Despite weeks of clamoring for equal time, opponents of a proposal to form a redevelopment agency in the city have turned down an invitation to participate in a debate with redevelopment advocates after complaining that the two sides were unable to agree on a format.
Dale Gilson, spokesman for Citizens Against Another Redevelopment Plan, notified the City Council in a letter last week that he is declining the city's offer to allow his group to debate pro-redevelopment forces in the 675-seat William Bristol Civic Auditorium, city officials reported.
"We are at an impasse," Gilson wrote of the failure to arrange an acceptable forum with members of the Yes for Progress Committee. "We regret having to pass up this opportunity that you have given us, but at this time we will have to."
Gilson, who could not be reached for comment, has been fighting the city for weeks over what he described as unfair treatment in the city's effort to tell voters about redevelopment law. He recently contacted the county district attorney's office, asking for an investigation into allegations of interest conflicts by Bellflower officials.
Keith Baker, Yes for Progress chairman, said he was disappointed that talks between the two sides collapsed.
"I wanted the forum," Baker said. "I don't think the council has done enough to inform the citizenry about redevelopment."
Among other things, the two sides could agree neither on the length of time each would have to answer questions posed by a 3-member panel nor on who would act as moderator. Although initially agreeing that a "redevelopment expert" would be serve as a moderator, Gilson later demanded that no expert appear during the forum.
"CAARP does not see any need for a redevelopment expert at this forum," Gilson wrote. "Also, we feel it would not be fair to grant the redevelopment expert equal time to speak. In our opinion, this would be allowing more time for the pro side than for the con side."
Baker said he has not spoken to Gilson or any other CAARP representative since the two sides agreed on the cancellation. He said there are no plans to hold a debate before the election.
Council members had agreed to allow the two sides to debate in the city-owned auditorium. A tentative format was worked out, and the debate was scheduled to occur Tuesday or Wednesday. But then things fell apart, Baker said.
"We felt it was a reasonable arrangement," City Administrator Jack R. Simpson said after he received word that the debate had been canceled. "It was up to them to arrange the format. They obviously couldn't come to agreement" on the details.
The Yes for Progress Committee is advocating a redevelopment plan for the city. The group has so far collected $15,000 on behalf of three pro-redevelopment initiatives on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Bellflower residents will be asked to rescind a 5-year law that prohibits the council from creating a redevelopment agency without voter approval. Voters will also be asked to limit such an agency's land-taking power and approve a redevelopment corridor that includes most of Bellflower, Lakewood and Artesia boulevards.
If the ballot measures are approved, the council will have the power to form a redevelopment agency.
CAARP organizers have said the city has violated state election law by allowing only pro-redevelopment speakers to appear in a city-sponsored video shown on Cable Channel 28 and at two public forums.