MONTEREY PARK — City officials spent $1,104,712 on a land purchase and $77,950 to relocate five homeowners and a children's club for a redevelopment project they now acknowledge was a mistake.
In an effort to salvage something out of the deal, the City Council on Monday decided to try to build a new library on the site instead of the commercial development originally planned.
Envisioning a block-long strip of retail shops, restaurants and business offices, the Community Redevelopment Agency between 1986 and 1989 bought most of the land south of Newmark Avenue between Ramona and Garfield avenues, hoping to lure developers to the area.
The homeowners and the Monterey Park Boys' and Girls' Club had to be relocated, at city expense, to make way for the project.
But officials say they have failed to put together a sound project for the western portion of the site, which is about an acre in size.
"This was an ill-conceived project," Mayor Judy Chu said, adding that the only businesses willing to set up shop on the property are small stores and fast-food restaurants. "I would not want to see (city money) spent on yogurt shops and doughnut shops."
So, after lengthy debate Monday, the council voted 3 to 2 to apply for a state public library construction grant to fund 65% of a two-story, $10-million library on the property, which is next to the Bruggemeyer Memorial Library.
The eastern half of the block will still be designated for commercial development, but the city would need to buy several other lots before it could renew attempts to develop that part of the site.
Library officials say it will be a gamble to enter the highly competitive quest for state library funds. Proposition 85, the California Library Construction Bond Act, provides for $75 million in library construction grants. So far, 104 cities, counties and special library districts have submitted preliminary applications, said Richard Hall, the state's library construction bond act manager.
And even if the state awards the library grant, voters would have to approve by a two-thirds majority a city bond issue to fund the remaining 35% of the library construction costs.
Chu, Councilman Fred Balderrama and Councilman Sam Kiang voted to try for the library grant. But Councilwomen Betty Couch and Marie T. Purvis voted against it, saying that using redevelopment land for a library would deprive the city of potential sales and property tax revenues. They insisted that the vacant land could be turned into a profitable venture.
"Every time we get a project cooking, it falls on its face," Purvis warned. "This city has got to stop spending before we start earning. I don't go out and buy a new dress if I don't make the money to pay for it."
But Balderrama said the site, one block away from Garfield Avenue, is too removed from heavy traffic to attract many shoppers.