After much gavel banging, a shouting match and some emotional testimony, the La Canada Flintridge City Council gave the initial go-ahead Monday for a redevelopment agency that it has long envisioned for the Foothill Boulevard area.
Monday's meeting was the culmination of almost a year of research by city officials into the feasibility of forming a community development agency to help finance a $5-million restoration of Foothill, the city's main thoroughfare. City officials say that redevelopment revenues provide the only realistic source of funds, as La Canada Flintridge levies no property taxes.
Within a redevelopment area, any revenues generated by an increase in property value after the agency's start is usually split between the city and the county.
The council's action followed a two-hour public hearing during which about 14 residents, including several La Canada Flintridge planning commissioners, testified in favor of redevelopment. About 10 residents, including the president of the La Canada Chamber of Commerce, spoke in opposition.
"If the people in the redevelopment area are against it, the idea should be dropped," said Chris Valente, the chamber president. He added that the chamber strongly opposed redevelopment.
Another resident, David Stein, was asked to sit down by Mayor J. Bixby Smith after Stein loudly lambasted the council for attempting to "railroad" redevelopment through. Others said redevelopment should be brought before the city's voters in a referendum.
For several months, officials have met with community groups to allay fears that the city plans to condemn their homes and sell the land to developers. La Canada Flintridge redevelopment would allow condemnation of commercial properties only, officials say.
Valente said merchants are concerned that a lengthy program of street improvements planned for Foothill could discourage shoppers. Other residents questioned whether the costs of redevelopment would outweigh revenues.
City Manager Don Otterman said the redevelopment agency would be activated Sept. 3, 30 days after a final vote of the City Council. The city would then hire a redevelopment consultant and appoint a committee composed of merchants and interested residents to advise the council on redevelopment issues.
Redevelopment law requires that the city conduct an environmental impact review to determine the effects of noise, traffic and construction. It also calls for public hearings--which could take place as early as November--to gather comments from residents regarding redevelopment, the scope of the agency's powers and long-range spending plans.
Otterman said the city does not intend to hire more staff members, only consultants. Although officials have not yet calculated what redevelopment will cost the city, Otterman estimated that consulting fees and an environmental report might run $25,000 to $35,000.
Officials hope that redevelopment revenues can yield much more than those projected costs in the agency's first year of operation.
Four small commercial and retail projects planned for Foothill Boulevard could generate up to $45,000 in redevelopment funds this year, officials say.
Redevelopment funds could be used to make low-interest loans available to Foothill merchants who want to upgrade their storefronts or to acquire city properties for off-street parking.
The city also hopes to make Foothill more attractive to local shoppers by installing Craftsman-style street furniture and bus stops, antique street lamps, extensive landscaping and cobblestone walkways. There are also plans to replace utility poles with underground lines.