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GM Turns Deaf Ears on Leaders' Attempt to Save Auto Plant

December 18, 1991|FRANK CLIFFORD | TIMES URBAN AFFAIRS WRITER

A last-ditch effort by a group of Los Angeles-area political leaders Tuesday failed to persuade General Motors Co. executives to reconsider their plan to close the Van Nuys assembly plant--Southern California's last remaining car factory.

Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City) and state Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar) had hoped to ease the pain of the recession locally with a plan to make the Van Nuys facility the hub of new transportation technology.

General Motors made it clear, however, that it has no interest in participating in any plan to keep the facility open.

"Our plans remain to cease operations," GM Vice President Joe Spielman said at a news conference after a meeting in Los Angeles between GM executives, including company Chairman Robert C. Stempel, and the three officeholders.

Closing of the plant, which is scheduled for August, will result in the direct loss of 2,600 jobs and could have a devastating effect on the local economy. One chamber of commerce study predicted an additional loss of 35,000 related non-manufacturing jobs and the closure of more than 500 retail businesses.

General Motors' reaffirmation of its July announcement to shut the plant was not a surprise, coming amid reports that the nation's No. 1 auto maker is about to engage in a major restructuring, possibly involving numerous plant closings and thousands of layoffs.

Nevertheless, Katz made no attempt to conceal his bitterness about the decision.

"I did not find General Motors willing to reinvest back in Southern California to the extent that Southern California has been willing to invest in GM," Katz said. "I was very disappointed that they were not willing to go the extra mile."

Katz and the other politicians said they had not given up on the idea of keeping the plant open and said efforts would be made to find a company willing and able to take over the facility.

"I think we still have a chance to do it," he said.

Katz, Berman and Bradley had asked for the meeting with Stempel in the hopes of persuading GM to convert the plant into a factory for electric cars, buses or railroad commuter cars. The three politicians said they tried to sell Stempel on the idea of a public-private partnership to invest in new transportation technology at the plant.

Stempel was not at the news conference. But Spielman, who is in charge of phasing out production in Van Nuys by next August, said the plant was not "well-matched to the low volume production" anticipated if other sorts of vehicles were to be made there.

Spielman said the decision to keep the plant open until August was firm, if not set in concrete. "Again, everything is determined by market conditions," he said.

Under a current union contract, employees of the plant will receive wages and benefits for a year after the closure, according to Bruce Lee, the United Auto Workers' western states regional director, who also was present at the meeting.

The 100-acre plant has made Chevrolet Camaros and Pontiac Firebirds since 1977. Slumping sales, the high cost of living in Southern California and the cost of shipping parts to the plant all figured into the company's decision to close the facility.

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