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Renewal Forces Some Hawthorne Firms to Close

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For the past 14 years, Mike Slawinski has operated his vintage printing presses and typesetting machines out of a Hawthorne print shop on 145th Street, producing customized brochures and business forms for his clients.

Monday, the 47-year-old printer plans to hand the keys to his grimy shop to officials of the Hawthorne Redevelopment Agency, walking away from a business he had no intentions of leaving.

The problem is that Slawinski’s 10,000-square-foot lot lies in the path of a $250-million redevelopment project that eventually will contain 394 condominiums, dozens of retail outlets and up to three hotels.

The Redevelopment Agency offered Slawinski $270,000 for his property, but he says that’s not enough to buy another building in a comparable area, and he can’t afford to rent a building large enough to hold his presses. He says the rent would be twice as much as his current mortgage payments.

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Slawinski, who has been a printer for 30 years, doesn’t want to close shop, but at this point, he has no choice.

“I guess Monday I’ll be among the ranks of the unemployed,” Slawinski said. “It’s sad.”

Except for Slawinski and a handful of other property owners, the 26-acre area south of Rosecrans and west of the San Diego Freeway has become a ghost town in the past few months.

About 60% of the 72 property owners who were forced out of the neighborhood under eminent domain proceedings have already settled with the Redevelopment Agency, and most of their houses and businesses have been boarded up.

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After granting six months of extensions, officials are giving Slawinski and most of his fellow holdouts until Monday to move out or face eviction. The deadline for six other businesses was extended to May to give the agency time to complete required tests for toxic pollution at the sites.

Agency officials say the Monday deadline is necessary because the area has been attracting crime. They also note that their contract with the developer, Cloverleaf South Bay Ltd., obliges them to hand over the property so that construction can begin on schedule in two months.

Demolition on the site was supposed to begin last November, and every month of delay since then has cost the company at least $40,000 in interest payments it owes on a loan it arranged for the Redevelopment Agency, which is acquiring property for the project, said Rex Swanson, Cloverleaf vice president and project manager.

Cloverleaf arranged for Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank of California to loan the agency up to $46 million to acquire the site. So far, the agency has spent about $38 million. When all the property is in the agency’s hands, it will sell the site back to Cloverleaf for $23 million. The rest of the loan will be paid off with taxes earned by the project, which is expected to be finished in 1995.

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As property owners began leaving the area, transients began moving into the boarded-up buildings, and there have been several instances of vandalism and burglary in the area, said Beth Garrow, Hawthorne redevelopment assistant. Two weeks ago, someone dumped six 33-gallon barrels of toxic material on an abandoned lot, she said.

“The sooner we get those buildings down, the better,” Garrow said. “We’ve tried to be as reasonable as possible to grant extensions (to the property owners). We’ve bent over backwards to grant extensions. But there comes a point in time” when the end must come, she said.

But in interviews last week, Slawinski and several other reluctant sellers said they haven’t been able to move because they have had trouble finding affordable locations for their businesses.

Part of the problem is that the area they are being forced to leave, which the city annexed from Los Angeles County in 1975, had the unusual feature of combining residential and industrial uses. Low property values kept mortgages low, and businesses there enjoyed good freeway access and relatively low crime.

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James Watkins of J & D Towing, who ran his business on 146th Street for 13 years, recently found a place to lease five miles away in Gardena. But he said he expects to lose many customers.

“I’m sure they’ll call somebody else because I (won’t be able) to get there as quickly,” Watkins said.

By law, the Redevelopment Agency is required to offer fair market value for the land and buildings, as well as relocation money to help tenants and business owners move. Business owners may also receive compensation for lost profits as a result of the move.

Many of the owners and tenants who were pushed out of the area were satisfied with the agency’s offer, and several said they were glad to get out of what was becoming a blighted neighborhood.

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Fred Amberger, president of DARC Corp., said the Redevelopment Agency paid him 8% to 10% more than his property on 146th Street was appraised at in 1984. In addition, the agency helped him find a new location in Gardena and then paid to install an alarm system and electrical outlets.

“We felt we got a real fair offer,” Amberger said. “They took care of everything and satisfied us with everything we needed.”

But not everyone was happy with the agency’s buyout offers. Officials say between 15 and 20 property owners have gone to court to challenge the price offered by the agency.

Among them is Jaxon Uyeda, who owned and ran an auto body shop on 145th Street for the past 26 years and who was offered $116,000 for his 5,670-square-foot lot. Uyeda, 65, who had hoped to eventually sell the shop and retire, says the city’s offer is so low that it is effectively forcing him out of business.

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“You can’t find anything,” said Uyeda. “Everything I’ve seen is over $350,000. I will just have to quit.”

In addition, several property owners have complained that the agency is charging them to clean up toxic substances on their lots. Wallace Mason, who owned and ran Mason Parking Lot Maintenance on 144th Street for the past 43 years, said the agency has deducted $35,000 from its $237,000 offer for his lot to remove several gas pumps on his property.

Others complain that the agency is even charging them to remove fluorescent lamps--$90 apiece--and up to $250 for a linoleum floor that contains asbestos.

Slawinski, whose print shop is lighted with several fluorescent lamps, said: “We didn’t want to sell in the first place, much less to subsidize them to tear it down.”

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But Bud Cormier, Hawthorne’s assistant director of redevelopment, blamed stringent toxic clean-up laws for the removal charges. He noted that the agency’s offers all made it clear that contaminating substances must be removed at the owners’ cost.

In response to complaints that the agency has tried to get away with unreasonably low offers on some of the properties, Cormier said: “I can swear on a Bible and tell you we have never told an appraiser that he’s too high.”

Nevertheless, many property owners continue to resent being forced to move.

Linda Bates, whose company manufactures professional carpet cleaning equipment, is just beginning to settle into the Gardena-area building in which she is leasing space. But she says she misses the building on 146th Street where she had operated for 10 years.

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“When you spend so many hours someplace, it’s almost like a second home,” Bates said. “Since this began, I spent many sleepless nights wondering where am I going to go, what am I going to do. It’s been a real frustration. . . . I don’t know if money can really compensate for that.”


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