Despite a new, scaled-down look, the county plan to permit commercial development in Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park has elicited little new support from residents of the communities nearest the 1,976-acre park, according to city officials and civic leaders.
In fact, as the deadline nears for public comment on the county's revised version of the plan, opposition may be hardening. "I think the opposition is really fixed now," said Curt Morris, a city councilman from San Dimas, within whose boundaries the county park lies. "People have their heels dug in on this."
Comments on the environmental impact report for the plan--which would allow private developers to build a lodge-and-chalet complex, a restaurant and an equestrian center in the park--must be submitted by Tuesday to be included in a final report that will ultimately be submitted to the County Board of Supervisors.
County officials say the board could act on the plan before the end of the year. Because the plan has been endorsed by Supervisor Pete Schabarum, who represents much of the San Gabriel Valley, the likelihood of its being rejected is slim, officials said.
Schabarum gave his support to the development plan in July after county parks officials bowed to public pressure by eliminating proposals for an amphitheater, an aerial tramway and retailing "villages."
An aide to the supervisor said Schabarum is still adamant in his support for the plan, which, county officials say, would ultimately bring in about $500,000 a year in new revenue to the county. Officials say Bonelli Park now costs the county $2.4 million a year to maintain while bringing in just $1.1 million.
"There may be some minor concessions at most," said Schabarum aide Ray Andersen. "Pete feels he's done everything he said he would. He's heard out the city councils, held additional hearings and met with local communities. Pete thinks he's made all the movement. He's looking to those cities to meet him halfway."
'Comfortable With Plan'
But Schabarum is prepared to push the plan through with or without the support of the cities most affected by the development plan, Andersen said. "If there are additional suggestions, he'll listen to them. If not, he'll go ahead and support it. He's comfortable with the plan."
At a tumultuous meeting two weeks ago, the San Dimas City Council once more formally declared its opposition to development of the park. More than 400 people attended the meeting, the vast majority against the plan.
"When 500 people stood up and said, 'We don't like it,' naturally the council took a stand against it," said Mayor Donald Haefer. However, a number of people spoke in favor of the equestrian center because private facilities in the area have closed recently.
The reaction was much the same last week at a public meeting in Claremont when county officials sought to argue for the development plan. More than 100 opponents showed up.
The San Dimas council directed City Atty. J. Kenneth Brown to determine what legal recourse the city has. Brown will report to the council on legal strategy at its next meeting Tuesday. He will make the presentation behind closed doors, which is permitted under Brown Act provisions that require open meetings by legislative bodies except in matters of collective bargaining or potential litigation.
Brown said he does not know what he will advise. But City Manager Robert Poff said that if the city chooses to take the matter to court, it could be entering precedent-setting legal territory. "It's a very gray area," Poff said. "It's not a matter where the city attorney can cite this case and that case. We just don't know."
Some council members have expressed apprehension about initiating a major lawsuit. "My own personal opinion is that litigation can be awfully expensive," said Morris. "We have to be really convinced that it would be in the best interests of all the people of San Dimas to be involved in a lawsuit."
Denis Bertone, co-chairman of the Coalition to Preserve Bonelli Park, a citizens group that has spearheaded the opposition, said Brown's report to the San Dimas council could be "the most significant words" in his group's campaign. Bertone maintains that because Bonelli Park is within San Dimas city limits, the city has a right to control proprietary development there.
If the city chooses not to pursue the issue in the courts, public interest groups could be persuaded to do so, Bertone said. He is an official in the Sierra Club.
In related developments, the Diamond Bar Municipal Advisory Council voted last week to oppose the plan. The city councils of La Verne and Claremont are both scheduled to discuss the issue Tuesday.
Andersen said it will take county staff three weeks to a month to incorporate all the responses to the revised plan into a final report. "We're probably looking at three months down the line before it (the plan) is an approved item," he said.