MONTEBELLO — The City Council this week appointed a citizens committee to review a controversial redevelopment proposal, but was immediately accused of snubbing residents and creating a rubber stamp.
The council formed the committee to find out how residents feel about a proposal to let the Montebello Redevelopment Agency wield the power of eminent domain over two redevelopment areas in South Montebello.
But more than 150 members and supporters of a citizens group, South Montebello Area Residents Together (SMART), jammed the meeting hall and called the exercise a "farce." They jeered at the council for not allowing residents to have a say about who should be given a committee seat. Members of SMART say they oppose eminent domain because it will allow the city to attract more industry and eventually squeeze out homeowners.
"They're not allowing the people to appoint (members)," Larry Salazar, a member of SMART's board of directors, said after the vote. "Let the people be part of this."
Two Appointments Each
Each of the five council officials was allowed to appoint two committee members, with Mayor Arnold M. Glasman selecting the 11th member.
The council approved the committee on a 4-1 vote after rejecting a proposal by Councilman Edward C. Pizzorno, who wanted five members of the committee to be selected by residents of South Montebello. Pizzorno voted no.
"They don't want diversity of thought," Pizzorno said of the council majority. "I think they'll represent the council's views."
Councilman Art Payan called for the formation of a citizens advisory committee last month after being approached by members of SMART.
"Members of SMART are claiming that they represent the people of South Montebello," Payan said. "The assumption is the council does not. Hundreds of people from South Montebello voted for me."
Glasman said he did not support Pizzorno's proposal because it would have required a lengthy election process.
"It would be next to impossible to try to have a consensus of the community to elect five representatives," Glasman said. "Logistically, it was a difficult concept to embrace."
The city's Redevelopment Agency wants the council to give it the power of eminent domain to spur growth in two redevelopment zones in South Montebello. The Redevelopment Agency has long had the power of eminent domain in a third redevelopment zone to the north.
Land Mostly Industrial
The two zones are the 287-acre South Montebello Industrial Redevelopment Project area, formed in 1973, and the 332-acre Montebello Economic Revitalization Project area, which was formed in 1982. Both are mostly industrial but include commercial property and some residences. There are 374 residential units in the two areas, including 25 single-family homes, officials said.
Redevelopment officials have a general strategy that anticipates bringing more industry into the area to create more jobs and generate additional tax revenue for the city. The strategy does not anticipate displacing a "significant number" of residential properties, officials said.
As proposed, the Redevelopment Agency could not use eminent domain against owner-occupied single-family homes.
SMART members say they oppose the eminent domain proposal because they fear more noise and pollution will be brought along with industry into their area. They say that even if eminent domain is not used against homeowners, residents unable to co-exist with industry will eventually be forced out of their neighborhoods.
The debate is not new.
A proposal to give the Redevelopment Agency the power of eminent domain in the South Industrial Project area was voted down by the council in 1981 in the face of strong opposition from industrial firms and residential property owners.
Former Committee's Makeup
In 1982, the council formed a 20-member advisory committee to study redevelopment questions, such as public improvements and development standards, in South Montebello's industrial areas.
That committee included five members elected by South Montebello residents, five property owners in the redevelopment area, five business people and five at-large members appointed by the council, said Linda Payan, Montebello's economic development manager. The committee had not met for a year when it was abolished last March.
Glasman, appointed Arlene Ramirez, a resident, David Gomez, a business owner, and Rosemarie Vasquez, a business owner, to the new committee. Pizzorno appointed Esther Chicaferro, a SMART director and former member of the prior committee, and Moses Beliakoff, another former member.
Councilman Bill Nighswonger appointed Darrel Heacock, a local real estate agent who is also his brother-in-law, and resident Sylvia Metzler. Payan appointed Victor Ioppolo, a resident and member of the Montebello/County of Los Angeles Joint Powers Authority. The authority's primary responsibility is to manage the bond debt incurred by the city to build its clubhouse on the municipal golf course.