Sitting vacant for nearly a decade, Fire Station 52 was to finally get a new owner last week.
Instead, the City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday not to sell the 57-year-old station until the property is appraised.
The city's Public Works Department had recommended sale of the property to St. Francis Medical Center for $80,000, and the medical center had already undertaken improvements in expectation of the sale going through.
St. Francis officials did not attend the council meeting and could not be reached for comment. But residents who hoped the station could be turned into a youth center and officials at clinics already established in the area cheered cancellation of the sale.
"I always wished there was somewhere we could go," said George Rivera, who grew up three blocks from the station and was one of 15 supporters of the community youth center proposal. "As a youth, we had nowhere to go."
South Gate High is close to the site, while the closest park is nearly five miles away, Rivera said.
Eight clinics are within a five-block radius of the fire station, on State Street near Firestone Boulevard. Several had criticized the proposed sale to St. Francis.
"Any outside medical institution trying to expand their services has to be sensitive of the professionals practicing in the same area," said Ebenezer Chambi, a physician and surgeon at Chapel Medical Clinic on California Avenue.
"If they were in the area of Long Beach, say 10 to 15 miles, that would be OK."
The St. Francis Medical Group has a hospital in Lynwood and clinics in Downey and Huntington Park.
"The City Council's decision shows that they are supporting business in the area where clinics are already going though economic hardships," said Lori Jo Gresowski, assistant administrator of Multi Health Care Medical Center, less than a block from the vacant station.
Before the vote on whether to open escrow on the property, Mayor Albert Robles called for the site to be developed into a youth center.
"We have an opportunity to build on a dream," the mayor said, emphasizing the importance of serving youth on the west side of the city.
"I envision a (youth center) that's three stories tall where there are several activities," including sports facilities on the first floor and computer training on the second.
Funding for the center would
come from federal grants or private donations, he said. So far, the city has not received any money to develop the site.
Robles moved to make the sale contingent on a certified appraisal, hence stopping the sale to St. Francis.
If the site is appraised above $80,000, the city would be engaging in an illegal sale of the property, City Atty. Arnold Alvarez-Glassman said. A state law says public funds cannot be given away, he said.
City officials have estimated the station's value at about $200,000. A formal appraisal had not been done because state law does not require one in this kind of transaction, Alvarez-Glassman said.
In addition, the mayor recommended that the city reimburse St. Francis for money the medical center has already spent on the property. Based on an August agreement to purchase the site, the medical group had already spent $16,300 to remove underground fuel containers on the fire station property.
The City Council vote angered St. Francis supporters for creating an obstacle in redeveloping the neglected fire station, which has become an eyesore in the community.
"St. Francis is going to be an entirely different type of clinic than what we already have," 44-year resident Mildred Ward said. "It's not going to be here and gone tomorrow."
"Stiff competition for quality care is something that's needed. South Gate has a lot of clinics, but they are not quality," said Huntington Park Councilwoman Jessica R. Maes, who said she attended the meeting in a show of support for St. Francis.
Constructed in 1938, the station was operated by the city until the early 1950s, when the two-story structure was taken over by the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
The county closed the fire station in 1985 after the city refused to pay an additional $300,000 in property taxes to the Consolidated Fire Protection District. In December, 1993, the property was turned over to South Gate, and St. Francis showed interest in developing a clinic.