WHITTIER — Fearing that a crucial block of the Uptown business district will be rebuilt haphazardly, the City Council ordered its staff this week to come up with a design for the block rather than wait for consultants to complete a plan for the whole area.
The city thus moved closer to using its power of eminent domain to acquire property on the block, which was severely damaged in the Oct. 1 earthquake. It is bordered by Greenleaf Avenue, Philadelphia Street, Bright Avenue and Wardman Street.
By calling for a design for development, council members also may have found a way to get rid of Whittier's only adult theater, though city officials deny that was any motivation. The city has spent 10 years and more than $325,000 in court costs trying to force the X-rated Pussycat Theater to move from its prime spot in the heart of Uptown.
"It's absolutely no surprise to anybody that the city's aim and desire has been to eliminate the Pussycat Theater," said Councilman Gene Chandler, "but I'm not willing to say that the design is aimed at getting rid of the Pussycat."
City Manager Thomas G. Mauk said it is conceivable that the plan could force the Pussycat out, but he said that is not the intent of the city. "If we were going to take that approach, we would have done it months ago," he said.
No Particular Concern
A spokesman for Walnut Properties, owner of the Pussycat, expressed no particular concern and said the company has had other theaters taken over by eminent domain. "If it were a fair price, anything we have is for sale," the spokesman said, adding that any deal would have to include reimbursement for legal fees spent by Walnut Properties.
Meanwhile, the spokesman said repairs are continuing on the more than $100,000 in earthquake damage to the theater and nearby shops. The Pussycat should be back in business later this year, he said.
City officials say they targeted the block because it can help solve the district's chronic parking and traffic problems. Several buildings on the block have been demolished, leaving areas that could be converted to parking lots or stores.
The council, acting as the Redevelopment Agency, held a closed session Tuesday night regarding potential acquisition of property on the block. Mauk declined to say which properties were discussed.
He said the staff-prepared design plan, which the council probably will receive at its June 7 meeting, will not conflict with the proposals of The Arroyo Group, a Pasadena consultant hired to come up with a master plan for the area. That $90,000 study is not expected to be finished until August.
Argues Against Waiting
"If we wait another five months before we do anything then we, probably by virtue of owners proceeding on their own, will have lost the opportunity to coordinate development on that block," Mauk said.
After the design plan is submitted, the city must hold a public hearing.
Also at Tuesday's meeting, the council heard a staff report on the latest earthquake damage figures. Thirty buildings have been demolished in the Uptown area because of earthquake damage, and three more are to be torn down. The demolished buildings housed 71 businesses and represented 305,755 square feet of business space.
Seven owners of demolished properties have submitted plans for new buildings to the city's Design Review Board. Five have been approved and construction is expected to begin in three to five months.