MONTEBELLO — The City Council this week voted to give the Redevelopment Agency the power to force property owners to sell their holdings to make way for new development in two areas of South Montebello.
Opponents of using eminent domain as part of the city's redevelopment program in South Montebello said they will begin collecting signatures for a ballot measure that would enable voters to negate the council action.
The council majority agreed with City Administrator Joseph M. Goeden and his redevelopment staff that Montebello needs eminent domain to be able to compete with neighboring cities that have the powerful tool. The ordinances would enable the Redevelopment Agency to condemn private property and assemble large parcels of land to attract new industrial and commercial businesses and the jobs and tax revenue that come with them. Under state law, the agency would be required to pay fair market value for property it acquires. Owner-occupied, single-family homes would be exempt from any use of eminent domain.
If the ordinances granting that power receives final council approval Nov. 28, considered a technicality, they would take effect 30 days later.
Four council members have been targeted for recall, in part because of their support of the eminent domain plan. The council members lashed out at recall proponents before taking action Monday night.
'Threatened,' Mayor Asserts
"We have been threatened . . . but we do not operate and we should not operate government by threats," Mayor Arnold M. Glasman said. "The true issue is the vision to reach the future."
Glasman joined with council members Kathy Salazar and Art Payan to approve the use of eminent domain in the South Montebello Industrial Redevelopment Project area, a 287-acre zone south of Washington Boulevard. Councilman Edward C. Pizzorno voted no. Councilman William O. Nighswonger, who is an officer in a real estate company that does business in the zone, abstained.
The South Montebello Industrial area is more than 90% industrial, with businesses ranging from manufacturing to trucking. There are 116 residences and little commercial development. Redevelopment officials contend the zone is not developed to its full potential and contains some aging industry.
Pizzorno said he voted against the plan because the use of eminent domain would speed development and increase traffic, pollution and noise in the area. An environmental impact report on the plan said any negative effects would be mitigated by improvements to road and local water systems, and strict adherence to city codes that control noise and other nuisances.
"You're going to have more traffic in the area . . . noise and odor," Pizzorno said.
Assistant City Administrator Victor Grgas , who heads the city's redevelopment program, said there are no immediate plans to use eminent domain.
Glasman, Salazar and Payan also voted to give the Redevelopment Agency condemnation powers in the Montebello Economic Revitalization Project area, a 332-acre zone that starts south of Washington Boulevard and stretches north past the Whittier Boulevard commercial district. Nighswonger abstained, and so did Pizzorno, who owns a hardware store in that redevelopment zone.
Area Said Underdeveloped
The Economic Revitalization area is 65.8% industrial and 20% commercial, with 258 residences. Redevelopment officials say the area is also underdeveloped.
The council tried to reassure opponents by passing a resolution that states "every effort will be made to reduce the industrial uses and provide appropriate retail, commercial and office uses in the project areas."
Members of a citizens group called South Montebello Area Residents Together have strongly opposed the use of eminent domain because they say it will bring into their neighborhoods more traffic, noise, pollution and companies that work with hazardous materials. They contend the city has not planned properly to buffer residents and that environmental impact studies were deficient. They also content Montebello has failed to meet certain legal requirements, such as the formation of a Project Area Committee of citizens.
City officials say they have followed the letter of the law.
SMART has asked for increased development of business such as retail stores, restaurants and movie theaters, instead of industry.
Lawyer Christopher A. Sutton, who represents SMART, said the resolution offered little comfort because it could be overruled with a majority vote. City Atty. Henry S. Barbosa agreed, saying the resolution was basically a statement of intent.
"It's only binding from week to week," Sutton said.