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SOUTH-CENTRAL : Councilman Grilled About Supermarket

April 04, 1993|JAKE DOHERTY

About 100 people crammed into a City Hall meeting room last week to complain to City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas about delays in the construction of a supermarket in the neighborhood.

Food 4 Less plans to build an Alpha Beta at Adams Boulevard and Vermont Avenue, but after nearly nine years of waiting residents say they are frustrated.

Several factors have contributed to the delay. The cost of land around the site led Food 4 Less to seek assistance from the city's Community Redevelopment Agency.

The CRA and the company then became involved in lengthy negotiations over the selection and participation of a minority partner. There was also debate about whether the store should be a full-service market rather than a warehouse-style store, and preservationists and the CRA argued over the fate of historic houses next to the site.

Weary of the stalemate, some residents say that Ridley-Thomas, the area's councilman for nearly two years, has failed to push the project along or keep them informed.

While they waited to meet Ridley-Thomas, parishioners from St. Agnes and St. Vincent churches and members of the Southern California Organizing Committee prayed, sang hymns and chanted, "We want a market now!"

The meeting produced little except for stormy exchanges as the councilman parried charges that he is holding up the project.

"We have a clear, common interest and that is to build a first-class supermarket as quickly as possible," Ridley-Thomas said. "But it does not serve your interests to engage in confrontation. Any implication that I have not worked on this or have been inattentive is unfounded."

The CRA, which owns some of the properties next to the lot and has pledged funds for the project, has required Food 4 Less to find a minority business partner for the development. Pat Barber, vice president of real estate for Food 4 Less, said in December that a pact with a prospective minority partner was nearly complete. Asked at a rally March 27 at the site about the status of the talks, Barber would say only that a deal is close.

Differences of opinion between Food 4 Less and Danny Bakewell of the Brotherhood Crusade regarding his participation in the project pose another hurdle, according to Southern California Organizing Committee members and Ridley-Thomas.

Ridley-Thomas said he is trying to get Food 4 Less and Bakewell to resolve their conflict without litigation. Bakewell's staff said he was out of town and could not be reached for comment. Food 4 Less representatives did not return a call seeking comment.

Ridley-Thomas said he had helped arrange for the relocation of historical houses near the site and had secured a promise from Food 4 Less to build a top-of-the-line Alpha Beta store rather than a warehouse-style market.

But some activists still blame Ridley-Thomas for the impasse.

"We've been waiting for a supermarket for way too long," Orinio Opinaldo, a 42-year resident of the area, told the councilman.

"If he's doing anything, it's in the dark," said Harry Brown-Hiegel. "Everytime he talks to us he just says, 'Trust me.' "

The councilman nevertheless told his constituents: "I will not relent until a supermarket at Adams and Vermont is delivered."

ROSEMARY KAUL / Los Angeles Times

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