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Bellflower Moving Into Heated Battle Over Renewal

September 11, 1988|JAMES M. GOMEZ | Times Staff Writer

BELLFLOWER — With a referendum on redevelopment still seven weeks away, political committees both for and against it have started scurrying to convince voters that the measure will either revitalize or ruin this city of 61,000.

One side has prepared a video for local cable television and the other side is planning to produce its video.

The campaign promises to be an emotional fight to the finish. Although Bellflower voters have steadfastly rejected the redevelopment agency concept in years past--even though most surrounding cities embraced it long ago--city officials say they hope that this measure will pass.

Vote on Lifting Ban

On Nov. 8, voters will be asked to lift a 5-year-old ban on the creation of a city redevelopment agency. The ban was overwhelmingly approved in 1983 after a campaign that sharply divided residents, local politicians and community leaders.

If the ban is lifted, council members would have the power to form an agency upon a majority vote. And most members say they favor using the provisions of state redevelopment law to improve the city's aging downtown and entice new business that will generate tax revenues.

"We're being aggressive," said Mayor Kenneth J. Cleveland, who is leading the pro-redevelopment group. "Everyone who wanted redevelopment last time did nothing. There wasn't enough effort put into it. But this time I feel confident that it will pass."

Last week, a city-sponsored video, produced free as a public service by the American Cable Co., debuted on cable Channel 28 and will be shown a dozen times before the general election.

Hope to Ease Fear

Makers of the video, which features several city staff members and Cleveland, say they hope to convince viewers that redevelopment is the only way to guarantee Bellflower's future financial stability. They especially hope the hourlong program will ease the longstanding fear that homes would be threatened by the agency's land-taking power. Under the proposed redevelopment agency guidelines, city officials would not have condemnation power over residential property.

Along with the video, Cleveland and other redevelopment supporters have formed the Committee on Progress, a group of business leaders and real estate developers that is writing a pro-redevelopment brochure to be released within the month.

Supporters have also scheduled several public meetings at the William Bristol Auditorium, while City Administrator Jack A. Simpson recently wrote an open letter in support of the proposed redevelopment agency.

"Bellflower must have a comprehensive plan for the future," Simpson wrote in the three-page letter. "A redevelopment agency would be a helpful tool."

But opponents, led by former City Councilman James Earl Christo and resident Ronald Price, charge that city officials are giving false assurances that redevelopment will benefit residents. And they say officials are soft-pedaling the potential danger of eminent domain to business owners whose properties lie within the proposed redevelopment corridor on Bellflower, Artesia and Lakewood boulevards.

Christo and others also contend that city officials have a created a conflict of interest by taking sides in the redevelopment campaign. Christo and Price have formed their own committee and say they will make their own television video within the next few weeks.

"We're going to do what we can to defeat this," Christo said. "(The pro-redevelopment video) is all one-sided and prejudiced."

The city video, with staff members Craig Nealis and Marlene Tomlin as hosts, opens with a speech by Cleveland and includes an upbeat round-table discussion by several redevelopment experts and business leaders.

Experts See Benefits

Among other things, the experts tell viewers that it is unlikely that any property would be taken by eminent domain. They also say the city would see benefits in added tax revenues. And they discuss the results of a $50,000 study by financial consultant Williams-Kuebelbeck & Associates. Larry Williams, who helped prepare the extensive report on the future of Bellflower's financial condition, says in the video that the city is losing revenue to surrounding cities that have used redevelopment to strengthen their own tax bases.

"We feel that there is an absolute need for redevelopment . . . to be used to retain . . . and expand the commercial base in Bellflower," Williams said.

As an example, he said that Bellflower's sales tax revenue last year increased by 3.4%. In contrast, inflation grew by 5.3%, resulting in a net loss to city coffers.

"A city such as Bellflower that depends on retail sales has to be very aware of that," Williams said. "This community is losing money."

Opponent Price, a retired insurance executive, argues that the pro-redevelopment video will have little effect because the cable channel reaches a limited audience.

'A Great Theory'

"It's a great theory and it sounds exotic, but the total impact is hard to determine," Price said. Nevertheless, he added that his group, Citizens Against the Redevelopment Plan, has been granted equal time by the cable company to produce and show its own video.

Opponents also complain that city officials have used public hearings and city staff to promote the redevelopment plan.

In a letter to Cleveland, Therese Cheyovich Kerze--a member of another, smaller anti-redevelopment group called Bellflower Citizens Concerned--wrote that the "temptation to promote redevelopment is great" among city officials. "And since we believe that any promotion would be a conflict of interest, our advice is . . . Don't Do It!"

In a recent interview, Kerze elaborated by noting that almost an hour of the last council meeting was devoted to a presentation by Williams of the 225-page Williams-Kuebelbeck study.

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