The most acrimonious initiative battle right now is in Azusa, where opposing groups have sponsored petitions on plans to build housing, offices and factories on the present site of the Azusa Greens Country Club, whose broad fairways separate half a dozen residential complexes in northern Azusa.
On Oct. 6, voters will decide on two initiatives sponsored by the owner of the golf course, Santa Fe Springs real estate investor Johnny E. Johnson, who wants to shut down the golf course. One measure, circulated under the banner of a Johnson-financed citizens committee, ask the voters to approve a zone change, permitting developers to build 725 garden apartments, 450 single-family homes and almost eight acres of new offices and factories. Another Johnson-sponsored measure asks the voters to approve a $26-million bond issue to buy the golf course should the zone change be rejected.
A citizen-initiated ballot measure from the opposition, prohibiting the sale of the golf course, will be voted on in the city's regularly scheduled election in April.
This is one of those emotional quality-of-life battles, pitting community stability against property rights, suggests Howard Kennedy, president of the Citizens Committee to Save Azusa Greens, whose home is on the edge of the golf course's 11th fairway.
'A Small Price'
Living near a golf course has its disadvantages, Kennedy said recently, sitting in his dining nook, with a sweeping view of the golf course out the big picture window. One day last month, he was gazing dreamily out the window, when he noticed a lone golfer off to the left. "He had hooked way out into the trees over there," Kennedy said, "and he was trying to hook back out. He just smacked the ball, and it flew. Quite a shot, really. I sat there and watched it coming. 'Oh, my gosh,' I said. 'It's not moving, it's coming straight at me.' The thing just whistled into the window--\o7 crash--\f7 and there was a golf ball in my sink."
But enduring an occasional broken window is the price you pay when live in a house like his, said the Azusa mortgage banker, laughing appreciatively. "Candidly, it's a small price," he said, gesturing toward the leafy scene, where golfers drifted slowly down the fairway, the gleaming metal handles of their irons catching the afternoon sun as they chopped at the turf.
Opponents of development contend that the golf course's owner built it 22 years ago with a promise that it would stay there forever. Johnson, a spry, sporty-looking man who appears quite at home putting around a golf course, denies that. He's really doing a big favor for most residents of Azusa, he says. All the new development, Johnson contends, will increase a needy city's housing stock, add to the tax base and bring new consumers to the area.
Besides, the golf course is his, and he should be able to do what he wants with it, Johnson says. "They call it 'our land,' " Johnson says of his opponents, with open-mouthed disbelief.
The story is a familiar one--another San Gabriel Valley community in heated debate over a plan to develop a big piece of real estate. The difference is that both sides have attacked the issue on the ballot.
"It's pretty unusual," says Azusa City Clerk Adolph Solis. "You don't do initiatives every week."
But two researchers who have compiled a list of "growth control ballot measures" in California since 1971 say that the trend is building significantly all across the state.
LeRoy Graymer and Madelyn Glickfeld, both from the UCLA Public Policy Program, have counted 152 growth-control ballot initiatives in the state through 1986, with 24 pending this year. About a third of their admittedly incomplete list, based largely on reports from real estate brokers, came in 1986. The trend has been vaguely linear, says Graymer, with a lot of peaks and valleys in petitioning activity in the past 16 years. "But last year was certainly a major blip on the screen," he said.
Graymer attributes the recent flurry of petitioning, largely a phenomenon of Northern California during the 1970s but a statewide one now, to the success of earlier efforts and an upturn in the economy.
"There's more expertise there, more motivation to act on what may mobilize people," he said. "There has also been a substantial amount of building going on since the recession (of the early 1980s), increasing the amount of growth that has occurred. You could speculate that there is, therefore, increased resistance on the part of citizens who are opposed to that."
The past year has indeed been a boom year for petitions. Among other things, San Gabriel Valley voters have turned thumbs down on a 340-unit apartment complex in Claremont, booted the mayor and a city councilman out of office in Baldwin Park, turned back a recall of two city councilmen in Monterey Park, affirmed a controversial plan to remodel the Huntington hotel in Pasadena and repealed a utility tax in Alhambra--all through citizen-initiated petitions.