Developers who propose to build a hotel and restaurant complex on the site of the former Edwards Drive-In Theater have filed suit to challenge the validity of a scheduled referendum vote that could block the project.
The Shyu Co. of Monterey Park filed papers last week in Los Angeles Superior Court seeking an order prohibiting the San Gabriel City Council from proceeding with the referendum. The development company claims that a vote to negate a City Council zoning change permitting the project would violate state law by, in effect, imposing zoning that is incompatible with the city's state-mandated general plan.
"We're not saying that people can't vote by referendum," said Winfield D. Wilson, the developers' attorney. "It's just that, in this particular instance, what they'd be doing would be contrary to state law."
Dr. Alethea Hsu, a physical rehabilitation specialist affiliated with San Gabriel Medical Center, is the principal stockholder of the development company, which a representative described as a family partnership.
The council last month scheduled the special referendum election for Sept. 22 after a citizens group petitioned for a citywide vote on the 11.5-acre Valley Boulevard project.
Citizens for Responsible Development, which seeks to restrain growth in San Gabriel, characterized the developers' suit as an attempt to use a technicality to thwart the will of the electorate.
"It's a sad testimonial on the 200th anniversary of the Constitution that developers would try to use the legal system against the will of the people," said Greg O'Sullivan, chairman of the group, which collected about 2,600 signatures in its petition drive to overturn a City Council vote to give developers the go-ahead on the project.
Opponents contend that the hotel complex would flood the already busy intersection of Valley Boulevard and Del Mar Avenue with additional traffic, without providing any significant service for residents.
"We're not objecting to commercial development on the site, but to high-density commercial development," said O'Sullivan, who was named as a party of interest in the suit but is not a defendant. He said the hotel and restaurant complex would bring 12,000 additional vehicle trips a day to the area.
But Wilson said a vote to overturn the City Council's decision would have the effect of returning the hotel site from the "general commercial" zoning designation approved by the council to its previous zoning mixture of single-family and multifamily residential and strip commercial. The city's 1971 general plan designated the site as general commercial.
"State law has required that all cities bring their zoning into conformity with their general plans by 1974 ," Wilson said. "A number of cities have not done this. San Gabriel was one of these."
Wilson said the City Council's May 5 vote in favor of the project had at last brought the drive-in theater's zoning into conformity with the general plan. He said a previous state court ruling had established a precedent for overturning an action that would result in "a clearly invalid zoning scheme."
The City Council action established the site, unused since late last year, not only as general commercial but also as a "planned development zone," said City Administrator Robert Clute. He said that designation gives the city "considerably more leverage" than on other commercial projects. "It's similar to a redevelopment project, with the city retaining control over architecture, size and so forth," Clute said.
O'Sullivan, a San Gabriel fireman, said he may represent the citizens group in court, where a hearing has been scheduled for July 22. "I feel perfectly comfortable in making our case," he said.
Clute said that if a Superior Court judge declares the referendum process invalid, it is unlikely that the city will appeal. "We're just the medium of this thing, the one conducting the election," he said. "We're responding to a petition to hold the election."