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Bell's Annexation Gamble in '60s Is Now Paying Off

September 14, 1986|CARMEN VALENCIA | Times Staff Writer

BELL — When this city annexed 130 acres of federally owned land in the early 1960s, it did so knowing the move would not bring an immediate benefit.

Since federal property cannot be taxed and the area was devoid of residents, the annexation could not bring in even a nickel of revenue.

Instead, city officials held out hope that one day the land--which housed the former Cheli Air Force Depot--would be declared surplus and sold for private industrial development, ensuring the city of a solid tax base.

That day came in 1978, when 92 acres were put up for sale. They were eventually developed into the city's first industrial redevelopment project.

And on Monday, the second payoff in annexing the land will likely take place when the City Council votes on a proposal from Dallas-based Trammell Crow Co. to develop another eight acres of the land.

$75,000 in Annual Income

Trammel Crow has proposed to buy the site for $2.7 million and construct an office building and two warehouses. The developer guarantees the city $75,000 in annual income.

The eight-acre site, one of the last remaining parcels available for development in Bell, was acquired by the city from the federal government in a land swap that saw it take over the National Guard property at Cheli.

"It took an act of Congress to authorize it," City Administrator Byron Woosley said of the swap in which the city built a new National Guard armory in exchange for the land where the old armory was. The city spent $1.9 million to build the new armory at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Bandini Boulevard. The old armory property, which is six acres, was combined with two acres purchased as surplus in 1981 to make the parcel that is to be sold to Trammell Crow.

The trade needed special approval because the "transaction was so unique," Woosley said. "There was no provision in federal law to address it. It's never been done before."

The city spent a lot of time discussing possible uses of the site, including proposals to build a motel, shopping center or a hazardous-waste incineration plant. None of these ever got beyond the planning stage.

The current proposal would be the latest addition to the city's little-known industrial section, which sits in an arm of the city that is hardly ever traveled by residents.

Beginning at Randolph Street and the Long Beach Freeway, there is a narrow strip that leads up to the former Cheli depot area, roughly bounded by Atlantic Boulevard, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad tracks, Eastern Avenue and Mansfield Way.

Hard-to-Reach Via Bell

The only way a resident can reach the area without leaving Bell is to take the Long Beach Freeway at Florence Avenue to the Atlantic Avenue exit. (Atlantic Avenue changes to Atlantic Boulevard at the border of Bell and the city of Maywood). Otherwise, a resident would have to go through another city, Commerce or Maywood, to reach the industrial pocket.

The isolated industrial area may seem removed from Bell, but to Price, it was the only way to go.

"We needed an industrial base. The Air Force base was not going to be released immediately. But we did know in time it was going to be released," said Mayor Pro Tem Jay B. Price, one of the councilmen who voted for the annexation. The city welcomed the chance to develop an industrial sector because "you can't run a city on bedrooms. We didn't want residences in there," he said.

The city reaped the benefits of perseverance when the bulk of the federal land was eventually purchased in the 1960s and developed into large industrial and warehouse distribution buildings by Trammell Crow.

That development, along with the California Bell Club casino on Eastern Avenue, became the mainstays in the industrial section. The city recently expanded its redevelopment area to include commercial and residential sections lining Atlantic Avenue.

The federal government still owns about 80 acres in the city's industrial sector. In time, city officials say, they hope the land will also be released.

"It's just sitting there for diddly. It's wasted space," Price said. "It ought to be on the tax rolls."

World War II Storage Area

The former Cheli depot was used by the government to store goods that were eventually shipped to the Pacific Theater during World War II. When Trammell Crow developed the surplus property, partner Hayden Eaves said, the streets were named after famous aviators to pay tribute to the property's original use. Two streets were named Lindbergh Lane and Amelia Earhart Way.

Trammell Crow began developing property near the intersection of Eastern and Slauson avenues in 1972, to be close to major freeways and railroad lines. The company now owns about 380 acres and has developed almost 10 million square feet of warehouse space. So far, the company has been the only developer to build in Bell's industrial section.

Eaves estimates that the company has spent in excess of $250 million building mainly light industrial buildings and some office buildings in the cities of Bell and Commerce in the last 14 years. Its regional office is in Commerce.

Besides the industrial parks that line Eastern Avenue and Bandini Boulevard, there is a bulk mail distribution center for the U. S. Postal Service and several units for the National Guard and Army Reserve.

Lt. Col. Edwin Lindquist, commander of a Guard battalion, said the National Guard is moving into the new armory, which will house two headquarters and four other units of the Guard. There will also be periodic training for infantry, Lindquist said.

The old armory, expected to be demolished later this month, consists of old buildings that date to the late 1930s, he said.

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