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HUD Order to Slow Plan for Industrial Park

Development: Agency says it will hold up $12 million without environmental impact report. The city had sought speedy approval.

September 26, 2000|JESUS SANCHEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Federal officials on Monday said they will order a full environmental review of the proposed "Cornfield" industrial park near downtown Los Angeles, a significant setback for Mayor Richard Riordan and his allies who have tried to win speedy approval of the project.

Responding to protests and lawsuits filed by project opponents, the Department of Housing and Urban Development said that without an environmental impact statement it will withhold an estimated $12 million in loans and grants pledged to the project proposed by influential developer Ed Roski Jr. and his Majestic Realty Co.

In July, the city's Central Area Planning Commission waived the need for a report and required a less comprehensive review when it approved the $80-million project.

The agency's decision to request a full environmental review was outlined in a letter addressed to deputy mayor Rocky Delgadillo, who said he was "shocked and disappointed" by the agency's action.

"HUD's action delays the delivery of 1,000 high-quality jobs," Delgadillo said. "We are certainly going to evaluate all of our options. But if it requires an [environmental review], that's what we will do."

The 50-acre parcel, dubbed the Cornfield because corn was grown there before the turn of the 20th century, served as a rail yard for decades but has been vacant for several years. It is one of the largest spaces considered available for development in urban Los Angeles.

The announcement by HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo during a visit to Los Angeles was hailed as a victory for a coalition of environmentalists, local groups and residents who have lobbied to use the open land north of Chinatown for parkland, schools, housing or other public uses. The group filed a lawsuit challenging the planning commission's decision.

"Our goal is to get this land into public hands, and this is a major step toward that," said Lewis MacAdams, chairman of the board of the Friends of the Los Angeles River, a nonprofit group formed to protect and restore the river's natural setting. "It will force the city to explore all the alternatives."

Riordan and other city leaders said Roski's proposal would create badly needed jobs in an area of the city that suffers from low incomes and high unemployment.

The industrial park, which would cover about 30 acres of the parcel, would be geared toward companies involved in manufacturing, food processing, importing and exporting and warehousing. The remainder of the site would be reserved for an eight-acre park, community uses and right of way for the proposed light-rail line from downtown to Pasadena.

Last year, HUD agreed to back the project with funds intended to help turn blighted real estate into viable sites for businesses.

Majestic Vice President John Semcken said that HUD's financial package--to be used for environmental cleanup and land acquisition--is crucial for the project to make financial sense. "In order for the development to be successful . . . financial assistance was required."

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