TEMPLE CITY — Thousands of residents attended the annual Camellia Festival last weekend, generally the most exciting event in this quiet town of 31,000.
But as he circulated among the crowd, Faye Lee was feeling anything but festive. He was collecting signatures on a petition demanding that the city drop plans for a shopping center that would require demolition of 20 homes on the south side of Elm Avenue.
Lee got 300 residents to sign the petition, which opposes not only the redevelopment project but also any future commercial development in the city. Lee presented the petition to the City Council on Tuesday night.
"I've lived here for 18 years, and the property is paid for," said Lee, 73, whose house and another behind it would be taken for the project. "My wife and I live in the front house, and our daughter and her family live in the back house. They may throw us out, but they will know they have been in a battle."
Residents on the north side of Elm are just as upset, even though their homes are not in jeopardy. They fear an increase in noise and traffic and are concerned about a protective wall that would separate their homes from the center.
"If the city had notified us and asked for our input, there would not be the hostilities and fears," said Roberta Hoffman, who lives on the north side of Elm and who organized the opposition to the project. "I know the city needs the funds, but it is not fair."
Although Elm is a quiet, narrow residential street, it is just two blocks northwest of the intersection of Rosemead Boulevard and Las Tunas Drive, where 60,000 vehicles pass each day.
The volume of traffic is what makes the area, which was designated a Community Redevelopment Agency project in 1972, attractive to the city as a retail center.
Officials estimate that a new shopping center would generate about $300,000 in new taxes each year, an increase of 25% over the city's current sales tax revenue, said City Manager Karl Koski. Temple City has no property tax and is dependent on the sales tax to pay for city services.
In 1976 the city built what is known as the K mart Center south of the proposed development. Koski said that project--which includes a K mart department store, a Builders Emporium hardware store, an Albertsons grocery and several coffee shops and small retail stores--has been so successful that it has never had a vacancy. It generates more than $250,000 a year in sales tax revenue for the city, he said.
The new center would be built on eight acres bordered by Elm on the north, Rosemead on the east, Las Tunas on the south and the Eaton Wash on the west. City officials hope that it would be anchored by a discount department store. A branch of Home Savings of America would remain on the site, and branches of the Bank of America and C & R Clothiers might also stay.
The city has already cleared two acres for the project. Last summer it relocated 15 families from Reno Avenue, which will be closed.
Koski emphasized that the project is still in the early planning stages. Three weeks ago, the city adopted a preliminary design plan for the development, but it has not yet selected a developer.
Koski said the project would create 250 new jobs.
But Hoffman countered that it would also create a need for 480 new parking spaces.
"This is a large intersection, and with the south side of Las Tunas commercial and Edwards Theater on the northeast corner, it is a zoo getting around," she said.
Wendy Roughan, who has lived on the north side of Elm with her husband and two children for five years, has been through this before.
"We moved from Monrovia when Huntington Oaks Shopping Center was built across the street," she said. "We couldn't get out of our garage because of the increase in traffic."
John and Mae Cox are senior citizens who have lived in a rental house for the last 20 years. They are on a fixed income and pay $400 a month for their two-bedroom home, which would be torn down. Seemingly bewildered by the situation, they said they don't know where they would move.
Koski said relocation of the 15 families on Reno was successful, and Lee said none of those families fought to stay.
"Four of the families used their relocation benefits to purchase their first homes," Koski said.
"Some of the older people wanted to be relocated out of the area where they would be close to their children or in a retirement community. But if they want to stay here, we try to find a place in Temple City and meet their criteria, such as being close to a bus line," he said.
"We successfully relocated 100 families when we built the K mart center."
Mayor Kenneth Gillanders said: "Our problem is that we have no property tax, so we have to fund the city through sales tax revenue. It's odious to take someone's property, but we must have additional revenue to survive. We want to be sure that what we do is in the best interest of the entire city."