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Flood Fears Stall Plan for Industrial Park at Pit

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A plan to transform a defunct gravel pit into a multimillion-dollar industrial park may be scrapped because of project design changes the City Council has required.

Proposed in 1989 by CalMat Co., the project calls for the partial refilling of a 130-acre pit and construction of a business complex on the property. The pit sits directly across from City Hall on Irwindale Avenue and has not been mined by CalMat since 1972.

Initial city reaction to the plan was favorable. After studying it for nearly a year and a half, the five-member city Planning Commission unanimously approved the proposal in April.

“I thought we ironed out almost everything there was to iron out,” Planning Commission member Richard Acosta said.

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But when the plan was brought before the City Council earlier this month for final approval, the council rejected it. Mayor Richard Chico, who has taken the lead role in opposing parts of CalMat’s plan, said he is concerned about the site’s safety during heavy rains and thinks changes in the design will make the land more valuable.

The project’s backers, however, maintain that Chico’s fears are unwarranted and have jeopardized the project altogether.

CalMat has shut down work at the site and said it has no immediate plans to pursue the project.

Meanwhile, people on both sides of the issue agree that what was once seen as city government and private industry working together for mutual benefit has become a tangle of miscommunication and mistrust.

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At the heart of Chico’s concerns is CalMat’s desire to build the $50-million industrial park on land largely below surrounding ground level.

At its deepest, the site would be 25 feet below grade, said Jerry Weber, CalMat vice president for properties. But the park would have sloped sides and at some points would be level with surrounding land, he said.

Chico said he fears that in a severe rain storm, the kind which hits an area only once every 50 to 100 years, the site could be flooded and leave the city liable for damage to buildings there. A level site would not face as great a risk of flooding, he said.

City engineer Carlos Alvarado did not return telephone calls seeking his comment on that scenario.

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But Charles Lockman, a civil engineer with Lockman & Associates, said the industrial park could be built with sufficient drainage and pump systems to prevent flooding.

Lockman’s company has served the city as a consultant on the gravel industry and worked with CalMat on developing the industrial park project.

“The proposed project was a good, sound project,” Lockman said. “All of the flooding would have been adequately addressed.”

CalMat’s Weber said his company would be willing to include extra pump systems in the plan to prevent flooding but cannot afford to bring the project up to ground level.

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“The cost of doing this is just out of the question,” Weber said. “We’d have to throw away all of our engineering and design and start that all over again.” Weber said CalMat has already spent about $15 million on engineering for the project and on dirt to fill the pit to its existing level. The changes that Chico has suggested would add about $20 million to the project’s cost, he said.

But Chico said he has studied the plan and believes raising the park site to ground level would also raise the property’s value. He said he is just looking out for the best interests of the city. The greater the value of the park property, the more money the city would collect in property taxes.

“I feel that a parcel (at ground level) has got to be worth more than a parcel in the hole,” he said.

Weber disagreed.

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“I think he’s quoting one of those facts that everybody ‘knows’ but just isn’t true,” Weber said.

Weber pointed to an economic impact study on the project by the Pasadena Research Institute that predicts the park will generate $1.5 million in property tax revenue for Irwindale’s Community Redevelopment Agency when it is completed in 1997.

Raising the site to ground level would have only a slight effect on its value, Weber said.

Joseph Harding, who performed the project’s economic study, said most industrial parks conform to CalMat’s plan. “Almost all industrial parks or estates are not level,” he said. “In fact, they build up dirt mounds around them for aesthetic and security reasons.”

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Harding, Weber and others say that regardless of their differences of opinion with Chico, they wish the mayor had come forward sooner with his complaints. Having had access to the plan for at least several months, they add, Chico might have negotiated a compromise earlier on.

“The only thing I can say to that,” Chico said, “is better late than never.”


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