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The Push for Prime Land : 2 Downey Redevelopment Hearings to Consider Fate of Businesses

July 05, 1987|RICHARD HOLGUIN | Times Staff Writer

DOWNEY — Business and property owners who fear they will lose their land and livelihood to large developers continue to strongly oppose plans to greatly expand Downey's redevelopment area.

In public hearings this week, the City Council will balance the economic interests of the city against those of individuals who eventually could be forced to give up their prime properties if the expansion is approved.

Downey's history in dealing with its reluctant entrepreneurs will play heavily in the debate.

The Downey Redevelopment Agency boasts 14 projects--both new developments and renovations--since the city formed its redevelopment district in 1978. The city has been able to persuade property owners to sell in all but four cases. In those instances, it used its power of eminent domain to condemn the land in court, clearing the path for two of the city's largest redevelopment projects--Cardono Square and Mimi's Cafe. Twelve businesses--tenants on those properties--were uprooted.

Not Without Court Haggles

Recent interviews show that the property owners whose land was condemned, although they had to haggle in court, were generally satisfied with the price paid for their income property.

Two former tenants on the condemned land say that forced relocation cost them their small businesses, while other entrepreneurs say they gained new customers and generally benefited from being relocated.

Allan Hicks, who with his wife, Kay, owned the OK Personnel Agency on Downey Avenue , calls himself a victim of redevelopment. "They just took us out of operation really. They're not supposed to do things like that. I still don't think it's right."

The Hickses had moved their business from Huntington Park to Downey in 1971, and decided to close in 1982 after the city condemned the building that housed their personnel agency. In compensation, Downey paid the Hickses $10,000.

Hicks said moving would have cost them their clientele. "When you change locations it takes a minimum of five years to build it back up again," said the Garden Grove resident.

Hicks, 62, has a heart ailment and no longer works, and his wife went to work as a secretary after the personnel agency closed.

In contrast, Jose Hernandez, owner of Gabe's Interiors, is much happier in his new location, where convenient parking has translated into new customers.

Hernandez's business, like Hicks', was displaced by the Cardono Square redevelopment project, a multimillion-dollar development anchored by a five-story, white-and-smoked-glass office building on Firestone Boulevard and Downey Avenue.

The two-person custom drapery and carpet shop moved to Florence Avenue just west of Lakewood Boulevard in 1983. Hernandez had been at the Downey Avenue location since 1971.

"I think I have more traffic on Florence and Lakewood than over there," Hernandez said. "I don't think I lost any customers. On the contrary, I think I gained more."

The city's 125-acre redevelopment zone along Firestone Boulevard is the forerunner of two redevelopment plans under consideration by the City Council.

On Monday, the City Council is holding a public hearing during which it could approve a 305-acre expansion of the redevelopment district along Firestone Boulevard.

During another public hearing Wednesday, the council will consider establishing a separate 118-acre redevelopment district straddling Woodruff Avenue at the industrial eastern edge of the city.

Both proposed projects have drawn strong opposition from property and business owners, who fear their property will be condemned and their businesses uprooted.

Once the district is created, property taxes used to support traditional governmental services is frozen. Additional tax revenue from the higher value of redeveloped properties is diverted to the Redevelopment Agency. The agency uses the money to promote redevelopment by financing public improvements, providing developers with discounts on land prices and other incentives.

The Downey Redevelopment Agency argues that business, tax dollars and jobs will go to other cities if "blighted" properties in key sections of Downey are not redeveloped.

Opponents counter that the proposed redevelopment areas are economically vital, and the Redevelopment Agency should not use eminent domain to take productive properties and businesses and resell them to large developers and businesses.

While some residential property is in the existing redevelopment district, none has ever been condemned, said Jim Cutts, director of communty development.

Owner Got a Higher Price

Maurice J. Hindin is an example of the property owners who took the city to court to get a satisfactory price for his condemned rental property.

Hindin said he owned a 8,130-square-foot parcel and building on Downey Avenue for about 40 years until the city condemned it for Cardono Square. After a jury trial, the Redevelopment Agency in 1982 paid Hindin $230,000.

Hindin, who is a Los Angeles Municipal Court judge, said Downey initially offered him $80,000.

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