By Eddie North-Hager
Pro-redevelopment forces in Gardena got off to a shaky start this week at a debate on Measure G, the Nov. 2 ballot measure that would create a redevelopment agency in the city.
Representatives showed up 30 minutes late for Tuesday night's forum, didn't have anything prepared and hadn't chosen a speaker.
"Why isn't the rest of the council here?" Councilman Steve Bradford asked minutes before his colleagues, Mayor Terrence Terauchi and Councilman Oscar Medrano, appeared. "When did this become a one-man issue?"
Their opponents, No Gardena Redevelopment Agency Boondoggle (No GRAB for short), came prepared for battle.
They had a booth with a large map of the redevelopment study area and pictures of at least eight residences in the study area (though some photos were of the same house). The public could also take booklets pointing out the evils of redevelopment and fact sheets.
No GRAB Chairman Steve Sherman gave a 15-minute address that not only shared his fears of property seizure but also succinctly explained how redevelopment works.
Sherman also cited a sentence in the ballot arguments for Measure G that reads: "No residential zoned areas are included whatsoever." The argument is signed by the city's four councilmen.
"If they lied about something so easy to prove incorrect, who knows what else that is not so obvious is untrue," Sherman said.
Terauchi said Wednesday that the one street of about eight single-family homes near Rosecrans and Normandie avenues "got swept up" in the study area because of its proximity to a commercial area.
But he insisted: "Our city is not interested in those lots."
The City Council recently approved town houses across the street from the homes in question, proving the city's commitment to keeping the area residential, Terauchi said.
There weren't a lot of minds up for grabs at the Chamber of Commerce-sponsored debate at the Nakaoka Community Center. Nearly all of the 25 residents in attendance sported black hats or white T-shirts reading "No on G."
Redevelopment agencies, usually controlled by the City Council, are designed to generate money by improving areas that are deemed blighted.
Once an area is chosen, the total property tax value of the area is set as a baseline over which any increase can be used by the agency to improve the area. The agency does not increase taxes.
Usually the agency floats bonds to finance projects and attract new businesses to the area, boosting sales taxes that can be used by the entire city. In turn, the new businesses help improve land values, which increases property taxes that are used to pay off the bonds.
"I am not opposed to redevelopment, just redevelopment agencies, because of the extraordinary powers they have," Smith said.
One of those powers is to sell bonds without a public vote.
Another is the ability to force property owners to sell their land for fair market value and then give or sell the land to a private party. City governments also have the power of eminent domain, but the land then could only be for public use.
Eminent domain is a necessary tool to move the city forward, Terauchi argued.
"We could get a Home Depot or a Vons superstore. They will come in, but only if we have a large enough property," Terauchi said. "We need to package the parcels together to attract larger businesses, because the city needs additional revenues."
The city has $26 million in bond debt that is due in January. Redevelopment wouldn't provide a new revenue stream to help until the opening of new businesses that generate sales taxes. But the property taxes that would be diverted to the city would alleviate some of the financial pressure to care for the blighted areas.
Redevelopment agencies can also use incentives to lure businesses.
Sherman contended that Gardena has managed to attract a cadre of large, successful businesses along Redondo Beach and Artesia boulevards without using the tools of redevelopment.
And that's one of the reasons why the city is in the shape it is in fiscally, Bradford said. The reserves the city had were used to lure businesses and sales tax rebates are being used to retain businesses.
"We used general fund money as a carrot," Bradford said.
Bradford said that it should say volumes about the merits of redevelopment that the sometimes fractious council is unanimously in support of forming an agency.
"Gardena is the hole in the doughnut of development," Bradford said. "We are not a destination. You pass us on the way to Carson and Inglewood."
What the city will eventually include in its redevelopment area caused concern for Sherman. He pointed to a map of the city's study area and wondered why some residential areas and mobile home parks are being considered for the redevelopment area.
Bradford said Sherman was playing on the public's fears and stated again the city wasn't looking at single-family homes. The map is just a study area that will likely be greatly reduced if redevelopment passes.
"No on G only looks at the negative," Bradford said. "We want to take a what-if-good-things-happen approach."
Daily Breeze: www.dailybreeze.com
Contributed by Terri Haase, No GRAB committee: www.nograb.org