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Truck Franchise in Default on Auto Plaza Land

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Last year, it seemed as if everybody wanted to develop the southeast corner of the Compton Auto Plaza. One group wanted to build a truck dealership there. Another wanted to build low-cost townhouses.

Today, it appears that both contenders in what was a bitter battle to win the development rights may have drifted away.

The City Council agreed in December to sell the rights to Universal Mack Truck Sales and Service Inc., a franchise that wanted to consolidate its Los Angeles and Signal Hill operations in the auto plaza, which is located alongside the Artesia (91) Freeway at the Alameda Street exit.

However, Universal Mack has not made the $1-million down payment it promised to give the city by April 30. The city has sent Mack a default notice saying the firm has 30 days from the date of the notice, May 8, to come up with the cash, according to Cynthia Coleman, manager of the Compton Redevelopment Agency.

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Councilwoman Patricia A. Moore said last week that the city has not heard anything from Mack about the default notice or whether the company still plans to move to Compton.

Several calls The Times made to Universal Mack’s offices in Los Angeles last week were not returned.

Meanwhile, the South Central Organizing Committee (SCOC), a nonprofit group that was competing for the right to build about 500 low-cost townhouses on land that included the Mack site, has turned its attention away that land to other sites.

Last year when it was campaigning for the auto plaza land, SCOC would routinely pack the council chamber with hundreds of supporters in confrontational tactics aimed at pressuring the City Council into giving it land. It wanted 55 acres on which to build owner-occupied townhouses that would be sold to low-income working families. At first SCOC asked for the land free but later offered the city $5 million for it.

But the council held fast to its notion that the best use for the land was commercial development that would generate jobs and sales tax revenue for the economically depressed community.

At the city’s suggestion, SCOC is looking into the possibility of building on the old Alondra Boulevard dump site or on land now covered by Santa Fe Gardens, a rundown condominium complex on Santa Fe Avenue. Half-deserted and badly deteriorated, the complex failed several years ago and has become an eyesore and a trouble spot for the city, which has had to move out transients and drug addicts who break into the empty units.

The Rev. William Johnson, an SCOC leader, said his group still believes that the best site for the townhouse development is the auto plaza land but has reluctantly concluded that the council is not about to give it up for housing.

“Until (the City Council members) are convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that they will not be able to fulfill their dreams, they are going to oppose the construction of houses on that site,” Johnson said.

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SCOC’s choice is to continue to bang its head against a wall or turn its sights to some other land in order to make housing available for the many poor working families that need it, he said.

SCOC, which is organized largely around local church congregations, argued that what Compton needs is stable working families and that once the city has that element, commercial developers will follow. SCOC’s proposed development, called Nehemiah West after a successful housing project in New York City, would consist of townhouses that would be sold for around $65,000 to working families whose annual income would be around $26,000.

The Alondra dump site is owned by the city, but the costs could be high if SCOC decides to use it because there must be an environmental cleanup first to rid it of any hazardous waste.

Santa Fe Gardens, Johnson said, would have to be torn down. About half of the units, he estimated, are occupied by their owners. About half are believed to be in the hands of the original owner who converted the apartment complex into condominiums, Johnson said.

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People who live in the units would have to be relocated, but SCOC would give those who qualify first chance at the new townhouses, he said.

If the Mack franchise does not build in the auto plaza, it will be a setback for the city, which for a decade has been trying to develop business in the plaza. Several dealers have come and gone and most of the land is vacant. Some was used for the Compton Lazeben Hotel, another redevelopment project that sits alongside the 91 Freeway.

Under the terms of its development agreement, Mack guaranteed the city $500,000 a year in sales tax revenue. The company agreed to make a $1-million down payment and to pay the balance of the $2.8-million purchase price in monthly installments over the next 12 years. The firm said it would build a $2-million facility on 6.9 acres.


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