IRWINDALE — City Manager Charles Martin will ask the City Council to withdraw its offer to redevelop an area in neighboring Azusa, citing protests from Azusa's mayor that the joint venture amounts to a sophisticated land grab by Irwindale.
In a Feb. 5 letter to Azusa officials, Martin said he was disappointed that the proposal had become a "political football" and that he would ask the Irwindale council at its Feb. 26 meeting to rescind its offer to develop a portion of Azusa bordering Irwindale.
The council is expected to approve Martin's request, thereby ending the controversial proposal that has engulfed elected officials in both cities for the past two weeks.
Azusa Mayor Eugene Moses, who led the attack against the plan, welcomed the news.
"I'm very much elated. It really eases my mind," he said. "When you talk about giving away one square mile of Azusa, you're talking about consequences for the future of our children."
But two Azusa councilmen, who saw the Irwindale proposal as a first step in a lengthy negotiation process, said the pullout represented a potential loss of millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs for Azusa.
Irwindale had offered Azusa the prospect of an $8-million hotel and up to $70 million in redevelopment financing if Azusa would give the Irwindale Community Redevelopment Agency control over 102 acres of the city.
Prospect of 100 Jobs
The hotel alone could have brought the city $300,000 a year in room taxes and more than 100 jobs, Irwindale and Azusa officials estimate.
"It's nothing but barren land, rocks and sagebrush," Azusa Councilman Bruce Latta said. "The initial proposal wasn't perfect, but if we could have sat down and worked it out, it would have meant new jobs and tax revenues and prestige for this city."
"There's no way to win when you've got a madman in the middle," Councilman James Cook said. Moses, he said, "completely misrepresented the facts of the proposal to the community. He was very irresponsible."
For the past year, Irwindale and Azusa officials informally have discussed redeveloping an area of Azusa along Irwindale Avenue that often is mistaken for Irwindale, an area that Irwindale sees as an eyesore sullying its community image.
In addition, the two cities have talked about developing vacant land along their border that encompasses a large gravel pit.
On the Irwindale side of the pit, a restaurant is being built. Fred Lyte, Irwindale's redevelopment consultant, had hoped to turn the pit into a lake and attract a large hotel to the Azusa side.
Proposal Last Month
Because such a plan would require a joint venture between the two cities, Irwindale and Azusa officials began more formal discussions last month that led to the proposal by Irwindale.
"It was probably one of the most generous offers made by one community to another," Lyte said. "We were willing to put up all the money, do all the work and then split the resulting tax benefits with them. I even offered to give my $168,000 consulting fee to the Boy Scouts and the Little League."
But Moses, contending that he was not informed of the negotiations, argued that relinquishing control of a portion of Azusa was too high a price to pay.
At a Feb. 2 council meeting, Moses personally attacked Latta for pushing the the agreement and Cook for saying that the idea merited further study.
"What can be the motive of the Azusa officials who were elected and took an oath to serve the interests of Azusa?" he asked in a prepared statement at the council meeting.
"In what ways can redevelopment by Irwindale help these Azusa councilmen? I don't know," Moses said. "But I will ask the county district attorney and the state attorney general's office to assist me in getting to the bottom of these questions."
Latta and Cook said in interviews that they resented the implication that they would profit personally from the deal.
"His whole speech was filled with false and misleading statements," Latta said. "He went around town yelling, 'The sky is falling,' and unfortunately some people who never saw the actual proposal listened."
"It was just a political ploy on his part," said Cook, who has announced that he will run for mayor next year. "I wanted to submit a counterproposal but we never got to that point because of his tirade."
As a last-ditch effort, Latta said, he has placed on the council's Monday agenda a motion to adopt the hotel portion of the proposal and to direct city staff to continue studying other aspects of the plan.
"We don't have any money to do redevelopment ourselves. This is a golden opportunity and we can't let it pass."
But Lyte said he was unsure if Irwindale could deal with Azusa as long as Moses is mayor.
"The man's crazy," Lyte said.
Responded Moses: "I won't get involved in any mud slinging with Fred Lyte. I'm interested in business and business alone for our city. Not name-calling."