About 1,000 industrial and warehouse jobs would return to downtown Los Angeles if a project proposed next to Chinatown moves forward. However, environmentalists and some neighborhood advocates are fighting the project because they say the area already has enough warehouses. Developer Ed Roski Jr., who recently helped bring the Staples Center to downtown, proposes building a $60 million, 950,000-square-foot warehouse and industrial center called River Station. Roski's firm, Majestic Realty, wants to build the 32-acre warehouse and industrial center on a polluted former rail yard known locally as the Cornfield. Majestic is counting on a $1.2 million economic development incentive grant from the city, which would help pay for soil and groundwater cleanup. The grant is a pass-through of federal Housing and Urban Development funds earmarked for brownfields reuse. Majestic also has applied for a $10.5 million brownfields loan from HUD. However, Friends of the Los Angeles River (FOLAR), the Environmental Defense Fund and some Chinatown groups are lobbying against the brownfields funding. They argue that Chinatown has more pressing needs than new industry. "You basically have a community, the Chinatown community, that has no park and no school, and you have a proposal on that 32 acres of land that could provide those amenities," said Jan Chatten-Brown, attorney for FOLAR. "It doesn't seem like good planning and it seems like a disparate impact on a community of color." City leaders, however, want the property to become an economic asset. The Cornfield (so named because kernels used to blow in from the nearby Capitol Milling plant and sprout on the site) lies within empowerment and enterprise zones, meaning businesses that locate there would be eligible for tax breaks. The Cornfield is zoned for industry, and the adopted Central City North Community Plan also calls for industrial use, said Hadar Plafkin, a city planner. City officials and Majestic representatives note that the area near the Cornfield has remained economically depressed even as nearby areas flourished during the late 1990s. This is partly because distribution and supply companies have moved from downtown to East Los Angeles and the suburbs, said John Hunter, Majestic vice president. "The city of Los Angeles needs manufacturing jobs, particularly in this area," he said. The Majestic proposal would clean up a contaminated rail yard that has become a dumping site, create jobs and provide tax revenue to the city, Hunter argued. But attorneys for project opponents appear to be laying the groundwork for future lawsuits. They contend that the proposed mitigated negative declaration does not adequately address a number of issues and that an environmental impact report should be prepared. State Senator Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles) also has requested an EIR that provides "a complete and thorough assessment of the presence of hazardous materials" and addresses potential aesthetic impacts on surrounding communities. Furthermore, the National Park Service has asked for an EIR because of the project could physically block the planned Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail and harm 18th Century historic sites. But Plafkin, the city planner, said background material for the mitigated negative declaration is already the size of a small EIR and further study is unnecessary. Majestic's Hunter agreed. "An EIR would reveal no new information regarding the property, it would only slow us down," Hunter said. Opponents also are working to incorporate Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act into the planning process for the first time in Los Angeles. Robert Garcia, senior attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund, said that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act mandates that the city's land-use planning processes and HUD's method of awarding money must consider a development's impact on people of color. Whether or not the city allows Majestic to build River Station, the trend of redeveloping old industrial sites in the Los Angeles area appears to be strong. "You are seeing a lot of old, single-use industrial sites being cleaned up and reused as new industrial sites," said Larry Kosmont, a Southern California real estate consultant. "They are well-located in urban areas where large pieces of property are difficult to put together." Elsewhere in Los Angeles, a closed General Motors factory is being redeveloped as a 100-acre industrial project, and a former Hughes missile plant is returning as a 70-acre technology and business park, Kosmont said. More projects are on the way because the demand for industrial space is strong and vacancy rates remain low, he said. Plus, companies are looking for more modern facilities than are commonly found in industrial centers in cities such as Los Angeles, Vernon and Commerce, he said. However, because the old industrial sites typically are contaminated and have serious traffic constraints posed by deteriorating, narrow streets, government subsidies are necessary to make reuse possible, Kosmont said. In many instances, environmental groups are happy to see federal brownfields funding clean up industrial pollution. But, with regard to the Cornfield, green organizations argue that the federal government should not subsidize Roski's industrial project. Instead, FOLAR has advanced a plan that calls for schools, parks and neighborhood commercial uses. The city's zoning administrator is likely to make a decision on the level of environmental review and the project's merits early in 2000. The only entitlement Majestic has requested is a variance to eliminate 15-foot setbacks, said Plafkin.