The city of Los Angeles could lose up to $3 million if it sells a block of land to two politically influential businessmen after spending $6 million in voter-approved bond money to buy it for use as an animal shelter, officials said Monday.
Members of the City Council's Public Safety Committee demanded a written report to explain why the city used its powers of eminent domain to force a furniture maker to sell the South Los Angeles parcel so the city could build an animal shelter -- only to now propose selling it to a competing furniture manufacturer.
Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who has received $1,000 in political contributions from Francisco Pinedo and Alba Pinedo, co-owners of Cisco Bros., has been leading the push to have the parcel sold to Cisco so the company can expand its furniture mart.
Parks argued Monday that the property would be better used by Cisco to create economic development and jobs for the area, given that another city-owned property nearby is available for the animal shelter.
Councilman Jack Weiss, chairman of the five-member panel, was concerned that the city went ahead with its condemnation process even though the second property, which was purchased with police bond funds, could have been used for the shelter.
"It's a multimillion-dollar switcheroo for no reason at all?" Weiss said.
"The city could have saved millions of dollars" by purchasing the other parcel to begin with, Weiss said. "And it wouldn't have condemned an existing business."
Weiss was responding to comments by Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry Miller, who said the city would probably get $3 million to $5 million for the property, in the 5900 block of South Western Avenue, far less than the $6 million it spent to buy the site, relocate the furniture business and pay the firm an additional sum for goodwill.
Miller said a final purchase price would depend on a new appraisal of the property, which has not been done.
In addition, Miller acknowledged that the change of location for the animal shelter would require more delays and a redesign of the project, which officials estimate could add $5 million to its $12-million estimated cost.
The panel agreed to seek an analysis of the legal and financial issues raised by the proposal before deciding whether to move the animal shelter one block away to city-owned land at 6000 S. St. Andrews Place.
Despite misgivings, the panel recommended that the city suspend work on the shelter project until the analysis is completed.
Based on the financial analysis, the council would be able to decide whether to sell the Western Avenue property to Cisco Bros., a firm that has contributed $17,600 to City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo and other key city officials in the last five years.
Officials said the city attorney's office has tentatively ruled that even though the St. Andrews Place land was purchased by the city with police bonds, it can be used for the animal shelter because it has already served its purpose as a temporary headquarters for the 77th Street Division while a new police station was under construction.
Parks asked that the financial analysis look at the jobs that would be created if the Western Avenue site were to be used for the expansion of Cisco's furniture mart.
Charlotte Laws, president of the group Directors of Animal Welfare, called on the council Monday to abandon the idea of selling the Western Avenue property to Cisco and instead build a shelter on the site.
"This is an improper manipulation of eminent domain," Laws told the council members.
"The beneficiaries of this sweetheart deal have contributed to the campaigns of Rocky Delgadillo and others," she said.