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City to Discuss Selling Land to Albertson's

Tax: Officials hope the sale would finance a new municipal hall. Opponents criticize secrecy of talks.

September 03, 1997|NICK GREEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SANTA PAULA — Sensing an opportunity to capture additional sales tax and simultaneously finance a new City Hall, municipal officials will discuss selling to Albertson's Inc. the property that includes the city's administrative offices and police station.

The fast-growing Boise, Idaho-based grocery store chain is studying the possibility of building a retail center with a supermarket and drugstore on the land, said interim City Manager Murray Warden.

The four-acre downtown tract at Ventura Street and South 10th Street also includes Veterans Memorial Park.

The City Council gave Warden approval to open discussions with Albertson's about the land's sale after a 45-minute closed-door meeting Tuesday. The property has yet to be appraised to determine its value, Warden said.

"Whatever it is, it's got to be enough so we can provide, one, a new City Hall and, two, we can provide a park," he said. "The city should be trying to get the best deal it can get from a developer."

A $3.5-million downtown revitalization project now underway includes a new park, which could be expanded, Warden said.

The city, which has outgrown its cramped City Hall, has a $300,000 expansion project that's been on hold for lack of money.

The city has had only one supermarket since a Ralphs closed in 1995, giving Vons a monopoly in the town. A long-established downtown drugstore also closed its doors recently.

It has been an open secret for the last few months in the small agricultural community that Albertson's was looking for a store site.

However, before the council's closed-door session, several people criticized what they called the city's secretive approach to any possible land sale.

"We cannot have a dialogue whether it's beneficial to sell the property or not because it's secret," said frequent speaker Jess Victoria before turning and walking out of the meeting.

Councilwoman Laura Espinoza, who urged the council to discuss the matter in open session, later walked out of the closed session before the land sale was even brought up, according to the other council members.

Bob Borrego, president of advocacy group Latino Town Hall, counseled caution.

"A store that size is going to have a major impact on this community," he said. "I would hope you would consider the adverse impact of this proposal on a lot of small businesses."

The talks about a possible sale could take months, Warden said.

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