A city of Torrance plan to double the spending limits for its $90-million industrial redevelopment project has come under fire from two unlikely allies, the county of Los Angeles and a maverick muffler-shop owner.
The county voiced its objections this week in a polite letter from the county counsel’s office, describing what it calls “fatal deficiencies” in the proposal. The city’s plan would increase the project’s spending limit to $180 million and extend an arrangement reducing the county’s share of tax revenues from the redevelopment area. The county letter says the city would commit a breach of contract if it proceeds with the change without county approval.
The muffler-shop owner, Walter J. (Jake) Egan, took a different approach. Egan, whose property is in the path of a road-widening project, went to Torrance City Hall to give city officials a thorough tongue-lashing.
Egan and his attorney were the only speakers at the Tuesday public hearing on the proposed redevelopment amendment before Torrance City Council members acting as the city Redevelopment Agency. The amendment would alter the funding and timetable for the city’s east side redevelopment project, which has been under way since 1983.
Egan, a longtime critic of the city’s redevelopment efforts, clearly relished the moment.
The hearing opened at midnight, when council members were visibly weary after six hours of debates on planning issues and other city matters.
“Good morning. It’s now 20 minutes after 12,” Egan began as he took the podium, wearing a battered brown hat and blue jeans.
He talked for 30 minutes, reading sections of newspaper articles aloud and ignoring city officials’ efforts to call his comments out of order.
He questioned how much revenue the redevelopment project has actually produced and whether some developers are getting what he called “sweet deals.”
Egan owns Aable Muffler Shop, which is on the corner of Torrance Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue in front of the new $225-million headquarters of American Honda Motor Co., cornerstone of the city’s industrial redevelopment effort. The city is beginning condemnation proceedings to purchase the muffler-shop land for a road-widening project.
Egan’s attorney, Thomas I. McKnew Jr., submitted written comments objecting to the proposed redevelopment changes and raising the issue of whether the those changes require an environmental review.
A similar issue was raised in the county’s letter, which says the city needs to conduct some kind of environmental review before amending the project.
“We still don’t think this is a project under the California Environmental Quality Act,” Torrance City Atty. Kenneth L. Nelson said Wednesday. The city instead considers the amendment to involve purely financial changes.
City officials originally had talked of taking action on the proposed amendment at the Tuesday City Council meeting. But when the county and Egan submitted written comments, the city was required to respond formally, officials said.
Action may come at the Sept. 4 council meeting, Nelson said.
The amendment is aimed at completing the city’s 1983 plan to improve 292 acres, clearing buildings and replacing them with offices, a hotel and other development. The project has cost more than expected, so the city is attempting to raise the spending limit. And, although the project was to be finished in 2013, the city wants to give itself an additional 20 years to finish the work.
Los Angeles County, however, has said that, if the plan is changed, it would be entitled to 57% of the property taxes generated by the area. Under the 1983 redevelopment plan, the county agreed to take only 20% until the year 2013.
In the county’s letter to the city, dated Tuesday, Deputy County Counsel Manuel A. Valenzuela quotes from a June, 1983, agreement between the city and county, stating that the city cannot change that agreement without the county’s prior approval.
The County Board of Supervisors voted last month to sue the city for the larger share of taxes if no compromise is reached. But city and county representatives are continuing to seek a negotiated settlement in the matter, according to Valenzuela and Diane Shamhart, an assistant division chief in the county administrative office.
“Often there’s a negotiated settlement after the agency approves an amendment,” Valenzuela said Wednesday.