HUNTINGTON PARK — In a city that was once labeled a suburban "disaster area," municipal officials are pursuing a dramatic cure--wholesale redevelopment.
It will be the main issue on April 8, when three veteran City Council members are up for reelection.
"Our achievements are there for everyone to see," said one of the incumbents, Herbert A. Hennes Jr., referring to rows of old houses, apartment buildings and shops in the city that have been knocked down and replaced by $80 million worth of condominiums, shopping malls and industries. Another $70 million in condominiums, retail stores and other projects are also under construction, city officials said.
"If people haven't liked what we've done, they can vote against us. But the city is doing better now than it's done for years and years," said Hennes, 61, a public relations official for Gannett Outdoor Co. Inc. of Southern California and a council member since 1970.
The three incumbents--Hennes, Mayor Jim Roberts, 50, and William P. Cunningham, 47, are running as a team in a city that the Rand Corp. said in a 1982 study was one of 14 suburban "disaster areas" in the country. In the study, Rand said the 14 areas were beset by complex social and economic problems that included crime, low incomes and deteriorating housing.
41 Years of Experience
The incumbents are seeking four-year terms that pay a salary of $400 a month, with an extra $25 a month for the city's mayor, who is appointed by the council. The incumbents have 41 years of council experience among them. They also have $22,000 in campaign contributions.
The opponents include three real estate agents--all from the same firm--who have loaned themselves a total of $960. Running as the "team for sensible redevelopment" are Alan Kartsman, 30, Louie Aragon, 23, and Don B. Porter, 53. All are associated with Kartsman's real estate firm in Huntington Park.
A fourth challenger, Raul Perez, is a former real estate agent who is now a loan officer at Liberty Savings & Loan in Huntington Park. Perez said he has not raised any money yet.
The challengers have a different view of the city's redevelopment program. Redevelopment, they say, has destroyed hundreds of homes that could have been rehabilitated. Redevelopment also has displaced hundreds of families, where, in a city with an annual median household income of $15,000, few can afford new condominiums, the challengers say.
The incumbents "are literally taking blocks and blocks of homes," said Kartsman, who is president of Kartsman Realty. "They are strip-mining the town and abusing the eminent-domain law and they tell you it's for the benefit of the community."
40% of City Land Targeted
Of the city's three square miles, 40% has been classified as redevelopment project areas, and by 1988, 15% of the city's land will have been condemned for redevelopment, said James Funk, executive director of the Redevelopment Agency.
To date, 288 acres have been condemned, 67% of which is residential land, Funk said. To make way for redevelopment, members of 623 households have been relocated from 549 buildings that did not meet local building, health or fire codes, Funk said. Of those substandard buildings, 55 were rehabilitated and the remaining 494 were torn down, he said.
Each tenant family that was moved for redevelopment received an average of $4,000 to relocate, Funk said. And every homeowner who lost a house to redevelopment has been paid fair market value plus an additional $12,000 to $15,000 in relocation benefits, he said.
The challengers, however, said many of the new condominiums are empty, despite newspaper advertisements that proclaim bank liquidation sales and reduced prices.
"They're building a product that there's little demand for," said Porter, a part-time real estate agent and a full-time mechanical engineer for Sargent Industries of Huntington Park. Porter, who ran unsuccessfully for the council in 1984, himself had to move that year after his home was condemned for redevelopment.
In the city's redevelopment areas, developers have built 347 two- and three-bedroom town house condominiums. The condos now sell for between $92,900 and $112,000, but in the past were sold for as little as $87,500 and as much as $124,500, Funk said. Of the 347 condos, 213 have been sold, 49 are in escrow and 85 are unsold, Funk said.
"Certainly the town homes have not moved as fast as everybody thought," said Roberts, who is co-owner of Roberts Metal Manufacturing Co. of Huntington Park. Roberts, however, said the condos are selling at the rate of one per week and are affordable housing in California. He added that the units are only part of a redevelopment effort that he said has brought about "the rebirth of the community."
"Most of the homes that were torn down are 50 or 60 years old and need to be torn down. Redevelopment has turned this town around," said Cunningham, funeral director for the Klinker-Cunningham-Guerra Mortuary in Huntington Park and a council member since 1977.