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Obstacle to Development Cleared : Torrance Wins Title to Land Under Streets

September 20, 1987|GEORGE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

In 1912, when Sidney Jared Torrance laid out the streets in his 609-acre development, he kept an unusual financial investment in the town that eventually bore his name.

The Pasadena-based developer did not, as is customary today, dedicate the land underneath the streets to the public. Los Angeles County was not interested, and there was no city yet--Torrance's incorporation was about 11 years in the future.

Over the years--as the streets were paved, as industry flourished and died, and as interest awakened in redeveloping Old Torrance--the Dominguez Land Corp., Torrance's firm, and its successors retained an interest in the land beneath the streets--sure that someday there would no longer be streets there and the interest would become valuable.

Until last week, that canny calculation from Torrance's earliest days had been delaying the latest plans for the city's future.

In a 26-acre redevelopment tract on the eastern edge of the city, parts of Mullin, Llewellyn, Engracia and Cravens avenues are being absorbed by Honda North American Inc.'s massive headquarters.

Their transformation from street to landscaped office complex had triggered an unusual condemnation claim by Remco-Real Estate Management Co., which bought the interest beneath the streets in 1941 as Dominguez Land went out of business.

Remco had demanded $500,000 from the city, arguing that its rights to the land had survived intact.

Typically, cities create streets by having property owners dedicate strips for public use. When a street is vacated, the adjacent property owners get the land back.

Dominguez Land, however--and later Remco--reserved the right to the land in the event it was not used for streets. Over the years, numerous adjacent property owners have paid small sums when the city vacated a street in which Remco claimed an interest. Remco President Jerry Alter said his firm's rights in such cases had never been tested in court.

At the Honda site, the city is condemning 26 acres and selling it to Honda. The city argued in Los Angeles Superior Court that converting from one public use to another--from streets to redevelopment--is protected in a way that vacating an unused street is not.

In January, a court ruling on a single parcel in the 26-acre site came out in favor of the city's position. Remco, which had been seeking $30,759 for a 10,253-square-foot stretch of Llewellyn Avenue, was awarded nothing.

Remco decided not to appeal. The issues were identical for the other 18 parcels in the site.

Alter said Thursday that because of the adverse ruling he had accepted the city's "very disappointing" offer of $2,500 to resolve the matter.

His son, John Alter, Remco secretary and the attorney who represented the firm, said the company would continue to seek payments from property owners outside the redevelopment area when streets are vacated.

He added that Remco does not give up its claim to land under other streets that might be included in city projects in other areas. "Each circumstance must be considered separately," he said.

Torrance City Atty. Stanley Remelmeyer said the settlement with Remco means that the remaining condemnation cases in the 26-acre site probably can be settled quickly. The Remco case "kept defendants from settling," he said.

He said that the property owners were reluctant to reach a deal with the city until they knew whether they would have to pay Remco anything. In some of the settled cases, property owners have paid Remco part of the condemnation awards, he said. The city has not paid Remco in any of the redevelopment cases.

Honda, which agreed to pay $13.1 million for the land in April, 1985, took possession of the 26-acre site later that year. Only after the court cases are settled can they obtain title to the land.

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