said.