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Whittier May Add to Renewal Area for Quake Relief

November 22, 1987|MARY LOU FULTON | Times Staff Writer

WHITTIER — The City Council this week will consider nearly doubling the redevelopment district around Uptown Village, which would provide the Redevelopment Agency with additional tax revenues to solicit new commercial and housing projects to rebuild the earthquake-torn area.

The expansion would place more than 1,100 property owners in Redevelopment Project District No. 3, which ordinarily would give the city the authority to acquire any parcel by eminent domain.

But because the city is seeking the expansion under a state redevelopment law that applies only to disaster-stricken areas, there would be restrictions on the agency's power of eminent domain--usually the most controversial element of redevelopment.

"The way it is intended is to prohibit the use of eminent domain as to owner-occupied residential units, period," said City Manager Thomas G. Mauk.

However, the same state law also allows the city to bypass most of the lengthy process that usually precedes the establishment of a redevelopment project area. The City Council will hold a public hearing at its Tuesday meeting before voting on the project area--without approval of the Planning Commission, without the advice of a citizens' advisory committee and without environmental impact reports ordinarily required by state law.

Mauk said the disaster requires that the city assume extra powers.

"Power is important right now relative to trying to recover from the earthquake," he said. "In terms of explaining things to the community and dealing with the environmental issues, Whittier has always been sensitive and willing to do that."

The special conditions would not apply to property owners within Whittier's two existing redevelopment areas: the Greenleaf Avenue corridor from Hadley Street to Wardman Street, and the area bordered by Hadley, Whittier Boulevard and Pickering Avenue.

Individual projects within all redevelopment areas will continue to proceed through ordinary channels, including the Planning Commission and public hearing process, Mauk said.

About half of the new project area would be residential, with 87% of the 2,150 dwelling units occupied by renters. Mauk predicted the initial effect on renters would be minimal.

"It could mean in the future that if the property you're renting is property that needs to be developed to recover from this earthquake that you could be subject to relocation," he said.

The redevelopment project plan includes extensive provisions to protect relocated residents, including financial assistance and replacement housing plans. And because the earthquake wiped out much of the area's low-income housing, redevelopment officials estimate no more than 50 low- and moderate-income dwelling units will have to be removed.

The proposed redevelopment area includes 320 acres around the Greenleaf corridor from Pickering to Painter Avenue, bordered by Hadley and Whittier Boulevard, plus the Whittier Quad mall.

City redevelopment officials selected the project area after plotting on a map all structures declared unsafe after the October earthquakes. About half of Whittier's estimated $70 million in earthquake damage would be included in the new project area, where 56% of the structures were built before 1930, a city report said.

The Redevelopment Agency would receive money to benefit the project area through an adjusted property tax rate. Under ordinary conditions, about 23 cents of every property tax dollar goes to the city, with the rest going to local schools, public services such as fire and police and to Los Angeles County.

Under the disaster provision of redevelopment law, the city's share would increase to 83 cents of each property tax dollar, and property values in the redevelopment area would be based on post-earthquake assessments.

Mauk said he could not estimate how much money the agency would receive until the adjusted property valuations are completed. The city may use the money to pay off existing bonds or to combine several of the small uptown-area parcels into larger packages that would be more attractive to a developer.

The extra money may also allow the city to provide bigger subsidies as an incentive for developers to build in the area, Mauk said.

However, the project area plan does not include loans or grants for individuals whose property was damaged by the earthquakes. Mauk said the city's plan to promote overall development is intended to benefit the community generally.

"To the extent we can successfully stimulate development, everybody will benefit by faster rebuilding and bringing back more customers to the area," Mauk said. "Also, the public improvements should be more extensive than would be otherwise, such as working on better streets and sidewalks."

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