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SIMI VALLEY : Purchase of 32-Acre Site OKd by Council

Despite the vehement opposition of one councilwoman, the Simi Valley City Council has approved $3.5 million to purchase 32 acres of land to generate developer interest in a long-sought regional mall.

The council voted 4 to 1 Monday to buy the land at 1st Street and the Simi Valley Freeway, saying depressed land values made the deal too good to refuse.

“Buying this property puts us in a position to help a mall happen,” Councilwoman Judy Mikels said.

But Councilwoman Barbara Williamson criticized the deal, saying the city acted hastily and failed to seek advice from residents.

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“We need to slow down,” Williamson said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people in this community and they didn’t tell me, ‘Yeah, Barbara, it’s OK to spend $3.5 million on that piece of prairie over there.’ ”

In the city’s land-use plan, the undeveloped land is designated for roads that would lead to a regional mall. Until recently, the site was slated for a Wal-Mart.

But voters in November defeated the Wal-Mart project in a local initiative that sought to override a city requirement that nothing be developed on the 32-acre parcel until a mall project is under way.

The Simi Valley Community Development Agency then negotiated the purchase with the Lucile Estes Trust to buy the land for $3 million less than what Wal-Mart was planning to pay, City Manager Lin Koester said.

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The city reached the agreement with Estes’ widowed husband, Bill Baker, who served on the City Council for two years.

Koester told the council that the urgency was prompted by new state legislation that would outlaw the deal if it is not finalized before January.

“If we wait until after the first of the year, it will be questionable whether we would recommend buying the property,” Koester said.


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