BELLFLOWER — Keith Baker believes the Nov. 8 election will mark a key moment in Bellflower's history because voters will have the "unique opportunity to take control of our city's future" by taking the first step toward creating a community redevelopment agency.
"This is a sensible redevelopment plan," said Baker, chairman of the YES for Progress Committee, a group that hopes voters will reverse their decision five years ago limiting the city's ability to form a redevelopment agency.
An agency would help Bellflower compete with other cities for sales tax revenue in the future, he said.
But Dale and Ruth Gilson--leaders of the fight against a redevelopment proposal--believe a redevelopment agency would deprive residents of property rights. Redevelopment, they have told homeowners and business owners, "will put a cloud on the title of your property."
Both sides began campaigning in earnest this week, wooing residents who attended a city-sponsored informational forum on redevelopment. The voters will decide in November whether to remove a 5-year-old law barring formation of a redevelopment agency without voter approval.
On Nov. 8, voters will consider Propositions Q, R, and S. The first asks voters to repeal the existing redevelopment law. The second asks voters to pass a law that would prohibit a redevelopment agency from exercising the power of eminent domain for residential property. The third measure would direct the city to earmark the commercial-industrial corridor along Artesia, Lakewood and Bellflower boulevards for redevelopment.
Redevelopment proponents set up a table outside the 370-seat William Bristol Civic Auditorium during the first of two meetings held by the city, collecting pledges of support and contributions from residents who came to hear redevelopment experts explain the proposed plan.
Redevelopment opponents worked the audience inside, passing out flyers and urging residents to vote against three ballot measures that would pave the way for forming an agency.
As the campaign heats up, city officials said they are determined to provide voters with an "honest and fair assessment" of the proposed redevelopment plan.
"That's what the meeting was all about. It was very productive," city spokesman Craig Nealis said. The second meeting is scheduled at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 5 at the auditorium.
Officials point out that while campaign leaders are well versed in redevelopment law, many other voters seem unsure about how redevelopment would affect their property or the city's future.
"We want the voters to know the reality of redevelopment," City Administrator Jack A. Simpson said.
But some residents who submitted written questions to city officials during the meeting admitted that they have lingering doubts about redevelopment.
Planned Called 'Confusing'
"It's confusing, that's for sure," said Dorothy Santi as she listened to former City Councilman James Earl Christo urge residents to reject the city's proposed redevelopment plan. Mayor Kenneth J. Cleveland and council members William D. Pendleton and Randy Bomgaars favor the plan.
Redevelopment agencies oversee efforts to entice retail developers into the city. The resulting projects increase land values and property taxes. Some tax money is returned to the city for use in other redevelopment projects.
Bellflower residents have long opposed redevelopment, fearing that residential property would be vulnerable to eminent domain, the legal term for a government's land-taking powers.
Five years ago, the issue developed into a bitter campaign, in which a well-organized and well-funded effort by anti-redevelopment forces left some redevelopment supporters dazed.
'Startled' by New Plan
"I was really startled by it all," said Phil Carr, general manager of Avalon Jewelers on Bellflower Boulevard, who supported redevelopment in the past.
But a growing number of residents and business owners who once fought redevelopment now support it. They are convinced that a redevelopment agency is needed to upgrade the city's aging business districts and to boost its sagging retail sales tax revenue.
"A lot of people were scared to death," said Walter Lance, who voted against redevelopment five years ago but now supports it.
"(The City Council) was trying to shove it down the people's throat without doing a good selling job on it," said Lance, who is now vice chairman of the YES for Progress Committee.
"I opposed redevelopment, but this is a much different ballgame," he said.
Planning Director Lee Whittenberg outlined the differences to residents at the meeting.
First, Whittenberg said during his hourlong presentation, the current proposed redevelopment survey area involves 305 acres of industrial and commercial property, roughly one-twelfth of the city's total land area. The last redevelopment plan called for 1,377 acres to be earmarked for redevelopment.
Second, mobile homes or apartment complexes in the survey area have been excluded from the proposed redevelopment area.