LA MIRADA — Sliced in half by the Santa Ana Freeway, the city's southwest corner is dominated by mismatched industrial buildings with high vacancy rates.
After nearly a year of study, the city is preparing to add the 412-acre area and six scattered commercial parcels to its redevelopment zone, a move intended to strengthen La Mirada's anemic tax base.
The vacancy rate in much of the proposed project area is more than 40%, six times greater than the average industrial vacancy rate in neighboring communities. Property values are also rising much more slowly than the average in Los Angeles County.
None of this is good news for a city coping with the loss of federal revenue-sharing funds and stagnant sales tax income. La Mirada's proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning in July is $12 million, no larger than this year's, and City Manager Gary Sloan pared $1 million from city department requests to keep it that way.
"I'm concerned with the revenue picture," said Sloan, who says he's dealing with the tightest financial crunch in his eight years as manager.
The city has neither developers nor specific redevelopment plans for the new zone. But once the area comes under the local Redevelopment Agency's jurisdiction, businesses will be eligible for an array of help from the agency, including tax-exempt financing, low-interest loans and relocation assistance. The agency will also make street and utility improvements. If necessary, it can condemn property and buy and sell land.
Although the expansion zone consists of about 200 separately owned parcels, no one has objected to the project, Administrative Assistant Donald White said. City officials met with businessmen and property owners earlier this month and will hold a public hearing on the proposal June 14 . If all goes well, the new zone will be established by the end of July.
"We're quite enthusiastic about it," said Donald Henry, president of the local Chamber of Commerce, who is also on the board of directors of a laundry and dry cleaning supply company in the proposed zone. The chamber board has unanimously endorsed the redevelopment plan.
With the addition of the 412 industrial acres near the freeway and 44 acres of aging commercial property scattered elsewhere in the city, virtually all of La Mirada's industrial land and 75% of its commercial land will fall into redevelopment zones. The proposed zone will abut an existing redevelopment area to the east, where a former petroleum tank farm and the old Neff High School grounds have been transformed into an industrial park. A new auto mall is also planned in a nearby redevelopment area.
City officials say the freeway corridor is suffering economically for a variety of reasons. Some of the buildings are too large for the current market, while others are little more than tin shacks left over from the late 1940s and early '50s. Leasing rates are high because the freeway is so near, White said, yet the southbound off-on ramps at Valley View Avenue, with their sharp turns and confusing intersections, are badly designed and dangerous.
"We're talking about property on the freeway that could have a higher and better use," such as stores, offices or newer industrial facilities, White added. The agency intends to rebuild the freeway ramps, aided by funding from outside sources, including the county.
In a report prepared last winter, the Redevelopment Agency predicted that during the 37-year life of the project, the agency would spend $150 million. The funds would come from routine agency sources, including bonds, loans from the city or the state, and increased property taxes resulting from the redevelopment.
The auto mall and the planned rebuilding of the moribund La Mirada Mall by a private developer will bring substantial revenues to the city, making officials optimistic that the sales-tax slump is ending.
"We've hit bottom and now we're on the way up," Sloan said.