BUENA PARK : Officials Fight Plan for Long Beach Mall

City officials have launched a fight over Long Beach's plan to build a huge shopping mall near Buena Park.

City Manager Kevin O'Rourke said the proposal to build a 1-million-square-foot "power retail" center on the site of Long Beach Naval Hospital threatens the viability of retail businesses at Buena Park Mall and other merchants in town.

"It would devastate every mall in the area," said Mayor Arthur C. Brown.

Brown and O'Rourke are in Washington this week to lobby congressional representatives and the Department of the Navy to reopen the planning for reuse of the site before a decision is made. The mall plan at this point requires only the Navy's approval.

Long Beach proposed a retail use of the Naval Hospital, scheduled for closure in April, because it is the "highest and best use for the property," officials there said. The site is in the northeast part of Long Beach, near the San Gabriel Freeway, five miles from Buena Park.

O'Rourke said that Long Beach officials left out Buena Park, along with other neighboring cities, in the planning of the mall of large discount retailers.

"Long Beach worked secretly and excluded us," O'Rourke said. "We're trying to stop a process that's already been done. We think it's in the best interest of residents; they could lose their jobs."

O'Rourke and Brown met on Tuesday with Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) and Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) and with officials from the Navy.

"We're just asking that the other cities involved get a fair chance to speak their peace on this issue," Brown said last week.

The Buena Park City Council in September unanimously approved a resolution that the planning for reuse of the site be "inclusive, open and fair," and that the hospital's closure not create economic hardships to the region.

A coalition of the cities of Buena Park, Cypress, Garden Grove, Lakewood, Hawaiian Gardens and Artesia also has been formed, since the cities share a common concern over the future of the Naval Hospital site, Lakewood officials said.

"The Navy should reopen the reuse process and include all of the cities that were left out of the decision-making, and that's the message these cities are bringing to the Navy and our congressional" leaders, said Don Waldie, Lakewood spokesman.

Long Beach City Manager James C. Hanklacalled the cities' opposition "regrettable."

"We certainly haven't tried to exclude anybody from our process," Hankla said. "This hasn't been an (inclusive) process unless somebody had their head in the sand."

Hankla blamed the cities for failing to become involved in the process early.

"I guess they felt they needed an engraved invitation," Hankla said. "They just don't want us to build a center so they're using whatever specious argument they can come up with."

Hankla also said that officials from those cities should not be scrutinizing land-use decisions made by Long Beach.

"If they've got a problem with competition, they ought to upgrade their own centers," he said.

But O'Rourke said the mall would be "a regional job drain, because there's only so much retail dollars in Southern California. Southern California doesn't need another million square feet of retail."

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