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S. El Monte Forms Special District for Toxic Cleanup

July 17, 1988|MIKE WARD | Times Staff Writer

SOUTH EL MONTE — Concerned about unsightly property and possible contaminated soil, the City Council has formed a novel district to target an aging industrial area for redevelopment and toxic cleanup.

Attorney Michael B. Montgomery, who prepared the legal documents creating the Rosemead Business Improvement Project for the 96-acre area, said the district is unusual, because it draws its powers from redevelopment and toxics law.

Montgomery said the City Council, as the district's board of directors, will apply for state and federal toxic-cleanup funds, issue cleanup orders and hire an environmental officer, as well as carry out redevelopment efforts.

The City Council last week adopted an ordinance creating the district along the east side of Rosemead Boulevard and the west side of Chico Avenue, south of Garvey Avenue.

District Benefits

By forming the district and declaring the area blighted, the council has acquired the same tax revenue and development control that it would have by making the area a redevelopment project. But it was all done without using the word "redevelopment" because, city officials said, the word has unfavorable connotations.

Mayor Albert G. Perez said the city has shied away from redevelopment because of opposition from residents who fear the process could be used to evict them to clear land for business and industry.

Perez said the boundaries of the district were drawn to exclude residentially zoned property.

And Montgomery said the project plan says that the project can never be amended to take in property zoned for residential use.

The area includes two small trailer parks and a few houses, but they are on land zoned for manufacturing. Most of the area is occupied by auto salvage yards, storage yards for industrial containers and heavy equipment, a variety of industrial plants and a drive-in theater that houses a swap meet.

A survey conducted by Willdan Associates found that two-thirds of the buildings were constructed in the 1950s or earlier, 20% have sagging roofs, holes or other deterioration, and 52% have serious deficiencies.

'Dire Need' for Revenue

Perez said the city has a "dire need" for more tax revenue and would like to see more land occupied by businesses that produce high amounts of sales tax.

The plan gives the city the right to acquire property for development, issue bonds for improvements and obtain property tax increments, which is the property tax revenue generated by growth. Manuel A. Valenzuela, associate county counsel, said the city, in effect, has created a redevelopment project.

"They can call (it) anything," Valenzuela said, but "it definitely is a redevelopment project."

On behalf of County Counsel De Witt W. Clinton, Valenzuela sent a nine-page letter to the city last week making legal objections to the district's formation. Valenzuela said the city erred in failing to prepare a full environmental impact report, failing to show that private property owners need government assistance and failing to provide the county with financial information about the district.

As with redevelopment projects, the business improvement project would receive property tax revenue that otherwise would go to county government, schools and other agencies. The city has estimated that the revenue will amount to $52,000 in the first year, and reach $578,000 annually by the 10th year.

Sharing Plan

Steve Henley, assistant city manager and public works director, said the city hopes to overcome the county's objections by negotiating an agreement to share property tax revenue.

Henley said South El Monte's use of the term business improvement, instead of redevelopment, "has a lot to do with semantics and public image."

When people think of redevelopment, Henley said, they envision "bulldozers going in and demolishing a couple of square blocks. That's not what we're trying to do."

The city has assured property owners that it does not plan to take over their land and give it to outside developers. Henley said that property acquisition through condemnation would be undertaken only "as a last resort."

Soil Contamination

Montgomery said: "This project will have no money going to developers."

He said the district will not buy property and resell it to developers at a discount, as redevelopment agencies often do. However, the district could pay relocation expenses for businesses that move to make way for new development.

Montgomery said the city hopes to obtain state or federal financing to help property owners clean up soil that may be contaminated. None of the money would go to businesses or property owners who caused any contamination, he said. City officials said the soil contamination could have come from businesses that are in operation now or were in operation years ago.

City officials said the Sheriff's Department reported several months ago that its helicopter patrol had noticed discolored soil in the area.

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