Glendale city officials this week revealed plans to get rid of a "white elephant" in the downtown redevelopment zone--the county welfare office.
They are proposing to relocate the office, which operates out of a crowded, architecturally mundane building at 225 E. Broadway, to the former site of a pink elephant. A 12-foot-high fiberglass elephant posed for more than two decades at the old Sea and Jungle Import Shop site on San Fernando Road.
The proposal calls for the city to back the move with a short-term, $1.7-million loan to private developers who would build a welfare office at the largely industrial site at 4666 San Fernando Road.
The Glendale Redevelopment Agency on Tuesday had been scheduled to approve the proposal, but it postponed action until Jan. 9 because one member, Councilwoman Ginger Bremberg, is on vacation.
City officials have complained for years that the Glendale office of the Department of Public Social Services--next to the city's main post office--is ugly and the root of parking problems and traffic congestion surrounding a key downtown location.
The county office has been a sore point in the city's attempt to renovate a two-block area called The Exchange, where old buildings are being converted or replaced with upscale retail shops, offices, restaurants and a movie complex.
The county property, at the corner of Broadway and Louise Street, is integral to the renovation project, said William Holderness of Brand Developers, the firm that has been charged with carrying out the project.
"It is in the best interest of the Redevelopment Agency for the DPSS office to move to another location," said Jeanne Armstrong, redevelopment director. She said the office, crowded with welfare recipients seeking public assistance, does not "fit in" with the turn-of-the-century town square ambience being created at The Exchange.
"They are just jammed in the quarters that they have now," she said, citing a critical shortage of parking for clients at the busy county office.
Under most circumstances, the city could exert its police power to acquire property in the redevelopment zone by eminent domain for other use in the public interest. But most officials agree that the city would have difficulty under state law forcing out a welfare office in order to build new shops and offices.
Instead, the city has been working for years to find a location that the county would agree to move to willingly. The task has not been easy.
Maurice Salama, a county real property agent who has been negotiating with the city and developers, said the DPSS requires a large site for an expanded facility and ample parking.
Holderness said, "We have looked very hard to find a location that will work for the county because they have very severe restrictions. The site needs to be on a bus line, have a large amount of land for parking and be in an area of heavy concentration of their users."
He said the site of the former Sea and Jungle Import Shop, about 2.5 acres in south Glendale, meets the county's criteria. The site is remembered as the home of the pink elephant, posed in an unlikely tropical setting of palms and waterfalls until the shop closed in 1986.
Salama indicated that the site might be acceptable to the county, but he said an agreement must first be reached on the terms of the sale of the old county building and on the cost of the new facility. And debate among county and city officials and developers is far from nearing completion.
Brand Developers entered escrow to purchase the industrial property in October, even though the county has not agreed to move there, Holderness said. Escrow is expected to close in 30 to 60 days, he said.
However, Holderness said developers are seeking city financial support because attempts in the past to purchase "two or three other parcels" for a county office site failed because "we couldn't hold onto them long enough to get the deal with the county." He described the county as a tough and slow negotiator.
This time, developers have asked the city to lend them $1.7 million--half of the $3.4-million purchase price of the old Sea and Jungle site, according to a city staff report--until an agreement can be reached with the county.
The city plans to obtain the money as a one-year, low-interest loan from Bank of America, with tax money pledged as collateral, said Brian Butler, city finance director.
Butler said the loan is necessary to provide the lowest cost financing for developers who will be doing the city a favor by building a welfare office and will not profit from the transaction. "The agency is anxious to move the DPSS office because we do not believe that it is in the proper location," Butler said.
"All the city is really extending is our credit-worthiness," he added.