The county and a group of businessmen and redevelopment watchdogs have filed suits in Los Angeles Superior Court to stop the City of Industry from declaring 600 acres of vacant pasture as part of its redevelopment area.
The suits contend that the city has twisted the intent of state redevelopment law in an attempt to receive up to $400 million in tax revenue, from businesses built on the land, that would otherwise go to the county and local school districts.
At the core of the suits is the claim that Industry has illegally declared the pasture land a blighted urban area, a requirement for it to receive all the tax revenue.
“This is one of the biggest abuses of the California Community Redevelopment Law ever attempted by any governmental agency in the state of California, and all to the tremendous detriment of taxpayers of the county of Los Angeles,” wrote attorney John W. Belsher in documents filed Tuesday.
That suit was filed on behalf of the Industry Civic Planning Assn., a group of about 60 local business people who have frequently challenged the city’s redevelopment policies. The other plaintiffs are the Concerned Redevelopment Officials of Southern California, a nonprofit group that monitors redevelopment projects, and Susan Berg, a county taxpayer.
The suit calls for the court to void an ordinance approved by the Industry City Council on Aug. 11 declaring the site a redevelopment area. No hearing date has been set.
Last Friday, the county filed a similar suit to block the redevelopment proposal, according to Associate County Counsel Manuel A. Valenzuela.
The county earlier filed a separate suit challenging the validity of the environmental impact report on the 600 acres. No hearing date has been set for that suit.
The 600 acres of grassy, rolling hills are just north of the intersection of the Pomona and Orange freeways.
The city, a 14-mile long business strip with only 700 residents, has proposed using the land for 7.2 million square feet of industrial buildings.
The battle over the project revolves around the California Redevelopment Law, enacted 34 years ago to help aging cities rebuild slum areas.
Under the law, local redevelopment agencies could buy land and build roads, sewers and other improvements to attract private developers.
To fund these improvements, the state allowed redevelopment agencies to keep all the property tax generated by new construction. Normally, property tax revenue is split among the county, local school districts and the city.
But the city can only receive all the revenue if it can show that a redevelopment area is “blighted” and at least 80% urbanized.
The suits contend Industry’s 600 acres fail to qualify on all counts.
“They’re not even close,” said Bruce Tepper, one of the attorneys representing the businessmen.
According to the suit, the area is not a “serious physical, social or economic burden to the community” since it is vacant.
Graham A. Ritchie, city attorney for Industry, and John Radecki Jr., executive director of the city’s redevelopment agency, did not return phone calls to their offices.
The city has argued that the area does fit the legal definition of “blighted” because the city has built up debts of $40.3 million to buy it in 1983 and finance it since then. To pay off the debt, redevelopment agency officials say they need to develop the 600 acres as an industrial park.
The Walnut Unified School District and the Pomona Unified School District originally opposed the redevelopment project but have since negotiated a settlement with Industry and no longer oppose the project. Pomona Unified will receive $1.2 million over the next two years and Walnut Unified will receive a percentage of the tax revenue generated by the project.