WHITTIER — City officials are considering whether to begin annexation proceedings for 1.8 square miles of county territory on the south side of Whittier Boulevard, a move that would add about 18,000 residents to the city and pave the way for redeveloping area businesses.
City officials say such an annexation would initially cost Whittier close to $1 million a year because sales and property tax revenue from the area would not be enough to pay for police protection, street and park maintenance and other services.
But the annexation would eventually help Whittier, Mayor Gene Chandler said, because the city could increase sales tax revenue through redevelopment and would gain control over the freeway entrances to Whittier and Washington boulevards.
"It's a logical section of Whittier that would fit nicely into the city package," Chandler said. "Ideally, it would be nice to just take Whittier Boulevard, but that's like taking the frosting off the cake. . . . The county doesn't want to lose all the industrial section and still have to service the residential side."
Tom Hageman, assistant chief deputy to Los Angeles County Supervisor Pete Schabarum, said: "The entire area ought to belong to somebody.
"The area over by the freeway is a disaster, with little bits of Whittier Boulevard part of the county above and below," Hageman said. "It's just a terrible thing from a police and fire standpoint. . . . I know Schabarum would look at (the annexation) most favorably."
The annexation process would be managed by the Local Agency Formation Commission, an independent seven-member county panel appointed by the governor that oversees boundary changes and the creation of new cities and districts.
Annexation proceedings could be initiated by the City Council or by a petition of at least 5% of residents in the area, said Michi Takahashi, the commission's administrative assistant.
After the application is approved by the commission, a public hearing would be held before the City Council. If 50% or more of the annexation area's registered voters object in writing after the city notifies them about the plan, the annexation would be terminated, Takahashi said.
If between 25% and 49% of the voters or landowners protest, then the council must call an election to approve annexation. If less than 25% of voters or landowners object, then the council can approve the annexation administratively, she said.
City Manager Thomas G. Mauk said the annexation proposal probably will be put before the council sometime this spring.
"The earthquake had put everything aside," Mauk said. "We haven't made too much progress from the last time the council talked about it earlier this year."
A report prepared by city staff said annexation offers several advantages, including increasing Whittier's size and allowing the city to to beautify its freeway entrances. The disadvantages include the financial drain on the city in the first few years and a lack of commercial growth because the area is almost fully developed.
The proposed annexation is supported by the Whittier Area Chamber of Commerce, which hopes that it would lead to the redevelopment of run-down businesses along Whittier Boulevard and the establishment of an auto mall next to the San Gabriel River (605) Freeway. The chamber has sent a letter to the City Council urging the start of the annexation process.
Bruce Martin, the chamber's executive director, said that Whittier's 12 auto dealers would like to be closer to the freeway and that redevelopment in the annexation area would provide space for a new auto mall.
He said it is important to keep the dealers happy because they supply about 26% of the city's sales tax revenue--$6 million to $7 million a year.
"The competition for the dealers is very, very tough," Martin said, noting that other cities have tried to woo them from Whittier by offering sites with freeway access. The city's strip of car dealers is on Whittier Boulevard about five miles from the freeway.
The auto mall is a long-term project, Martin said. In the short run, the chamber wants to see improvement along the western end of Whittier Boulevard.
"If you drive by there on the south side . . . it's really a mixed bag of businesses that don't look too successful," he said. "We think we could do a much better job."
Beyond the businesses are hundreds of homes occupied by residents who have Whittier mailing addresses and probably think they live within the city limits, Martin said.
"Those people don't realize they're not in the City of Whittier until they have a problem and the county police or fire show up," Martin said.
The effect on the area's residents would be minimal, Chandler said, because the area is fully developed.
City residents would have to pay a 2% utility tax, but property taxes would not increase, he said.