ALTADENA — For almost 10 years Tony Stewart and her neighbors have had to drive to a nearby city to buy groceries.
The only food store in her neighborhood had boarded up its windows, forcing residents of this unincorporated area of 42,000 people to drive to Pasadena or La Canada to shop.
Stewart and her neighbors were fed up with the continuing economic decline of their neighborhood. The loss of the grocery store became a catalyst for a drive led by Stewart to upgrade the deteriorating business area along Lincoln Avenue north of the Foothill Freeway.
"I have no vested interest, not at all," said Stewart, a former Altadena Town Council member and current president of the Altadena chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People. "I just hate to see my neighborhood go down."
Stewart began by organizing the West Altadena Merchants Assn., which sought federal funds to improve the business strip. When that plan failed because of lack of business participation, Stewart and the merchants began in 1983 to push for a Los Angeles County redevelopment project.
"The merchants asked the county to come in because they were suffering," said Lawrence Gamell, chairman of the Project Area Committee, a group that acts as the liaison between residents and businessmen and the county.
After several studies, the county last year declared the area blighted and adopted the West Altadena Community Redevelopment Plan, under which it will sponsor a $14-million project that includes a shopping center with a large grocery store and a variety of small businesses.
"If it wasn't for (Stewart), there wouldn't be a redevelopment project," said Steve Dukett, director of economic development for the county's Community Development Commission.
The project "will bring businesses back to a dying economic area," said Stewart, who is also a member of the Project Area Committee.
Although the plan has received considerable support from the community, some residents and businessmen who will be uprooted have voiced concerns about financial losses they might incur with relocation.
The county plans to tear down about 45 homes and a dozen commercial properties in the predominantly black and Latino neighborhood to clear the 13 acres needed for the project.
The shopping center, which is expected to be finished in the summer of 1990, will be bounded by Woodbury Road on the south, Figueroa Drive to the north, Lincoln Avenue on the west and Olive Avenue to the east. The west side of Lincoln Avenue will not be part of the project.
For the time being, the county will relocate only those who volunteer to move. The entire area should be cleared and ready for construction by the summer of 1989.
However, many senior citizens in the neighborhood do not want to relocate.
"I've lived in this one place for 45 years," said Ruth McMahon, an 81-year-old widow. "I'd like to finish my life here."
Although she is financially secure, McMahon said, many other senior citizens have small homes and are worried about finding comparable housing elsewhere.
William Green, whose home is also in the redevelopment area, is opposed to the project because he is concerned that relocation will mean financial hardship.
"I don't think it's possible to move without cost for the homeowners," said Green, who came to the neighborhood in 1971.
Old Issue Resurfaces
Stewart said the residents' fears stem from the 1960s and 1970s, when some homeowners displaced by redevelopment projects in Pasadena felt that they did not receive adequate relocation compensation.
To address such concerns, the county has sponsored monthly meetings where residents can question officials about specifics of the project.
Stewart said this would differ from other redevelopment projects because it originated within the community, rather than the government.
"We have taken all the precautions we know how," he added. "All the people are promised they will get fair market value" for their property.
The county is required to pay the property's fair market value, as well as moving expenses. It is also obligated to make sure that an individual's tax and mortgage rates remain the same at the new location, county officials said.
"The net effect is you have to be in exactly the same financial situation," Dukett said.
Some Will Do Better
Because county officials must meet the legal requirements of relocating a residence or business, many individuals will end up with better facilities than they had before, Dukett said.
Donald Baxter, whose home is in the redevelopment area, said he was against the project at first, but the county meetings have convinced him that he will come out ahead.
He has received information from the county explaining the process step by step, he said.
Although most people will not have to move until the majority of acquisitions are scheduled to begin next July, the Macedonia Baptist Church volunteered to go early.