By Nick Diamantides
Several business property owners and lawyers attended the Signal Hill City Council meeting on Tuesday night to express their anger. They wanted City Hall to know they strongly oppose the Signal Hill Redevelopment Agency’s (RDA) plan to use its soon-to-expire power of eminent domain to acquire their properties. (The agency’s power of eminent domain ends on Nov. 17.)
In spite of the property owners’ protests, the RDA board members, all of whom are also members of the Signal Hill City Council, voted unanimously to use the RDA’s power of eminent domain to acquire seven different properties in Signal Hill.
The proceedings lasted a little more than three-and-a-half hours and began with both the City Council and the RDA adopting a resolution finding that the acquisition of a 0.195-acre property located at 2170 Gundry Avenue will benefit housing in the city’s redevelopment project area, even though that property is outside the boundaries of the project area. By state law, that resolution had to be adopted before the RDA could proceed to exercise its power of eminent domain over that property.
After the City Council and RDA adopted that resolution, the Council adjourned, leaving the rest of the proceedings to the RDA. As a prelude to the staff reports that would be presented to the board, City Manager Ken Farfsing, who is also the executive director of the RDA, gave a brief history of that agency and its accomplishments since its creation. He explained that, since its creation in 1974, the RDA has converted many contaminated oil-production and industrial sites into successful retail centers and thriving residential communities. Farfsing also noted that the proposed property acquisitions would benefit future expansion of the Signal Hill Auto Mall and other retail areas in the city.
After Farfsing’s presentation, the RDA took additional actions that, one by one, cleared the way for the agency to use its eminent domain to acquire the properties beginning with the one on Gundry Avenue. The other properties include 0.155 acres at 2621 St. Louis Ave., 0.149 acres at 2065–2099 E. 27th St. and 2701 St. Louis Ave., 0.298 acres at 2757 St. Louis Ave.,0.377 acres at 2700–2728 and 2730 Cherry Ave., 0.253 acres at 2648 Cherry Ave., and 1.12 acres at 2435–2461 Gardena Ave.
The RDA initiated the use of eminent domain because the property owners have expressed their unwillingness to sell, however only three owners and representatives for a fourth owner came to the Tuesday night Council/RDA meeting. One of them was Phil Lund, who, with his wife Mary, owns the property at 2065–2099 E. 27th St. and 2701 St. Louis Ave. The site contains nine separate units that the Lunds rent to various businesses.
Lund told the board that it is unfair to offer him fair market value for the property at a time when the real estate market is depressed and causing his property to have a 50-percent diminished value. “This market is unfortunate for property owners and fortunate for the city,” Lund said. “You are taking this property away from its owners and not planning on using it for five years.”
Ray Murphy, who owns the property and businesses (H&L Metals and Hitchcock Balancing) at 2757 St. Louis Ave., also spoke against the eminent domain action. “I would like to stay in Signal Hill,” he said, noting that he could not find a place that could accommodate his businesses at the price the RDA was offering him.
Brothers Jrans and Onek Petrosian, who, with other family members, own Signal Hill Automotive at 2648 Cherry Ave., also spoke out strongly against the condemnation of their property. “We did not plan to sell our property; we planned to have that business as a retirement plan,” Jrans said. “Why can’t we stay there and share the same business that the Signal Hill Auto Center has?” he noted that 50 percent of his business comes from Enterprise Rent a Car, which is next door to Signal Hill Automotive and relocating will likely result in losing Enterprise as a regular customer.
Onek had stronger words. “This is a perfectly alright business,” he said. “These are all lies, lies, lies,” (Referring to RDA consultant Art Rangel’s description of the business as having many blighted conditions.)
The last site the RDA considered for acquisition was the 2435–2461 Gardena Avenue property, which is owned by an elderly widow named Mrs. Sullivan. She did not attend the meeting, but three men representing her did. They were attorney John McClendon, real estate developer Andy Sehremelis, and attorney Douglas Evertz.
The three men basically told the RDA board that the legal justification for condemning the Sullivan property was flawed and could easily be overthrown in court. “You shouldn’t condemn property simply because your condemnation authority expires in two weeks,” Evertz said. “You have not dealt with Mrs. Sullivan in good faith.”
City Attorney Dave Aleshire countered that Sullivan had had the property listed for sale for just under $2 million and until recently had not expressed an interest to develop it herself.
Aleshire noted that even though the seven properties had been condemned, RDA staff would continue to negotiate with owners for a price. He added that staff would make every effort to relocate businesses on those properties within Signal Hill or as close to the city as possible.
The next meeting of the City Council is scheduled for 7pm on Tuesday, Nov. 16 in the Council Chamber of Signal Hill City Hall.