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El Segundo Project Goes to the Voters

Development: Residents group opposes office- hotel-retail plan, which city approved in January.

June 15, 2002|SANDRA MURILLO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A proposed multimillion-dollar development in El Segundo will go before voters Tuesday, potentially ending an expensive and bitter campaign between two large companies over an empty plot of land in the city's northeast corner.

The El Segundo Corporate Campus project calls for about 1.6 million square feet of office space, with hotel, retail and restaurant development on land next to Nash Street near the Century Freeway.

As part of the deal Thomas Properties Group, the project's developer, would give the city land for a new fire station and the option to buy six acres for playing fields at a reduced cost.

City leaders approved the plan in January, saying it would create thousands of jobs and allow the city to purchase the land for playing fields at a good price.

But a group of residents known as Citizens Against Gridlock in El Segundo gathered enough signatures in March to force a special election. Voters will be asked whether the city should be required to stop the project.

Opponents also sued the city, saying it failed to perform a required traffic plan before approving the development.

They say that the project will attract too much traffic to the city and that the new fields, located in a heavily trafficked area, will be too dangerous for children to reach. They also think the fields are too close to toxic industrial residue.

Proponents of the project say traffic effects can be lessened and that experts have determined that there is no environmental danger.

"When this is done, it'll be a very good project," said Mayor Mike Gordon. "This is just a great deal for us."

Brian Crowley, chairman of Citizens Against Gridlock, disagrees.

He says that under the current plan, Thomas Properties will not pay the city enough for traffic measures and that some language in the plan's fine print makes the project financially questionable for the city.

"I hate cheating, but when the teacher actually looks the other way when the student is cheating--well, that ticks me off even more," Crowley said. "Thomas is a salesman, and the city is giving them everything they want."

Local officials have accused Kilroy Realty, which owns several office buildings around the proposed development area, of creating a public outcry in order to protect its business interests.

"I don't work for Kilroy," Crowley said. "I work with them. It is my fight. It's my property value that's going to be knocked down."

Kilroy has spent about $330,000 to help Citizens Against Gridlock in its fight against Thomas Properties, Crowley said.

Kilroy officials say they are concerned that the traffic measures will be inadequate and by language in the plan that would allow the area to be used for industrial purposes. They are not trying to stifle competition, said Hugh Greenup, executive vice president.

"We are the immediately adjacent landowners and are entitled to be involved in the city's review of the project," he said. "It's entirely fair that we participate in the process."

Thomas Properties officials, who have spent about $400,000 on advertising and other costs related to this campaign since January, said they are offering the city more than enough money to offset traffic problems. And although the area's zoning allows for some light industrial use in parts of the project area, the development is mostly for high-tech tenants, not factories and smokestacks, they said.

"They are using the industrial argument because it brings fear to the people of El Segundo," said Tom Ricci, senior vice president of Thomas Properties.

Gordon said he is confident that voters will approve the project. But even if they do, Thomas Properties cannot move forward until the lawsuit is settled.

"I think the community sees right through this for what it is," Gordon said of the opposition campaign, which he added "is not a movement of the people of El Segundo."

Crowley is "cautiously optimistic."

"This is not a battle of the titans," he said. "The mayor's created an emotional issue, when mainly it should be a cold business deal."

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