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Amid Uproar, Council Delays Voting on Revitalization : Redevelopment: Supporters and foes jam the chambers to raise questions about the massive 45-year project, which would grant power of eminent domain.


LONG BEACH — After hearing nearly four hours of testimony laced with praise, anger, desperation and plenty of skepticism, the City Council decided to wait until next week to decide the fate of a proposed revitalization project so large it includes nearly a third of the city's population.

The plan, a 45-year redevelopment project, could generate millions of dollars to resuscitate some of the city's most troubled neighborhoods.

On Tuesday, hundreds of people jammed the City Council chambers--so many that a fire marshal had to clear the aisles.

Many tried to persuade the council that the redevelopment plan is the only hope to save a part of the city that threatens to collapse under the weight of too much crime, too many people and not enough basic services. An equal number criticized it because it allows the city to take property through condemnation and lacks details.

The Central Long Beach Redevelopment Project Area sprawls over much of the city east of the Los Angeles River, west of Redondo Avenue, north of downtown and south of the San Diego Freeway (405). The spine of the project area is the once-glorious, now-notorious Long Beach Boulevard.

If approved, the project would allow the Redevelopment Agency to take all increases in property taxes for the next 45 years and reinvest them within the project boundaries for such things as housing rehabilitation, code enforcement, graffiti removal and weed abatement. The agency also would have the right of eminent domain--the power to condemn property to assemble larger parcels of land for development.

Because redevelopment takes a long time, the plan has almost no specifics. And that is precisely what many of the people at Tuesday's meeting wanted:

"What are the timelines?" "What will be developed in the area?" "How much property will be condemned?" "Where?" "Will I lose my home?"

"I just want to remind people that the city has never taken a single-family home under eminent domain. Never," Mayor Ernie Kell said as the council prepared to hear testimony.

"Not yet." "We'll see about that." "Uh-huh, sure." came a flurry of skeptical replies from the chambers.

"You say, 'Trust us for 45 years,' " Pam Haynes, a renter who has lived in her Locust Avenue apartment for 10 years, told the council later in the evening. "Anyone who would trust a politician for five minutes, let alone 45 years . . ."

At least two dozen property owners asked to be removed from the area, some saying they could not support a plan without more information, others fearing that their homes would be condemned.

Many, including a representative of the Long Beach chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, said they could support the plan if it targeted only the commercial corridors and if the agency's right to condemn residential property were eliminated.

Susan Shick, the director of community development, said neither was possible. But, she said, "This project is not set up to buy residential property. It's set up to revive and enhance those properties. The corridors will not survive unless the neighborhoods around them are successful."

For nearly every skeptic, there was a believer, including several neighborhood groups, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Cambodian Business Assn. Long Beach Area Citizens Involved, a large community action group, gave a wary endorsement of the plan, emphasizing the need for accountability.

John Healy, who owns a business on Long Beach Boulevard, reminded the council that for years area merchants were told that private enterprise would come in and revive the area.

"Oh, there are entrepreneurs there," Healy told the council. "They are drug dealers and things like that."

Though the hearing was scheduled to discuss the redevelopment project, residents blasted the council for past decisions, high crime and run-down neighborhoods. Just give us more police, several people demanded. You guys have screwed up everything you put your hands on, one man shouted. Some council members seemed taken aback by what they were witnessing.

"(What happened here) shows a tremendous distrust of government," a weary councilman Alan S. Lowenthal said after the meeting. "I think what happened is that redevelopment became a catchword for all the dissatisfaction and people's fears that things will get worse. We have some deep divisions in the community, and a lot of work to do as a city."

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