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Ethnic Split Widens Over Monterey Park Complex

May 10, 1987|MARK ARAX | Times Staff Writer

A $20-million shopping center and bank complex being built at one of Monterey Park's busiest intersections has become embroiled in a bitter dispute in which Chinese developers and city officials have begun hurling angry accusations of racism, intimidation and duplicity.

The dispute centers on differing interpretations of what type of shops, restaurants and department stores should occupy the 90,000-square-foot retail and commercial building now in the final stages of construction at Garvey Avenue and Atlantic Boulevard.

City officials say they fear the three-story project will consist of Chinese-oriented boutiques and discount stores that have dominated the city's landscape in recent years. They argue that these businesses have created little tax revenue, sizable traffic problems and considerable tension between longtime Anglo and Latino residents and Asian newcomers.

The developer, William Yang, of Tindo Valley Associates in Alhambra, responds that the city does not have the legal right to dictate what kind of tenants will occupy his project.

Yang argues that city officials are motivated by a desire to erase Monterey Park's image as the nation's first suburban Chinatown.

'Trying to Build Wall'

"You have a city in transition, a city that may be 60% to 70% Chinese in the next few years," said Doug Ring, a Los Angeles attorney representing Yang. "We have a situation where the City Council is trying to build a wall to prevent that change from happening."

City officials angrily deny the charge of racism.

"That's a red herring that their attorney has thrown in to detract from the real matter," City Manager Lloyd de Llamas said. "Our concern has always been the traffic and congestion problems created by a mini-mall-type operation."

In a larger sense, the dispute, pitting Chinese newcomers against an Anglo-controlled City Hall, mirrors the changes and tensions that have come to define much of what happens in this city of 61,000.

Growing Community

The dispute has implications for the future of Monterey Park, where the architecture has increasingly reflected a growing community of Asians who account for 40% of the city's population--the highest such concentration in the nation.

City officials contend that Yang's representatives persuaded a wary City Council in October, 1985, to approve the project by putting forward plans to bring in nationally and regionally known stores and restaurants.

The city had hoped that tenants such as Ann Taylor and Laura Ashley clothes and the Seafood Broiler and Hungry Tiger restaurants would draw customers from throughout the western San Gabriel Valley and pump sales tax revenues into a sagging local economy.

City officials say Yang now has backed away from those original commitments and refuses to identify the types or names of businesses signed up as tenants.

"The law does not permit you to present plans in applying for approval and then turn your back on those plans once approval has been given," City Atty. Tony Canzoneri said. "That's not the way you do business."

'Balance' Urged

De Llamas said: "Both parties agreed to avoid traffic and congestion problems by creating a balance between tenants, a synergy that would mix daytime businesses with nighttime businesses. We want a destination shopping center where people will come and stay for a few hours, rather than continuous in-and-out shopping."

The city has threatened to revoke a conditional-use permit on the project if Yang does not achieve what city officials regard as a proper mix of businesses, combining "chain-type" stores with smaller operations.

The revocation would imperil the project's financial well-being by forcing Yang to scale back the number of tenants from 59 to nine, making it virtually impossible to fill the complex because each tenant would have to be large enough to occupy an average of 10,000 square feet.

Yang, a wealthy textile manufacturer in Taiwan before emigrating to the United States in 1977, has vowed to fight a revocation. In March, his attorney filed a claim--a precursor to a lawsuit--against Monterey Park alleging that city officials tried to intimidate Tindo Valley by revealing to prospective tenants and creditors the existence of the dispute.

Chains 'Weren't Interested'

"We feel the city is asking us for something we can't deliver," said Nancy Yang, Yang's daughter and an officer at Tindo Valley. "We tried to attract a number of chain restaurants and department stores, but they just weren't interested in our development."

Ring says Tindo Valley never promised that it could obtain commitments from any particular tenant. He points to transcripts of a public hearing during which he specifically and repeatedly backed away from making any promises.

Ring charges that city officials--using euphemisms such as "mixed tenants," "regional-shopping draw" and "synergy"--are trying to prevent businesses run by Chinese newcomers from becoming tenants.

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