Hoping to build a huge outlet mall on a former Carson dump, a development company wants the city to back an $85-million financial package aimed at cleaning up hazardous waste on the site and installing roads, lighting, water service and other improvements.
The draft financial package, which will be presented to the City Council later this month, has drawn a cool reception from some city officials. Part of the plan calls on the city to sponsor a $62-million bond issue. Officials fear that if pollution is worse than expected under the 157-acre site, located near the intersection of the San Diego and Harbor freeways, the city could be stuck with the cleanup bill.
"We have no idea what is in there, and what the cleanup cost will be," said Councilwoman Sylvia L. Muise-Perez. "We could be responsible for the cleanup, and yet we do not own the property."
City Atty. Glenn R. Watson has also expressed concern about the city's potential financial liability. But Mayor Michael I. Mitoma says Carson should embrace the financial plan for the so-called Metro 2000 project.
"The only absolute guarantees in life are death and taxes," Mitoma said at a recent council meeting on the issue.
Proposed by Carson Realty Projects Inc., the Metro 2000 project calls for a core of 180 discount stores that, according to the developer, would make it the biggest outlet mall on the West Coast. The mall would generate an estimated $3 million to $7 million a year in sales taxes for Carson, according to Peter Sardagna, the Metro 2000 project manager.
For the past four years, Carson Realty Projects Inc. has been testing soil on the site but has yet to determine precisely how much hazardous waste lies underground. The site, formerly known as the Cal Compact landfill, was used as a dump for household trash and certain industrial wastes from 1959 to 1968.
Some of the chemicals believed to have been buried at the site include oil field drilling mud, petroleum-based chemicals, solvents and possibly pesticides and herbicides such as DDT, said Richard Varenchik, a spokesman for the California Department of Toxic Control.
At this point, none of those chemicals present a health hazard, because they are buried in the ground, Varenchik said. However, before any buildings are put on the site, the California Department of Toxic Control requires that the pollution be removed or contained--by covering contaminated soil with an impermeable clay layer, for instance.
The uncertainty about the extent of the underground pollution has made some city officials balk at Carson Realty Projects' proposal to raise $85 million for cleanup and public works at the mall site.
That proposal calls on the city to contribute cash, mall sales tax revenues and new property tax revenues generated by the mall. Under the plan, the city would also sponsor the $62 million in bonds, which would be paid off using a special assessment to be levied on mall tenants.
Muise-Perez and Watson have expressed concern that if cleanup costs exceed estimates, the city would have to make up the difference. Muise-Perez said the city would be unwise to sponsor the bonds before knowing how serious the soil pollution problem is.
To allay such fears, city officials are exploring ways to change the proposed agreement to limit the city's liability. Though it was unclear exactly what modifications would be made, both Muise-Perez and Watson said they were confident that a solution could be found.
Mayor Mitoma agreed to put the matter to further study, but called the effort "a waste of time." The city, he said, will never be able to completely shield itself from liability. Carson, he said, should seize the opportunity to assist a project that would produce much-needed sales tax dollars.
Despite the disagreement on the financial package, city officials believe the chances are good that a mall will eventually be built on the former Cal Compact site. Over the years, many projects have been planned for the site, including mobile home parks, high-rise hotels and football stadiums.
"This is the closest we have come to (getting) something going on at this site," said Adolfo Reyes, redevelopment project manager for the city of Carson.
Proposed Mall Site Investors want to build a giant outlet mall on a former landfill site near the intersection of the San Diego and Harbor freeways in Carson.