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$20-Million Project Put in Jeopardy : Hearing Called for Promises Not Kept

May 14, 1987|MARK ARAX | Times Staff Writer

MONTEREY PARK — The City Council, in an unexpected show of unanimity, has agreed to hold public hearings on whether to revoke a conditional use permit on a $20-million shopping center and bank complex that has become mired in a bitter, racially divisive dispute.

In voting 5 to 0 Monday to hold a public hearing within the next 60 days, City Council members argued that the developer, William Yang, has reneged on promises to bring in nationally and regionally known stores and restaurants to occupy the 91,000-square-foot retail and commercial building now in the final stages of construction.

They said good-faith negotiations between Yang and the city effectively were broken when the developer charged in a Times article last Sunday that city officials were racists and were attempting to block Chinese-owned businesses from becoming tenants--a charge city officials vehemently denied.

Project 80% Leased

At the same time, Yang said the project is 80% leased and that all the tenants are Asian.

"It's time that this city take a stand," Councilman Barry Hatch said in proposing the motion to hold a revocation hearing. "We have been battered and kicked and stomped on."

"It's with extreme reluctance that we take this step, but we've been forced to," Councilman Chris Houseman said. "We've gone through 12 months in which the city has conducted negotiations in an above-board and proper way.

"Maybe we've made a mistake in being so proper and so quiet. I don't think the message got through."

Monterey Park requires the issuance of conditional use permits on all retail and commercial developments with nine or more tenants.

Yang, a wealthy textile manufacturer in Taiwan before emigrating to the United States in 1977, said revocation of his conditional use permit would imperil the financial well-being of his project, forcing him to scale back the number of tenants from 59 to nine. This would make 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.

'This Is Not a Game'

"It gets very serious at this point," said Doug Ring, a Los Angeles attorney representing Yang's Alhambra-based development firm, Tindo Valley Associates. "This is not a game. This is not mere political exercise.

"The city must realize that it faces a potential civil rights lawsuit. And City Council members themselves must know that they can be held personally liable in such cases."

The dispute between the city and Yang has centered on differing interpretations of what type of shops, restaurants and department stores should occupy the three-story shopping center being built at Garvey Avenue and Atlantic Boulevard, the city's busiest intersection.

City officials welcome the center's main tenant, Omni Bank, which will take up most of the first floor. But they fear that the remainder of the project will consist of Chinese-oriented boutiques and discount stores that have dominated the city's landscape in recent years.

Considerable Tension

They say these businesses have created little tax revenue, sizable traffic problems and considerable tension between longtime Anglo and Latino residents and newcomer Asians.

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 known tenants such as Ann Taylor and Laura Ashley clothing stores and the Seafood Broiler and Hungry Tiger restaurants.

City officials say that only such "chain-type" tenants will draw a broad range of customers who will shop for several hours, thereby eliminating the stop-and-go traffic created by the city's numerous mini-malls.

City Manager Lloyd de Llamas emphasized that the ethnic background of the tenants was irrelevant and that Yang may have already achieved a proper mix of businesses at his project. But the city is unable to make that determination, de Llamas said, because Yang has refused to identify of his tenants.

De Llamas said a revocation hearing would force Yang to name the tenants and would give the city an option if the tenant mix was not considered proper.

Ring counters that city officials--motivated by what he called a racist desire to erase Monterey Park's image as the nation's first suburban Chinatown--do not have the legal right to dictate what type of tenant will occupy the center.

Transcripts Cited

Ring says Tindo Valley never promised to obtain commitments from any particular tenant. To support that contention, he points to transcripts of an Oct. 14, 1985, public hearing at which the City Council approved the conditional use permit. During that hearing, according to official city transcripts, Ring specifically and repeatedly backs away from making any promises.

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