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“You have a Costa Mesa group that doesn’t even live in the area developing the area,” says Alamillo. “Were there any studies done within the community to see what the community wanted? Are they doing what the community wants?”
As a symbol for a recovering trash-choked waterway, it’s hard to think of anything worse than what Prism has planned, short of paving over the creek entirely. But Lim doubts the developer will budge for something perceived to be so incidental to economic development as ecological and aesthetic values. “The development has received all of its entitlements,” Lim told me over the phone, in a dispassionate tone that indicated the matter was not up for discussion. “There were no comments from anybody prior to those entitlements about how [the mall] should be designed, so at this point there isn’t any obligation on the developer’s part or the city’s to modify those plans, especially as it impacts the economic feasibility of the project.
“I’m not sure,” he continued, “why the task force wasn’t more involved in that development back when it could have been reviewed. That’s when they should have done something about it.”
Prism and Compton have already been stymied by a lawsuit that the casino company Pinnacle Entertainment has brought against the developer over access rights to the property. “They’ve had good discussions with potential tenants,” says Lim, “but they can’t even sign any agreements until that lawsuit is resolved.”
Lim claims the developer sat down with the task force. But McCarthy insists that’s not true, and that she had no knowledge of the project until about six months ago, when she found out about it in the course of planning Heal the Bay’s Urban Watershed Summit last February. “We used to [talk] about how this site would make a fabulous park, the way the lot is empty and near the creek, and the wildflowers come up in the spring — it’s so beautiful. So we looked into what was happening with the site, because we thought it could be a poster child for rehabilitation. That’s when we found out it was a done deal. The city basically said ‘Don’t bother. You’re too late.’ ” Part of the problem: “The city sees us as a group of people working on a bike path,” McCarthy said at the task-force meeting. “It would be good if, in the future, they could see us as a group of people working on a creek.”
Eric Eklund, who oversees the project at Prism Realty, at first refused to take my calls. One morning, when I managed to catch him picking up the phone, he sounded upbeat and friendly and promised to call me back. He didn't — at least not that day, or even that week. At the last minute, he called to confirm a few facts, but declined to comment further.
Without a big-box retailer within four miles of the Gateway Towne Center site, and with the Blue Line and several freeways nearby, Lim and other Compton officials hope the mall will keep local residents from driving up to Culver City or down to Long Beach to do their big-box shopping, and also attract shoppers from Gardena, Carson and Lynwood to the “commercial power center,” which will include in its half a million square feet more than one big-box retailer — Lim hopes for a Target or Costco — several restaurants and 220 residential units (whether that’s affordable or market-rate housing has yet to be determined). Lim estimates that the complex could add up to a quarter of a million dollars every year to the city’s coffers. For the first time in the 12 and a half years he’s worked for the city, investment is finding its way to the city.
“Private development has stayed away from Compton for so long,” he says. “But now developers are starting to realize that they’re going to get a lot more for their dollar here than in other places. Our land values are the most reasonable in all of L.A. County.”
Isadore Hall, the councilman for Compton’s 4th District, which includes the casino, the abandoned auto-plaza site and the stretch of creek between them, says there’s another reason for Compton’s turnaround: “We have made it very clear that we will be business-friendly as a council,” he told me over the phone. “We have made it very clear that we will not stand for corruption in our city anymore. Businesses like that. They will come to a community where the council is not combative, but friendly and harmonious.”
Hall describes the Gateway Towne Center as “one of the prized projects in the city. I’m blessed to have it in my district. The tax-revenue dollars are going to be tremendous because we’ll be able to attract people along several transportation corridors from the 91, 110 and 105 freeways, as well as the Metro Blue Line.” He had not yet heard the specific complaints about the mall design ignoring the creek, but when I explained it to him, Hall — who also sits on the board of the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council — insisted it was still possible to persuade Prism to alter its design. I told him Lim had not sounded so optimistic.