AZUSA — Because four councilmen may have a conflict of interest, the city is facing an unusual handicap in deciding whether to allow the replacement of its only golf course with a housing development.
Four of the five council members either own or once owned property near the course, raising the question of whether they can vote on a zoning change for the 106-acre Azusa Greens Country Club.
City Administrator Lloyd Wood said the hotly debated plan to build 1,164 single-family homes and apartments, as well as a 19-acre industrial park, has "turned into quite a political football."
The decision-making has become complicated because:
- Mayor Eugene Moses has been told by the state Fair Political Practices Commission that he definitely has a conflict of interest.
- Councilmen James Cook and Bruce Latta have been told by the commission that they may have a conflict even though they recently sold or transferred holdings near the course.
- Councilman Lucio Cruz has decided that he has a conflict and has vowed not to cast a vote on the plan.
The one member who does not have a conflict, Councilwoman Jennie Avila, is not saying how she will vote.
Cook is solidly behind the plan, Latta is a staunch opponent, Cruz is undecided and Moses said he would follow the wishes of the public.
Three of the five council members are required to vote on the zoning change, so at least two of the members who may have a conflict will have to cast ballots on the project, called the Sierra Mesa development.
Commission officials have told City Atty. Peter Thorson that the four council members in question may have to draw straws to determine which two will vote.
"I'll be one of the happier ones when this thing gets resolved, whichever way it gets resolved," Wood said.
No decision is expected until early next year.
No matter who votes, city officials believe the outcome will generate further controversy. Dozens of residents who live near the golf course have voiced their opposition to the project.
"My perception is, no matter what we do we're going to wind up in court," Latta said. "If we reject it, the developer will sue. If we don't, the citizens will."
First Plan Withdrawn
Johnny E. Johnson of Santa Fe Springs, who has owned and operated the golf course for 20 years, proposed the construction of 1,540 homes and condominiums on the golf course and surrounding land in June, 1985.
However, Johnson quickly withdrew that proposal after hundreds of residents complained to city officials and 4,457 people signed a petition opposing the plan.
A year later, Johnson proposed a scaled-down project calling for 457 single-family homes, 707 apartment units and 225,000 square feet of industrial development on 111 acres.
The opposition has not subsided.
"Now the community is up in arms more so than they were before," said Charles Wilkes, president of the Action Committee to Save Azusa Greens, which was formed in 1985 to fight the project.
"And it's not just people around the golf course," Wilkes said. "We're talking about the entire city of Azusa. This golf course is the best thing Azusa has."
Christopher Sutton, an attorney representing the committee, said residents are circulating a petition to get an initiative on the ballot to maintain the area for recreational use if the council approves Johnson's project.
Petition sponsors have six months to collect the necessary 1,300 signatures, 10% of the city's 13,000 registered voters, he said.
"Mr. Johnson has a very long and difficult task to get what he wants out of the city of Azusa," Sutton said.
Sutton said about 60 homeowners claim they paid an additional $2,000 or more for their properties near the golf course and do not want to lose their views. Opponents also contend that the project would exacerbate overcrowding in schools and strain city services.
"I think the golf course is a bigger plus to a city than 1,100 more homes," said Councilman Latta.
After a crowded public hearing last month, the Planning Commission deferred a recommendation on the proposed zoning change until January.
Johnson, however, is determined to proceed.
"My business is to develop land, not to be a golf-course operator," said Johnson, who developed the course on part of a 500-acre parcel he purchased in 1958.
The course originally served as a buffer between homes being built in the area and the Owl Rock Quarry, located on land that Johnson also owns.
"It cannot stay a golf course and it will not stay a golf course," he said, adding that he is not making any money on the course, which draws about 100 golfers each weekday and about 300 each Saturday and Sunday.
Johnson had agreed to keep the golf course open until at least 1988 or as long as the quarry continues to operate. He now contends that the buffer no longer is needed because quarry operations have moved far from the homes. However, city officials said they hope to hold Johnson to the agreement.