LONG BEACH — When Joe Santoro and Darrus Spoon come to terms with the city Redevelopment Agency, probably within a month, they will break a stalemate that for 10 years has stymied growth on the industrial Westside.
The agreement to raise a $1-million packaging plant from nine weed-covered lots would be the agency's first with a Westside business.
And, both sides say, it would mark the beginning of an era of cooperation between City Hall and a group of fiercely independent business owners who fought the city's grand plan for Westside redevelopment--and won.
Once bent on acquiring the Westside and peddling it to large developers, municipal officials now say they want nothing more than to work with current owners--mostly operators of small family-run businesses--to improve their valuable land west of the Los Angeles River and north of the Port of Long Beach.
Agency Learned Lessons
"The Redevelopment Agency learned some important lessons," said Roger Anderman, the city's chief redevelopment officer. "It learned that it needs to behave in a manner not threatening to the people in that area. We are not going to bring in new businesses at the expense of existing ones."
Because of past battles, both in court and at heated meetings, it has taken years for veterans of the Westside redevelopment wars to begin to accept that message.
The Westsiders settled a 6-year-old lawsuit against the city in 1981 when the Redevelopment Agency agreed not to use government's power of eminent domain to force the sale of most Westside property.
The city subsequently agreed to spend about $23 million to improve roads, sewers and utilities on the Westside, a 350-acre area south of Pacific Coast Highway that property owners say was long considered the "wrong side of the tracks" by city officials.
Progress, however, has been slow as the city and the business owners have gone through what Anderman calls a cooling-off period.
By last fall, enough time had passed and enough faces had changed at the Redevelopment Agency to allow a new approach to the Westside, said Anderman, who came to the agency last year.
"Feelings ran high," he said. "There was a lot of animosity. . . . (The businessmen) are still asking, 'Are these guys for real?' We are for real. We do want to work with these people."
Ray Baker, 71, who was among the group that sued the agency in 1975, says he is just about convinced that is true.
"I'm satisfied with the way we're working together now," said Baker, chairman of the Westside Project Area Committee, a liaison between the Redevelopment Agency and the community it hopes to rebuild.
"We can call City Hall and ask for something and it's getting done," said Baker, who, along with others, credits City Manager John Dever with much of the progress.
Robert Caso, a city planner when the original Westside redevelopment project was approved in mid-1975 and now a Project Area Committee consultant, also thinks the time is right to get on with redevelopment.
"Remember in 'Portnoy's Complaint,' " said Caso, "at the end the psychiatrist says, 'Can we begin now?' That's where we're at."
The Santoro-Spoon project, which the city sees as a good example of what it can do on the Westside, probably will be the start of that new beginning.
Joe Santoro, who came to the Westside in 1957 fresh out of high school and looking for a job, and Darrus Spoon, a former Downey bank manager, are co-owners of All Service Packaging Inc. and Cal-Coast Packing and Crating Inc., two fast-growing firms whose operations hopscotch the 1500 block of West Cowles Street.
The two companies package for shipment everything from tiny electrical capacitors to large trucks. They say they have more business than they can handle, working two shifts at one company. But they have neither off-street parking nor a loading dock, and on a recent afternoon, two tractor-trailers unloading on the street blocked other traffic.
Santoro and Spoon, both 46, recognize the problems. And they say they are certain more business is there for the taking if only they had a better-working, better-looking, more consolidated operation.
"It would help us a lot if we had something more presentable to show our customers," Santoro said.
With that in mind, the two businessmen contacted the city last summer. "We heard rumors the city was open again for redevelopment," said Santoro, "so we wrote them a letter."
2 Buildings Planned
The agency agreed to sell Santoro and Spoon nine vacant lots just south of Cowles on which the businessmen would construct two buildings with about 22,000 square feet.
Through a federal Small Business Administration loan package arranged by the city, Santoro and Spoon would provide only $27,000 equity in the $1,063,000 project. On the average, Anderman said, the interest rates on the loans would be slightly lower than with commercial financing.