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Monterey Park Seeks to Ensure Retail Balance

February 07, 1988|BERKLEY HUDSON | Times Staff Writer

MONTEREY PARK — In what advocates and opponents describe as a highly unusual proposal, the City Council has tentatively approved an ordinance that would give city officials a say about the kinds of retail stores in new shopping developments.

The proposed ordinance offers a solution, city officials say, to the problem of how to increase sales tax revenues. Also, they say, it would help ensure the diversity and vitality of businesses in the city, where 90% of the land is occupied by housing.

"What we want to avoid is having three pizza shops, all of which do badly, in the same little shopping center," said Stephanie Scher, the assistant city attorney who drafted the ordinance.

Second Vote Due

The ordinance deals with any new development that has five or more stores or occupies at least one acre. In its first vote last Monday, the council gave tentative approval with a 3-1-1 vote. If the council approves it a second time Monday at its 7 p.m. meeting, the proposal will become law in 30 days.

Under the ordinance, a developer would be required to submit a plan outlining the types of stores in a proposed shopping development.

As a condition of obtaining city permits, developers would be required to live up to whatever promises they make about leasing to particular kinds of stores. But developers wouldn't have to disclose specific names of the stores.

City Development Director Leslie Anderson Little said the city would hire a real estate consultant to assess the leasing plans. Building permits would be granted to a developer only if both the city and the consultant agreed that the types of stores in the project would generate a healthy sales tax.

This approach, Little said, would help the city have a say in attracting high-quality stores. The city needs more stores that sell small appliances and quality fabrics, she said, while it has too many restaurants, banks and boutiques.

Major Issue

Last summer, the types of tenants proposed for a $20-million shopping center at Garvey Avenue and Atlantic Boulevard became a major issue, resulting in charges of racism and angry negotiations before city officials and a Chinese developer reached agreement. The city had wanted assurances that the developer was living up to his promises to bring in nationally and regionally known stores.

"We're trying to protect ourselves and guarantee some quality of life for the community," Little said.

Acting City Manager David Bentz concurred: "We are probably the first city in . . . the United States to do this. But our city is unique. Maybe this will give us a way to control our destiny."

In some ways, Bentz said, the ordinance is no different from one the city enacted in the 1960s when gas stations were proliferating. For aesthetic reasons, the city prohibited more than two stations at an intersection.

City officials point to losses in sales tax revenue after Safeway and Alpha Beta grocery stores and a J. C. Penney department store moved out of Monterey Park. Little said high land prices and increasing rents made it impractical for them to expand or modernize in the city.

Officials speak with envy of Alhambra's "auto row," where Monterey Park's only car dealership, Barry Frey Pontiac-GMC Trucks-Subaru, plans to move this year because rents there are cheaper.

$3.5 Million in Taxes

The Frey dealership contributes more than any other business toward the $3.5 million in sales tax that Monterey Park expects to receive this year, though city officials won't say exactly how big the dealership's share is.

In 1978 the city had 2,700 businesses. Last year it had more than 4,300, Bentz said, but sales tax revenues, adjusted for inflation, had grown by only 2%.

Last week, Mayor Christopher F. Houseman and council members Barry L. Hatch and Patricia Reichenberger voted for the proposed ordinance, Councilman G. Monty Manibog opposed it and Councilman Cam Briglio abstained.

"I just felt that it was a serious intrusion into the free-enterprise system," Manibog said. "The property owner, he should have the right to choose the tenants. I think it's foolish for council to play Big Brother."

Beyond that, said Manibog, who is of Filipino ancestry: "I'm afraid there are undercurrents of racism. I think the underlying reason is to control the immigration into Monterey Park."

No Place to Shop

But Reichenberger called Manibog's allegations of racism simply "a bunch of garbage."

"One of the reasons I ran for office," she said, "is that I had no place to shop in this city. What we have is herb shops, little dress shops and boutiques. When we shop, we have to go to Santa Anita Mall or Glendale Galleria. Right now, there is no place to buy a refrigerator. . . . There is only one shoe store."

Bentz said the ordinance isn't racially motivated, but he acknowledged that some people might perceive it that way. In any case, he said, "it's impossible to prove."

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