MONTEBELLO — The city's voters will be the final arbiters of two redevelopment measures, which were recently approved by the City Council but suspended by a successful petition drive by a local citizens' group.
Council members Kathy Salazar, Arnold M. Glasman and Art Payan on Tuesday voted to schedule an election May 2 on the ordinances that give the Redevelopment Agency condemnation powers in two areas of South Montebello. The special election is expected to cost the city about $20,000.
Council members William Nighswonger and Edward C. Pizzorno abstained because they have conflicts of interest.
'Let the Voters Decide'
"The only way we can truly resolve this issue is to let the voters decide," Glasman said after the vote. "A lot of people want to voice their opinion and put this issue to rest."
In November the council approved the ordinances to give the city's Redevelopment Agency condemnation powers to spur new development in two sections of South Montebello. Under state law, a redevelopment agency with the power of eminent domain can force unwilling property owners to sell their property to the agency at fair market value.
Under the ordinances, owner-occupied, single-family homes would be exempt from such condemnation.
South Montebello Area Residents Together, a citizens' group opposed to using eminent domain, staged a successful referendum petition drive to force the council to either rescind the ordinances or to allow city voters to decide their fate.
"The position, which we've held since the beginning of this eminent domain question, is the city should have a right to vote on it," said William M. Molinari, chairman of the group and a former city councilman. "They (council members) were forced to respond to the will of the people."
Molinari said the organization will plan a campaign in coming weeks to urge voters to strike down the measures. He said the campaign will probably include precinct walking and the distribution of flyers.
"We plan to wage a very vigorous campaign," Molinari said. "We feel we have the support of the community on this issue."
As of earlier this week, there was no organized campaign for approval of the redevelopment measures on May 2.
The petition drive for the special election was set in motion after Glasman, Payan and Salazar voted Nov. 28 to approve the redevelopment ordinances.
Glasman and Payan said they would not be actively campaigning, but Salazar said she will work at ensuring that the city's voters endorse the ability to use of eminent domain in the two redevelopment zones.
"If I have to walk (precincts) alone, I will walk," Salazar said. "I really believe the people are going to vote it in."
Nighswonger said that he supports the ordinances but that he has not decided whether to actively campaign for them. Nighswonger abstained from voting because he is an officer of a real estate company that conducts business in the redevelopment zones.
Pizzorno said he will join the foes of eminent domain. Pizzorno said he abstained from voting because his hardware store is in one of the redevelopment zones and because he collected signatures for Residents Together's petition drive.
Some ordinance supporters said Pizzorno has contributed to a legal fund organized by a group of business operators and residents to oppose the use of eminent domain. Pizzorno declined to verify or deny the reports.
The group, Montebello Cares, has sued Montebello, alleging that the city violated state law in approving the ordinances. The Superior Court lawsuits contend, among other things, that the city did not properly assess the environmental impacts of the increased development expected if eminent domain is used.
"I think it's a win, but it's no pushover," Pizzorno said. "There's going to be a lot of campaigning going on."
Assembling Parcels Quickly
City staff members contend that the Redevelopment Agency needs eminent domain to ensure that it can quickly piece together sizable parcels of land to attract new and larger commercial and industrial developments.
Without eminent domain, a single property owner could stall a project, costing the city future jobs and tax revenue for governmental services, officials said.
But Residents Together members countered that use of eminent domain could bring more traffic, noise and air pollution into their neighborhoods, and that the city has not properly planned to protect them.
Business members of Montebello Cares said they should not be required to move so another business can take their place.
Community activists, including some members of Residents Together, are also waging a recall campaign against the four council members who favor eminent domain. Recall proponents, led by Shirley Garcia, have until March 9 to gather signatures of 20% of the city's 22,600 registered voters to force a recall election.