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Redevelopment Is at Heart of Disputes in 2 Communities : Bellflower Accused of Violating State Law in Promotion of 3 Ballot Issues

October 02, 1988|JAMES M. GOMEZ | Times Staff Writer

BELLFLOWER — Redevelopment opponents have accused city officials of violating state law by spending public money to support three redevelopment measures on the Nov. 8 ballot.

In a three-page letter to the City Council, the city administrator and the city attorney, anti-redevelopment leaders claim city officials have engaged in "propaganda to promote redevelopment."

City officials have used city funds to put on informational forums, print pamphlets and produce a video. Opponents claim that those efforts, which did not include opponents' views, favored the ballot measures, an apparent violation of the state Political Reform Act.

Accusations Rejected

"Stop using staff for pro-redevelopment," said the letter, which was delivered to City Administrator Jack A. Simpson on Wednesday morning.

Simpson said the accusations by the Citizens Against Another Redevelopment Plan are "outrageous." He said the city has remained neutral since the City Council two months ago approved three measures to be put on the Nov. 8 ballot. The city, he said, has simply acted "honestly and fairly" to inform residents, who have been concerned that a redevelopment agency would have power to take their property through eminent domain.

"We don't think the city has done anything inappropriately," Simpson said in a telephone interview. "It's clear that these people simply want some publicity." City Atty. Maurice F. O'Shea was not available to comment on the charges, but has told city officials that the charges are without merit, Simpson said.

The anti-redevelopment organization decided to write the letter after O'Shea prepared a memo warning city officials that they can't spend public money to support or oppose ballot measures, said Ruth Gilson, author of the letter. The attorney's Sept. 15 memo was distributed to city officials after opponents began complaining that officials were actively supporting the redevelopment ballot measures.

3 Ballot Measures

The three measures, Propositions Q, R and S, would make it easier for the city to set up a redevelopment agency.

One measure asks voters to repeal a 5-year-old law that prevents the City Council from forming a redevelopment agency without voter approval. Voters also will decide whether to earmark a U-shaped corridor along Artesia, Bellflower and Lakewood boulevards as a redevelopment area, and whether to pass a law forbidding the proposed redevelopment agency from exercising its land-taking powers against residents' homes.

The anti-redevelopment letter names six areas in which city officials allegedly have violated the state Political Reform Act by spending money for pro-redevelopment efforts. Among them:

Hiring Michael J. Wagner, former Norwalk redevelopment director, as a redevelopment consultant at $90 an hour to moderate city-sponsored forums and to write pamphlets explaining redevelopment law. Wagner also was the moderator in a videotaped question-and-answer session that was produced last month and is being shown on cable Channel 28. Mayor Kenneth J. Cleveland, who is an outspoken advocate of redevelopment, and two city officials also appeared in the video.

Using a spokesman from the financial consulting firm of Williams-Keubelbeck & Associates during informational meetings. The firm was hired earlier in the year to study the city's financial condition. The study, which cost $50,000, concluded that a redevelopment agency would help make the largely residential community more competitive for sales tax dollars, and improve its aging downtown district.

Sponsoring a public forum Sept. 19 to explain how a redevelopment agency would affect residents. A half-hour film, "Redevelopment, a California Success Story," was shown.

Experience Cited

Simpson said Wagner was hired because he is a redevelopment expert. "If you want to know about brain surgery, you don't go to the man on the street," said Simpson, who is also an avid supporter of redevelopment. "We contacted (Wagner) because he . . . understands the redevelopment process from A to Z."

Wagner was phased out of his post as head of Norwalk's redevelopment agency three months ago during an administrative reorganization. Wagner said he has yet to find a full-time position.

Opponents are demanding that Wagner's contract be discontinued, that anti-redevelopment leaders have a part in the next informational forum at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the William Bristol Civic Auditorium, and that the city provide money to allow anti-redevelopment groups to prepare their own pamphlets.

Simpson said the city rejects the demands. But Gilson said that her group will continue to press for equal time at city-sponsored events. "We just want to have our side of the story," Gilson said. "The city can't just keep breaking the law."

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