CARSON — Wild grass and discarded rubble form a vast, rugged landscape here that has been vacant as long as Carson has been a city.
Despite its unkempt features, many people have harbored elaborate visions of this 180-acre site: high-rise hotels and a 600-unit condominium complex, one of the largest master-planned business centers in the South Bay and even, at one time, a stadium for the Los Angeles Rams.
But the dreams for what many describe as Carson's most valuable undeveloped property are as overrun by doubt as the site is by debris and weeds. As one city official put it, "The imagination can go to great lengths with that property, but the land just sits there."
Indeed, the latest blow to development of the parcel--believed to be one of the largest usable vacant properties in Los Angeles County--came three weeks ago when the most recent developer failed to close on the property for lack of financing. The purchase price was to be $19 million.
Future Not Clear
Although some involved in that deal say they are seeking to renegotiate, it remains unclear when there will be a development on the property, who will launch it and whether the property will ever have the image-enhancing centerpiece that Carson officials have long envisioned.
"The uncertainty is a problem," said Councilwoman Vera Robles DeWitt. "I look at that property probably as the jewel of the city. We need to move forward with it."
The uncertainty is augmented by potential environmental problems on the parcel, which has lain vacant and unused for 20 years. A former swamp used as a landfill during the early 1960s, it has been placed for three years on the state's priority cleanup list for former waste disposal sites. State health officials have confirmed that hazardous waste was dumped at the property, but they have not determined whether the former Cal Compact Landfill poses health or safety hazards.
Many local officials have been interested in the property, not only because they see its development as a crucial drawing card for Carson, but also because they believe that once a firm project is approved, the city will make a significant contribution to it through redevelopment assistance.
Recently, the problems that have stymied the 10-year effort to develop the property have been further complicated by other circumstances, including:
- A $3.5-billion lawsuit alleging fraud and conspiracy against nine major private participants in the latest proposed development. The suit was filed in January by would-be buyer Jorge J. Yavar, a developer who claims that sellers of the property failed to disclose the nature of hazardous substances in the property's soil. If it is not settled out of court, the suit could tie up any other development for four to five years, according to Carson City Atty. Glenn Watson.
- A $6.1-million writ of attachment on the property, which was signed last week by Orange County Superior Court Commissioner Ronald L. Bauer. The writ is related to a loan that a previous developer with an interest in the property, Casa Del Amo Estates, has not repaid to California Canadian Bank, according a suit filed by the bank.
- Two liens on the property filed in March for $44,502 and $111,792. The liens were filed by engineering and planning consultants who claim they have not been fully paid for work commissioned by Yavar.
- A City Council decision last month to require an environmental warning on city property documents about the possibility of the property being declared a hazardous waste site by state health officials. Although the city said this measure was necessary to protect its liability, Yavar's bank said the action was responsible for his failure to obtain financing and could have similar effects in the future.
While these recent actions further cloud the future of the site--considered a prime location for a high-quality development because of its proximity to the Harbor and San Diego freeways--past problems also remain largely unaddressed.
During the 10 years the site has been an issue in City Hall, proposals for mobile home parks were submitted on three occasions. A sports stadium was considered when the Rams decided to move from the Coliseum. (Instead, the Rams moved to Anaheim.)
More than one developer wanted to construct a vast automobile dealership. There has been talk of a regional park and an industrial complex. In the latest plan, Yavar offered a $750-million assemblage of offices, high-rise hotels, retail outlets and buildings for high-technology industries.
Those involved in projects proposed during the last six years offer different--and at times conflicting--reasons for the persistent snags. One theme, however, remains consistent by all accounts: Most of the time three parties were involved and rarely were their efforts synchronized.