SOUTH PASADENA — Posters depicting the City Council and the Community Redevelopment Agency as a big red octopus taking over the city were still hanging in many downtown store windows on Thursday, but the war was virtually over.
On Wednesday, the Community Redevelopment Agency, ducking the salvos of community protest, had regretfully scuttled the controversial Gateway Redevelopment Project, which would have declared a major chunk of the city's downtown a redevelopment area.
"Unfortunately, many people closely associate redevelopment with bulldozing," said City Councilman James Hodge, chairman of the agency, at the meeting, where the council, acting as the CRA, voted 4 to 0 to terminate the proposed project. "I cannot continue to support the plan in the face of all kinds of opposition."
In Its Death Throes
The action came less than three weeks after Beverly Hills developer Thomas Stagen, also bending to community pressure, withdrew his plan for a 150-suite hotel on a downtown block.
In this city of 24,000, many of whose residents appear to want most of all for things to remain exactly as they are, the red octopus depicted by redevelopment opponents appeared to be in its death throes.
The thrust of the 6-month-old project would have been to declare 74 acres, including parts of Fair Oaks Avenue and Mission Street, the city's downtown commercial section, as a redevelopment area. By doing so, city officials said, the CRA could, under state law, capture a percentage of property taxes to use for public improvements.
CRA members had proposed using part of the money to provide low-interest loans to property owners in need of funding for building improvements.
However, opponents were concerned that the city would be able to seize properties through eminent domain.
With the demise of the project, the city, which is having major difficulties in paying its bills, faces the future without redevelopment funds or even a formal plan to revitalize much of its commercial space, city officials said.
'We Have Nothing'
"Right now, we have nothing," City Manager John Bernardi said, referring to potential financial resources for downtown improvements.
City staff has identified 52 buildings--"the bulk of them downtown," according to Bernardi--which need to be brought up to state earthquake resistance standards. Some commercial areas, such as those that had been mapped for redevelopment, need a major "spruce-up," as Councilwoman Evelyn Fierro put it.
Newly amicable merchants and council members agreed to meet to discuss plans for spiffing up some of the city's shopping centers, possibly under the auspices of "California Main Street," a state Department of Commerce program providing technical assistance to small cities needing downtown revitalization.
'Throwing Rocks' 3 Weeks Ago
"Something good comes out of everything," Mayor James Woollacott said after the meeting. "Three weeks ago we were throwing rocks at each other."
Opponents of redevelopment insisted that most property owners had planned to make the "earthquaking" improvements on their own.
"Quite a few property owners have already made plans to bring their buildings up to code," said Juli Jorgensen, a merchant who is a member of South Pasadenans for Responsible and Intelligent Growth. "They realize that these are important safety guidelines and it's important to follow them."
Not Responded to Notices
Bernardi said, however, that some owners of the 52 buildings, all of them built before 1933, when unreinforced brick structures were still permitted, had not responded to city notices.
Both sides in the public debate on redevelopment agreed there had been great communications gaps. Several city officials cited the "small-town charm" issue, which prompted people to charge that the one-two combination of Gateway and the hotel were threatening the traditional character of the community.
"I feel there was a complete lack of understanding, and maybe we were responsible," Woollacott said. "We started the wrong way and possibly at the wrong time."
Though Gateway and the hotel project were not officially linked, he said, they had become so in the minds of the public.
'A Step Left Out'
"Before we even started, we should have gone to the merchants in town, discussed it with them," he said.
Jorgensen agreed. "There's always a step left out when it comes to the city's proposals," she said. "You attend a meeting and find that a rather large project is being presented. . . . People come out automatically against it."
The major concern about Gateway, contended Councilman Joseph Crosby, appeared to be "that people did not want CRA telling them what to do with their property, and they did not want the threat of eminent domain hanging over their heads."
But potential tax benefits from the plan were either "completely ignored or given little significance," said Crosby, who challenged the city's business community to come up with its own plan to revitalize the city's commercial areas.