MONTEBELLO — One city councilman said Art Rangel had to be ousted as chairman of the Planning Commission because he had become an "obstructionist" who prevented the city from moving forward with its redevelopment plans.
But Rangel said he drew the wrath of the council because he tried to prevent the city from abdicating control over its redevelopment project under pressure from a developer.
"The role of the city is to determine what type of development the city wants to see," Rangel said earlier this week. "In this case it (the role) was turned over (to the developer). . . . To me it was carte blanche."
Four council members voted to oust Rangel from the commission in a special meeting Nov. 25, while Mayor William Molinari abstained.
The catalyst for the ouster was Vons Grocery Co.'s $7-million "Tianguis," an ethnic-themed supermarket being built in a redevelopment area on Whittier Boulevard.
The beginning of the end for Rangel came on Sept. 22, when he and other commissioners showed up at a City Council meeting to argue against a proposed amendment to the city vending code. Vons sought the amendment to allow permanent outdoor vending at the Tianguis.
"It got to be a debate between the Planning Commission and Vons," Councilman Ed Pizzorno said in an interview earlier this week.
"You're talking about a pretty good size development, something that would really key the (redevelopment area) up. And I thought we had to move forward," said Pizzorno, who made the motion that led to Rangel's ouster.
But Rangel, Baldwin Park's city planner and a member of the Montebello Planning Commission since June, 1983, said he only tried to serve the City Council by warning that the Vons project did not fit the city's redevelopment plans.
"I think that the council overreacted on the situation," Rangel said. "I did what I thought was best for the community. We could have had more of an upscale development than we're going to be having there."
Meanwhile, the Planning Commission decided to award Rangel a plaque of appreciation at its meeting Monday night. Afterward, the five commissioners present praised Rangel as a knowledgeable planner who served the city well. They said Rangel's dismissal would have no effect on their future decisions.
"We make our decisions here and the City Council makes the final decision," said J. Dean Nunnelly, the commission's acting chairman.
Selection of New Chairman
The Planning Commission is to select a chairman at its meeting Dec. 15. The chairmanship traditionally rotates, which would put Nunnelly in line for the position. The City Council will eventually appoint a new commissioner. Each of the seven commissioners receives a $35-per-meeting stipend.
Rangel was set on a crash course with the City Council last April when an application to rezone several parcels along Whittier Boulevard for the Vons market came before the Planning Commission. The commission recommended approval but warned the City Council that it had concerns about the project.
The City Council approved the zone change and Vons began construction of its first "Tianguis" market in August.
The 59,000-square-foot Tianguis--a Spanish adaptation of the Aztec phrase for marketplace--has the features of a standard supermarket. But Vons also plans to sell foods from several kiosks and carts outside the store. Vons plans to build two more of the markets, which are intended to appeal to Latino shoppers, in Cudahy and El Monte next year.
But city law did not permit outdoor vending on a permanent basis. And when a proposed outdoor-vending code amendment came to the Planning Commission in September, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend that the City Council reject it.
The commissioners showed up at the Sept. 22 council meeting to back their view that the amendment could lead to further outdoor vending in conflict with the upscale image city planners envisioned for the Whittier Boulevard Commercial Improvement Program, Rangel said.
"This project comes up and it, frankly, was not consistent," Rangel said. "The council ended up changing the rules for this Tianguis market."
But Pizzorno defended the market as good for Whittier Boulevard and attacked Rangel for overstepping his boundaries as head of the advisory body.
"Chairman Rangel rounded up the whole Planning Commission to debate the City Council and that's not proper protocol," he said. "That (the debate over outdoor vending) was much ado about nothing. If you go to any major market, they sell outside. Nobody's rolled over for Vons."
Before the amendment, the city issued temporary permits for outdoor vending, City Planner Paul Deibel said.
Tianguis spokeswoman Sue Lawmaster disputed the commission's contention that the market would not be a credit to Whittier Boulevard.
'Attractive and Fun'
"We think the Tianguis is every bit as attractive and fun as any supermarket in Southern California," she said.