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SIGNAL HILL : City Moves to Ease Oil Well Purchases

Oil companies, which have seen their influence in the city slip since big retailers started moving into town, could soon lose even more clout.

The City Council last week directed its staff to draft a proposal to give the Redevelopment Agency the authority to use condemnation proceedings to buy oil wells that stand in the way of future commercial development.

Oil companies, which were responsible for making Signal Hill a city in 1924, have managed to persuade officials to drop previous efforts to give eminent-domain powers to the Redevelopment Agency.

But city officials have a greater sense of urgency this time around.

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A recent state law will force the city’s Redevelopment Agency to stop issuing bonds to finance redevelopment projects in nine years, and to shut down completely in 20 years.

City officials said they are also concerned that the state will change its formula for distributing sales-tax revenues to cities. If the state decides to base the distributions on city population, rather than on where the sale was made, Signal Hill would lose future revenues because of its small population.

With all this in mind, city officials are rushing to bring in as many new businesses as possible.

“Our window of opportunity has narrowed significantly,” City Manager Douglas N. La Belle said. “It makes it prudent for us to get as much accomplished as we can in the next three to five years.”

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The Redevelopment Agency has been able to buy many oil wells over the years, but almost every redevelopment project has been delayed or complicated by oil well owners who refuse to sell, La Belle said.

Once it has authority to condemn property, the redevelopment agency can go to court to declare that it needs the well sites. A judge or jury then would set the price.


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