A widely touted development plan for the vacant General Motors plant site in Panorama City was met with skepticism Tuesday by some city officials who worry about financing for the project and community leaders who fear traffic and crime problems.
The $100-million project, announced Monday by GM officials, city leaders and the developers, would include retail stores, a theater complex, a light industrial park and a satellite police station.
The police station, which would house 100 officers and cost up to $5 million, is crucial to the project because the developers say it is key to making tenants and consumers feel safe in the crime-plagued neighborhood where the development is proposed.
But some council members express doubts the financially beleaguered city can fund the police facility.
"All of us would like to see a new Valley station, but I don't want to see us go broke this year," said Councilwoman Laura Chick, who heads the council's Public Safety Committee and has herself been pushing for renovations to a crowded police station in her west San Fernando Valley district.
Councilman Mike Feuer, another member of the committee, echoed Chick's sentiments, saying, "I want to make sure we don't raise unreasonable expectations."
But Councilman Richard Alarcon, who represents Panorama City and the surrounding area and has championed the project, shrugged off such concerns, saying he is studying several options to pay for the station without tapping the city's budget.
"I choose to be someone to see things the way they should be instead of someone who tears things down," he said, expressing anger at those he called "naysayers."
Because GM has already donated five acres of the property for a police station, Alarcon said at least three of those acres can be sold to pay for construction of the station on the remaining land.
He has also suggested using money generated by an emergency redevelopment district created around the GM site to rebuild the community after the Northridge earthquake.
"We are not making false promises," he said.
But even representatives for Mayor Richard Riordan, who has also pressed hard to develop the GM site, said there are still many funding questions that remain unanswered about the police substation.
"This will take some innovation," said Noelia Rodriguez, Riordan's spokeswoman.
An as-yet unreleased consultant's report on the city's police facilities recommends that a satellite station be opened in the mid-Valley area. But the report by Kosmont and Associates recommends that the city lease an existing building for the station to reduce costs instead of constructing a station from scratch.
When pressed on the cost, Alarcon said he may be willing to propose a "mini" station with fewer than the 100 officers, so long as it will house police on a 24-hour basis.
Plans call for the entire project to be developed by a Woodland Hills-based partnership.
Selleck Properties, a firm whose partners include actor Tom Selleck, his father and two brothers, would develop the retail element of the project, while Voit Cos., the firm that developed much of Warner Center, would handle the industrial portion of the project.
Alarcon has said a key to completing the project by the summer of 1997 is developing grass-roots support from community groups to ensure that they do not oppose the project, thus delaying its final approval.
Don Schultz, president of the Van Nuys Homeowners Assn., said his group is scheduled to meet with Alarcon next week to learn more about the project. But he said he is already worried about the traffic snarls the development may create along busy Van Nuys Boulevard.
As envisioned, the project calls for access from Van Nuys Boulevard. But Schultz said he would like to see traffic access from another major street to reduce the impact on the boulevard.
In response, Alarcon said such traffic concerns are being addressed by the developer and the city's Department of Transportation.
A draft report by the transportation department said the project would produce 520 more vehicle trips per hour than were generated by the GM plant before it closed. The proposed development would also "have significant traffic impacts" on five nearby intersections, it said. It recommends the developer pay for part of the cost of installing a sophisticated, synchronized traffic-signal system on five adjacent intersections and pay to widen and re-stripe Van Nuys Boulevard around the project.
Transportation officials said the total cost of such improvements has not been calculated. But Alarcon's staff members said some of those improvements may be paid for through a $4-million federal grant set aside for public improvements around the GM site.
In addition to traffic concerns, Schultz said due to crime problems in the neighborhood, his group will not support the construction of a theater unless the police substation is guaranteed to be built.
"Without a police station you would be putting a lot of people in danger who are coming out of the theaters at midnight or one o'clock," he said.
Despite the concerns, the plan received warm reviews from other council members and neighborhood leaders around the vacant plant.