COVINA — Some city councilmen are blaming one of their own for apparently killing an auto-row proposal that officials believe would have generated about $10 million in sales-tax revenue for the city over the next 24 years.
City officials last week reported to the council that a West Covina auto dealership that had sought to expand across city lines into Covina instead has begun negotiations with West Covina officials to add to its operations there.
Although the Covina Redevelopment Agency had agreed to sell property to Reynolds Buick of West Covina, the agency was unable to acquire the property because of Councilman Robert Low's opposition.
Three council members supported the agency's proposal to condemn the Firestone auto-service center on Citrus Avenue, adjacent to the West Covina business, to make room for the expansion.
However, Low refused to support the condemnation unless the council agreed to earmark $120,000 of the sales tax generated by the dealership for the city's public library.
Low's vote was crucial because state law requires a four-fifths majority on condemnation votes. Councilman Jerry Edgar has been advised to abstain from voting on all matters pertaining to the auto row because he holds a second trust deed on property within the project area.
Covina City Manager Richard A. Miller said that GMC truck sales sales were expected to generate tax revenues of $160,000 a year, and another $260,000 a year was expected from projected sales of GMC's Saturn, which Reynolds' had planned to sell.
Accused of Blackmail
During last week's meeting, several councilmen verbally attacked Low for tying his support of the proposal to the library funds, calling his actions blackmail.
Low contended that he was merely practicing "the political process. That's compromise and that's the way this county was built."
After Michael A. Marquez, director of the redevelopment agency, reported that the project appeared doomed, Councilman Henry Morgan asked, "Are we going to let this go by . . . ? (Low) caused this problem. He might as well speak up."
In defending his action, Low told the council that he "was very concerned about condemning a piece of property . . . for the use of another property owner. I have a deep feeling for condemning private property for private use."
"That $10 million is going to haunt you for the rest of your life," Councilman Charles G. Colvert told Low.
"No, it won't," Low said.
"Yes, it will," Colvert sad.
In a later interview, Colvert reiterated his comments, adding, "I, for one, will make sure it does (haunt Low). I'm going to bring it up at every occasion.
"I think he was entirely out of line. There's no association (between the library and the auto-row project)."
To make room for the Reynolds expansion, city staff on July 7 recommended condemnation of the property after Firestone officials and negotiators for the redevelopment agency could not agree on a sale price.
"We're not happy," said City Manager Richard A. Miller. "We worked for almost a year to put this parcel together. Then, to have the council not be supportive, it's obviously very frustrating."
"It affects the integrity of our whole auto-row concept," Miller said. "It appears that we've kind of lost momentum."
The auto-row project was begun two years ago after a Covina car dealership, Southland Motors, decided to move to West Covina.
Officials in West Covina "made a deal with them before we had any knowledge of what was going on," Marquez said. "That's what started us on our auto-row project.
Chance to Expand
"We realized that it's better to give them a chance to expand than to do nothing at all," Marquez said.
Leonard Eliot, assistant director for West Covina's Redevelopment Agency, said city officials there previously had talked with Reynolds about expanding in West Covina. But talks stopped when Reynolds officials reached an agreement with Covina, he said.
West Covina redevelopment officials now are offering to acquire property next to the present dealership for Reynolds at 321 N. Citrus Ave., where a General Tire Service Store is located, and next door, at 315 N. Citrus Ave., where a Big 5 Sporting Goods store is located.
If the land cannot be acquired through negotiation, Eliot said the city would try to condemn the property.
Peter Reynolds, whose father started the dealership in Covina more than 70 years ago, declined to comment on his plans for expansion. "I have not signed a thing with anybody," he said.
Reynolds added that he grew up in Covina and preferred to expand in that city, but "Mr. Low obviously is not going to agree (to the condemnation) unless they do something for the library.
"It appears to me that I'm not going to be able to move to Covina. Mr. Low says I can't move there."
Low, however, said in a recent interview that the city should work toward improving the intellectual climate of the city as well as the commercial climate.
"I wasn't being greedy," Low said, adding that he would have supported the proposal "if those projects could be tied to higher goals."
As for the complaints by his colleagues that he is using blackmail to get his way, Low replied, "Some of our councilmen are eager to get involved in name-calling contests and not so eager to sit down and analyze the issues."