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Local Elections : BATTLE: 3-Way Race for Signal Hill Council : City's Spending to Lure New Business at Issue in Signal Hill Council Race

March 01, 1987|RALPH CIPRIANO | Times Staff Writer

SIGNAL HILL — Voters Tuesday will be asked to decide whether city officials gave away the store in their successful campaign to lure business to the city.

City officials maintain that they made smart business deals in landing the Price Club membership discount store, which opened last November, and the new Eastman Inc. office and warehouse, which is scheduled to open this summer.

The two businesses are expected to generate $1.7 million in annual sales and property taxes, city officials said.

Critics, however, charge that city officials made too many concessions to win the two businesses. Figures released by City Manager Louis Shepard show that the two businesses will cost taxpayers a net total of about $8.6 million, which means that it will take the city about five years to recoup its investment.

The recent economic development by the city is the major issues in the City Council election in which three candidates are competing to replace former Councilman David Bellis. Bellis resigned last September after moving out of the city to take a job in San Bernardino. His four-year term, which expires in April, 1988, pays $150 a month.

The three candidates include a political newcomer and two former city mayors who are attempting political comebacks.

The newcomer is Jim Kruger, 27, an Irvine real estate broker. The former mayors are Louis Dare, 67, a retired owner of a machine shop who was a council member from 1982 to 1986, and Nick Mekis, 61, a retired construction company owner, who was a council member from 1974 to 1978.

The election will not have a significant effect on the existing council, which is split, 3 to 1. Three council veterans--Mayor Jessie Blacksmith, Gerard Goedhart and Richard Ceccia--are backing former colleague Dare for election. Meanwhile, the newest council member, Sara Dodds, who defeated Dare last April, has said that she would prefer serving with either Kruger or Mekis rather than her previous political adversary.

This year, Kruger and Mekis have echoed Dodds' successful rhetoric from the last election, with both pledging to work with Dodds to bring what they call quality development into the city.

In last year's city election, Dodds, who designs restaurants for a living, was the highest vote-getter among six candidates, after a campaign in which she capitalized on public opposition to the Price Club. That opposition came principally from condominium owners who, like Dodds, after paying as much as $275,000 for the spectacular vistas afforded from their hilltop homes, were unhappy with the prospect of living within view of the Price Club.

The Price Club, Kruger said, "does not represent the type of aesthetics that we need to anchor our town center."

"I don't want Signal Hill to turn into a Discount City," said Kruger, a condo owner who is a neighbor of Dodds.

Mekis, another condo owner, said he also objects to the Price Club's central-city residents.

Most city officials say that Shingleton left to take a better position. Shepard, however, according to council member Dodds and candidate Mekis, left because he did not want to deal with the groundswell of opposition to the Price Club and the prospect of a changing City Council.

"Discount City, that's where Mr. Shepard was taking us," Dodds said.

Building the Price Club in the center of town "just wasn't good planning," she said, and that's the message voters sent last year when she defeated Dare, Dodds said. Shepard, according to Dodds, "got the message . . . . Louie (Dare) hasn't gotten the message yet but I'm hoping that he will next election."

Mekis, in an interview, contended that Shepard was leaving because of political pressures. Shepard, according to Mekis, "found a way out and he's taken it."

Shepard disputes this, saying, "That's just not true." He declined, however, to discuss his reasons for leaving, saying instead that he was excited about the challenge of running the city of Commerce.

Mayor Blacksmith said the real reason why many officials leave Signal Hill is because of the city's tiny size.

"When you have a city this size people stay a few years and leave no matter what you pay them," she said.

A look at the Price Club and Eastman transactions shows that taxpayers will spend a total of $16.4 million to land the two businesses. After the city sells two properties purchased in the deals with the businesses for an expected $7.8 million, taxpayers will end up with a net cost of $8.6 million, according to figures released by Shepard.

Shepard, however, also said that the two businesses are expected to bring in $1.5 million in annual sales taxes and $240,000 in annual property taxes for the city's Redevelopment Agency. The amount is significant in a small city like Signal Hill, which in 1986-87 has a general fund budget of $6.5 million, Shepard said.

Critics have attacked the many concessions that the city gave to the two businesses.

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