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Azusa Voters to Decide Status of Elective Mayor : Council Acts Amid Friction With Moses; Country Club May Also Be on Ballot

December 28, 1986|MIKE WARD | Times Staff Writer

AZUSA — Angered by what some members consider the outrageous behavior of Mayor Eugene Moses, the City Council has decided to let voters determine whether the city should continue to have an elected mayor.

Another controversial issue--whether the Azusa Greens Country Club should be replaced with homes, apartments and an industrial park--may also be on the ballot.

The City Council has directed City Clerk Adolph Solis and City Atty. Peter Thorson to report at the Jan. 5 council meeting on steps the council could take to place both issues before voters.

Solis said the city could combine the vote with local school board elections in November or could hold a special election earlier. A special election would cost the city $13,000 to $16,000, he said.

Councilman Bruce Latta has urged the city to ask voters to end the direct election of the mayor and to rotate the position among council members, in hopes of reducing friction in city government.

Political Conflict

Latta said that Azusa has experienced continuous political fighting between the mayor and his rivals on the council because of the frequency of mayoral elections and the fact that contenders almost always come from the council.

Latta and Councilman Lucio Cruz have run against Mayor Moses in past elections and Councilman James Cook has already announced that he will run against Moses for mayor in 1988.

Azusa voters in 1974, by an overwhelming 4-1 margin, adopted a system of electing the mayor directly every two years while continuing to elect four council members to four-year terms. Previously, voters elected five council members to four-year terms and the councilmen rotated the position of mayor among themselves.

Latta said the direct election of the mayor has led to so much bickering that voters may be willing to change it.

Latta and other council members have accused Moses of disrupting staff work at City Hall, acting on matters without full authority and spreading misinformation.

The council on Dec. 1 adopted a resolution that curbed the mayor's authority to direct the city staff, bestow awards and make commission appointments.

The resolution declared the council's intention to seek a vote on the mayoral issue, and council members on Dec. 15 reiterated their desire for an election without specifying when it might be held.

Golf Course Controversy

The other issue that could appear on the ballot would settle a controversy over a plan to develop the Azusa Greens golf course for housing and industry.

Johnny E. Johnson, owner of the golf course, has proposed constructing 655 single-family homes and 701 apartment units, plus a 20-acre industrial park. The plan requires approval of zone changes by the council.

Johnson has proposed two ballot measures. One would rezone the property. The other would give voters the alternative of creating a $26-million bond issue to enable the city to buy his land.

Meanwhile, the Action Committee to Save Azusa Greens, which is trying to defeat Johnson's project and preserve the golf course, has prepared its own initiative, which would retain the current zoning.

Charles Wilkes, committee president, ridiculed Johnson's suggestion of a $26-million bond issue, saying the figure apparently is loosely based on an appraisal of the property that suggests it would be worth $19 million if rezoned.

Dispute Over Value

However, Wilkes said, the property is worth at most $3 million as a golf course and added that any relevant appraisal should be based on the property's current zoning and use.

"You can't separate the land from the fact that it is a golf course," Wilkes said.

Johnson responded that if he ever offered to sell the property for $3 million, "We'd have 9,000 people waiting in line to buy it."

The $19-million appraisal was made by Landauer Associates of Santa Ana, a firm hired by Johnson. The appraisal is based on the market value of the land after rezoning and includes the 106 acres of the golf course, plus nine adjoining acres on which Johnson holds an option to buy.

Mayor Moses said that submitting the rezoning issue to voters would get around the conflicts of interest that face four of the five council members regarding the golf course property.

No Avoiding Conflict

Both Moses and Councilmen Cruz own property near the golf course and Cook and Latta have been told by the state Fair Political Practices Commission that they may have a conflict based on holdings near the course that they recently sold or transferred. Only Councilwoman Jennie Avila has no potential conflict.

But Christopher Sutton, attorney for the Action Committee to Save Azusa Greens, said that the council cannot avoid the conflicts by putting Johnson's proposals on the ballot.

He contended that Johnson has suggested a $26-million bond issue because he knows voters would reject it, and that by discrediting the idea of the city buying the course, Johnson hopes to build support for his development project.

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