BELLFLOWER — The City Council, exercising the authority granted to it two months ago by voters of this mostly residential community, unanimously approved the formation of a Community Redevelopment Agency in an effort to improve the city's financial condition.
City officials said they hoped the Monday night council vote would end years of controversy that once sharply divided residents, business leaders and politicians.
"This is a real opportunity for Bellflower," said City Administrator Jack A. Simpson, who has argued that a redevelopment agency would be a "valuable tool" in attracting new retail business and upgrading the city's downtown shopping district. "I hope all that (past controversy) is behind us now."
The controversy over a proposed redevelopment agency arose in the early 1980s. Redevelopment supporters have argued that an agency would ensure that the city remains competitive for sales-tax dollars while opponents have complained that an agency would wield too much power over property owners.
Until Monday's vote, Bellflower was one of three Southeast cities with no redevelopment agency. Nearby Artesia and La Habra Heights have no such agencies.
"The people have spoken," said Councilman Joseph E. Cvetko, who once staunchly opposed formation of a redevelopment agency but joined the other council members in this week's council decision. "The people voted it in, you have to accept it."
The new law becomes effective Feb. 9. The council members will also serve as board members of the redevelopment agency, which will direct renewal projects and seek to draw potential retail development into the city.
But the dispute over whether such an agency is a blessing or a bane to the city of 60,000 residents is far from over, said redevelopment opponents, who launched a petition drive Tuesday morning to force a special election.
"We've had a lot of requests (to begin gathering signatures)," said Ruth Gilson, a spokeswoman for Citizens Against Another Redevelopment Plan.
CAARP officials, who campaigned against three initiatives that were narrowly passed in the Nov. 8 general election, claim that many voters were confused.
They said that a number of residents complained after the election, saying they voted yes on Propositions Q, R and S in the belief that they were keeping intact a 5-year-old law that prevented the council from forming an agency without voter approval. Voters, fearing an agency would have the power to take their homes, passed that 1983 prohibition by a 4-1 margin.
In November, 51.3% of 16,000 voters favored the ballot measure rescinding the 1983 law. CAARP officials contend that the final tally was too close to prove that a majority of residents now support an agency.
"A lot of people were just plain confused," Gilson said Tuesday morning.
Besides voting to give the council power to create a redevelopment agency, residents also voted to prohibit a redevelopment agency from condemning residential property, and to designate a U-shaped corridor along Lakewood, Artesia and Bellflower boulevards as a redevelopment area.
Draft of Bylaws
Next month, city officials will present a draft of the new agency's bylaws to the council for approval. After that, public hearings will be scheduled, Simpson said. Simpson, who will act as redevelopment agency executive director, said no additional city personnel will be hired to staff the new agency.
The formation of the agency could take up to a year, said city officials, who added that they have yet to decide how the agency would be funded.
The redevelopment agency fund, which could be raised through the selling of special municipal bonds or through loans from the city's general fund, is used to finance initial land acquisition. The property could then be given to developers or offered at reduced cost as an incentive to build in the city. The agency later receives a percentage of the increased tax revenue from redeveloped property to finance new projects.
Simpson said the agency's first endeavor probably would be an auto mall on Artesia Boulevard, which parallels the Artesia Freeway. City officials last year warned that the city's handful of car dealerships, the largest source of tax revenue, would relocate to auto malls in Signal Hill and nearby Cerritos if there were no efforts to keep dealers in Bellflower.
"We have to keep these (dealerships) in the city," Mayor Kenneth J. Cleveland said, adding that the city faces financial trouble without redevelopment. "If we can get one good project going and show the people what can be done (through redevelopment), we will have no resistance."
But Gilson's husband, Dale, who co-founded CAARP in the summer after the council agreed to put the initiatives on the November ballot, disputed Cleveland's claim that the city would suffer financially without an agency.
Continue the Fight
He told the council Monday night that he would continue the fight to block establishment of an agency in the city through a special election.