The City Council on Tuesday gave its initial approval to two of three new redevelopment areas after agreeing to exclude several properties from the zones in response to complaints from dozens of business people and landowners.
The council also postponed for 30 days a decision on whether to give the city's redevelopment agency the power to seize property in the third proposed zone after the family that owns some of the property filed a written complaint.
A subcommittee of council members Robert G. Cormack and Robert Brazelton will meet with the Takeo Murata family, which owns 17 of the 38.4 acres in the proposed zone. Murata, his three nephews and a niece lease most of the land, once used to farm strawberries, to two other businesses. The rest is vacant.
"We're going to hear them out and see if we can avoid any hassles," Brazelton said. Attorney Christopher A. Sutton, who is representing the Muratas, said in an interview that the family is seeking either to be cut out of the redevelopment zone or to receive a written guarantee that their property would not be taken through eminent domain either by the city or its redevelopment agency.
"The Muratas are not there to stand in the way of progress. They just want to protect their rights," he said.
The redevelopment agency had asked the council to approve the three areas. The largest is the 38.4-acre parcel bounded by the intersection of the Santa Ana and San Gabriel Valley freeways. The redevelopment agency also wants to develop a 15.4-acre zone along Lakewood Boulevard for an auto mall, and 14.3 acres at Brookshire and Margaret avenues.
The council is scheduled to give final approval to the two smaller project areas next month.
The agency requested that the City Council grant them the power to condemn property in all but the smallest zone. Downey Community Hospital owns that parcel and plans to develop it.
In creating a redevelopment area, the city receives a larger share of property tax money to pay for public improvements. That money typically is passed on to help the owners of the property develop it themselves. If the landowners do not wish to develop their property, the agency can use the power of eminent domain to force the owner to sell.
Since the agency first requested that the City Council grant it the power of eminent domain earlier this month, most of the property owners in the targeted areas have bombarded the council with protests.
On Tuesday, the council voted to exempt the Los Angeles Baptist Church, the Assembly of God Korean District Council building, and the Chris' & Pitt's properties from the 15.4-acre redevelopment zone along Lakewood Boulevard. About 12 acres remain.
It also voted to exclude a neighborhood shopping strip and two gas stations from the proposed 38.4-acre redevelopment zone.
"Now I can keep my mind on my business," said Mark Nguyen, who earlier this month requested that the council allow him to keep the gas station he and his family have operated for 16 years.
The only properties that have not been excluded from the 38.4-acre zone are those owned by the Murata family, a diesel automobile repair shop and a Penske Honda/Cadillac dealership.
The Murata family has accused the city of singling out their property so it can be condemned and turned over to Penske Honda/Cadillac. The dealership leases five acres from the Muratas. That lease expires in three years, Henry Murata said.
Councilman Cormack said the city has no intention of seizing the Muratas' property.
"I guarantee you, we will not take their property," he said. "It would take four votes, and you couldn't get one."
Penske is the city's top supplier of sales-tax revenue, generating approximately $1 million for the city's coffers annually, said Assistant City Manager Ken Farfsing
He said representatives for the company have indicated to city staff that they wish to expand their auto mall. City officials have said that unless the matter is resolved, Penske may pull out of Downey and take its business elsewhere.
"We're in stiff competition with surrounding redevelopment agencies," said Farfsing. "They can offer better deals. If Penske left, the effects would be devastating."