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Hope, Healthy Skepticism Greet Proposal

Reaction: Hesitant since details are pending, business owners, neighbors nevertheless think deal will benefit area.

February 06, 1996|EFRAIN HERNANDEZ JR. | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PANORAMA CITY — For Greg Gagnon, who saw friends disappear and popular businesses close after the General Motors plant become a vacant wasteland in 1992, even a development plan that still lacks details sounded good Monday.

"It's better than having open land sitting there," said Gagnon, 44, a Panorama City resident for 16 years. "Any new businesses in Panorama City should help. At least it opens new jobs . . . hopefully."

Gagnon, who works part-time grooming dogs or doing odd jobs, was far from alone in his reaction to the announcement Monday of a major redevelopment plan for the long-idle GM site off Van Nuys Boulevard near Saticoy Street.

From longtime owners of businesses in the area to drifters passing through, the general sentiment was that the proposed retail stores, light industry, movie theater, and, certainly, a police station, would be welcome. An estimated 2,000 jobs may be generated by the project.

And despite some hesitancy to declare the proposal a winner while details are pending, the fact remains that the depressed area can use a shot in the arm, several residents and business owners said.

"It can only do the area good," said Derek Horwitz, 66, a local businessman whose daily exercise includes a walk past the site. "This serves no purpose. This vacant land here."

Reminders of times past remain evident around the General Motors site.

The "GM" signs are easily visible on the property. Also easy to see are signs declaring the land "Available."

Across Van Nuys Boulevard, the former United Auto Workers Local 645 union office sits empty. A faded sticker on the front door reads: "Save Van Nuys G.M.--Cars Proudly Made By American Hands."

Next door, Antonio and Herminia Ramirez, owners of El Taco Loco, recalled losing about $300 per day in sales of tacos, burritos and other items from their lunch wagon after the plant closed.

The business survived and the couple, who live nearby, opened their small restaurant on the boulevard last summer. For them, a new development across the street may help bridge the memories of the past and their hopes for the future.

"For us it should be good," Antonio Ramirez, 48, said in Spanish. "We've been treated well here. Going somewhere else would mean finding new customers all over again."

Even at the nearby Panorama Mall, the proposed development is being viewed as something that can be complementary, rather than competitive.

Louise Marquez, the mall's manager and marketing director, said the new development is not expected to feature shops that will drain business from stores at the mall. Some overlap of merchandise may occur, but the two sites are likely to be different enough to coexist, she said.

"I don't think it would be devastating," said Marquez, a member of the Mid-Valley Chamber of Commerce board of directors and a member of City Councilman Richard Alarcon's community redevelopment committee.

"A mall has a lot to do with impulse shopping."

Several of those who live or work in the area said the proposed satellite police station would also be instrumental in determining whether the development is a success. The site sits near the borders of three Los Angeles police divisions and could use officers who are closer and can provide more immediate attention, they said.

Part of the nearby area, most notoriously Blythe Street, is known for high crime, much of it committed by extremely active gangs.

Those interested in building retail outlets must work hand-in-hand with police, said William Edwards, project superintendent for Allee Construction, who was building a canopy for the nearby Metrolink train station.

"I think there has to be a balance" between economic development and crime fighting, said Edwards, 36, of Reseda.

Marquez and others agreed that new development should also help re-energize the spirits of those who live and work in the area.

"It's painful when old goes, but new is healthy," she said. "It's good for the community."

* MAIN STORY & ANALYSIS: A1

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