A Superior Court judge on Wednesday threw out a San Gabriel referendum on a proposal to build a hotel and restaurant complex on the site of the former Edwards Drive-In Theater, clearing the way for the developer to proceed with the project.
Judge Ricardo A. Torres ruled that the referendum, which had been set for Sept. 22, could have created an inconsistency between the zoning of the 11.5-acre site on Valley Boulevard and the city's general plan. Such an inconsistency would be prohibited by state law.
The referendum, initiated by a grass-roots group called Citizens for Responsible Development, which is opposed to building a hotel in San Gabriel, had sought to overturn a City Council-approved zoning change for the site.
Return to Previous Zoning
But Torres said Wednesday that if the measure were overturned by the voters, it would return the drive-in 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.
State law required all cities to bring their zoning into conformity with their general plans by 1974. The council zoning action in May on the drive-in site finally brought the city into conformity. "The effect (of passage of the referendum) would be to create an invalid law per se," Torres said.
A clearly disappointed Greg O'Sullivan, chairman of the citizens group, said leaders and their attorney will meet to discuss the possibility of appeal. But Gerald Knudson, the group's lawyer, said after the hearing, "It would be difficult."
The group has already spent between $5,000 and $6,000 on mailings, flyers and attorney fees. "And there are no sugar daddies giving us money," O'Sullivan said. "The largest single contribution we got was $100."
In a related development, the San Gabriel Chamber of Commerce endorsed the hotel and restaurant project last week even though some of its members have opposed it. The chamber argued that the project would provide a needed source of revenue for the city.
O'Sullivan suggested that the group's efforts to block the planned hotel may shift to the Planning Commission, which must hold a public hearing on the details of the project, sponsored by Shyu Co. of Monterey Park. The company is a family partnership, whose principal stockholder is Alethea Hsu, a physical rehabilitation specialist affiliated with San Gabriel Medical Center.
"We're asking the community to attend any and all meetings of the Planning Commission dealing with the specific plans of the project," O'Sullivan said. His group contends that the hotel would clog the city with traffic--it will attract an additional 12,000 vehicle trips a day, they say--without providing any services to the residents of San Gabriel.
"I assure you there will be much dialogue against the hotel at the Planning Commission," O'Sullivan said.
He said he is gratified that the Planning Commission intends to initiate a study to determine whether changes are needed in the general plan, which serves as a blueprint for future development. "But there are too many horses out of the stall," he said.
'Working With the Community'
Hsu, who was also at the hearing, said, "We still want to continue working with the community. We want to develop a project that everybody will go to." She added that, "if everything goes smoothly," construction could begin sometime next year.
Torres suggested that the problem was the imprecision with which the citizens group had drawn up its petition for a referendum. The petition had sought to overturn the council measure in its entirety, including the provision zoning the drive-in site as general commercial, instead of addressing just the specific hotel and restaurant project.
"The referendum petition was not prepared by sophisticated developers and lawyers," Knudson argued to no avail.
The city, represented at the hearing by City Atty. Graham Ritchie, remained neutral, contributing only an explanation as to how the City Council had carried out its review of the Shyu Co. application.