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Redevelopment Land Deal Stirs Controversy :...

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Responding to criticism over a recent land purchase, the chairman of the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency board said he wants a review of whether the agency’s executive director has too much authority to buy property without board approval.

Agency Chairman Don Westerland said that to avoid further controversy he favors eliminating a policy that allows the executive director to buy land in the city’s west side and downtown redevelopment areas.

A furor has developed over recent revelations that Executive Director Susan Shick approved the purchase of several parcels of land from a company owned by Long Beach Harbor Commissioner Joel Friedland.

New City Auditor Gary L. Burroughs, who was unaware of the scope of Shick’s authority, refused to sign the $475,000 check for the purchase without the approval of the Redevelopment Agency board.

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The board approved the purchase at a hastily scheduled special meeting Dec. 30, but triggered further controversy when it failed to notify the press of the meeting--a violation of state law.

Several neighborhood organizations and a self-styled City Hall watchdog organization, Just Five, last week called for the resignation of Shick and Westerland, and are demanding the elimination of the policy. They also accused the agency of giving Friedland special treatment by accommodating his request to approve the transaction before the end of the year for tax purposes.

Westerland acknowledged that the board had violated the law governing public meetings but said he did not think the infraction warranted his resignation. He also denied that the board had given Friedland special treatment, saying it would have done the same for any resident.

Shick said that the policy, which was instituted before she was hired by the city, allows her to buy property in the west side and downtown redevelopment project areas. Shick said she has approved the purchase of about five pieces of property in the west side area but has never used her authority in the downtown redevelopment area.

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The west side area, once known as the West Long Beach Industrial Redevelopment Project Area, extends from the Long Beach Freeway to the western city limits, and from Pacific Coast Highway south to Ocean Boulevard.

On Tuesday, Just Five plans to ask the City Council to overhaul the Redevelopment Agency board, including the procedure used to appoint board members, said the Just Five chairman, businessman L. David Carden.

Carden said he has drawn up a tentative proposal to place three members of the City Council and two members of the public on the board. Council members would be selected on a rotating basis by their fellow members and would serve for two years.

Carden said his group also is calling for the agency board of directors and the City Council to approve every agency expenditure over $50,000.

While several council members have publicly and privately criticized the agency’s handling of the land purchase, some said in private that council members have enough work to do without assuming greater responsibility for the day-to-day actions of the agency.

Currently, the five Redevelopment Agency board members are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council. Each member is eligible to serve two four-year terms.

The City Council must approve the agency’s budget and the creation of new redevelopment project areas.


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