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Sale of Mart to Vendors Approved

L.A. City Council OKs deal with produce businesses at downtown facility, angering those who sought bids.

June 04, 2003|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday approved the direct sale of a downtown wholesale produce market to the produce vendors who work in the 30-acre facility, overriding objections that the city should have accepted competitive bids for the property.

In a 12-1 vote, the council authorized city officials to accept $18 million for the Olympic Boulevard facility from a group of vendors under the condition that they keep the 20-year-old produce market open until 2048.

The matter will return to the council for a final vote in a week.

More than $7 million from the sale would be used to build a youth center in Boyle Heights, among other items. Councilman Nick Pacheco, who pushed the sale, has also proposed spending $1.5 million of the proceeds to hire 30 more firefighters next year.

The direct sale is "in the best interest not only of the city, but of the working families at the produce market," Pacheco said.

Richard Meruelo, the owner of an adjacent produce market who wanted to buy the property, said he is considering taking legal action to delay the sale.

"There is always the courts to rely on to remedy things if things don't turn out the way they should," Meruelo said.

During the council discussion, Councilman Jack Weiss raised questions about the process of the sale, noting that Meruelo said he would be willing to pay an additional $2 million for the property.

"The issue for me is ensuring that when the city takes an action here it gets every last nickel it can from the purchaser so we can do everything we can for our firefighters ... and our city," said Weiss, who tried unsuccessfully to delay the vote for a week and then voted against the sale.

However, city officials said an outside buyer would have to get the current tenants to endorse a new lease agreement, something they would have little motivation to do because they want to purchase the land themselves.

Richard Gardner, the executive director of the market, said the sale fulfills a promise the city made to the 25 vendors who set up shop there in 1983 that they would eventually becomes owners of the land.

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