As a special election that could decide the future of the Azusa Greens Country Club approaches, the public debate is getting hotter, with both sides accusing each other of spreading lies and deceptions.
"No question about it, they've brought in the sharks," said Howard Kennedy, president of Citizens Committee to Save Azusa Greens, who claims that proponents of a measure to rezone the golf course are using a "paid political machine" to try to win votes.
"Now they're using scare tactics," asserted Toni Wessell, a spokeswoman for supporters of the measure, referring to an opposition flyer that predicts dire consequences from development of the golf course.
Residents will vote Tuesday on two measures: the long-debated proposal to rezone the 111-acre golf course, which provides much of northern Azusa with a greenbelt winding through residential neighborhoods, and a second measure that would commit the city to buying the property for $26 million.
Supporters of the rezoning measure, which would permit construction of apartments, houses and light industries in place of the golf course, say the opposition has been circulating "absolutely erroneous" flyers that misrepresent the issues. Opponents charge that those promoting an affirmative vote have used dirty tricks to get their message across.
"A lot of false claims have been made," one city official said this week. "In any emotional issue like this, you'll have that."
One set of flyers, claiming that the Azusa Greens development would require building a sewage treatment plant, a reservoir and three schools at city expense, has been declared illegal by the city. Police have been told to prevent further distribution of these flyers--the same ones Wessell objected to. Aside from being erroneous, the flyers were not issued by an identifiable organization, City Clerk Adolph Solis said.
A yes vote on Proposition A would allow real estate investor Johnny E. Johnson to sell the property to developers who would build 457 single-family homes, 707 apartments and about eight acres of light industries and offices.
A yes vote on Proposition B would commit the city to holding a another election in which voters would be asked to decide whether the city should issue bonds to buy the course.
The two ballot measures will be followed in April by a measure sponsored by opponents of development, asking voters to prohibit the sale of the golf course.
Everything about the golf course issue is unusual, including the circumstances that led to its placement on the ballot. The city attorney ruled that four out of five city councilmen could not vote on the issue because they owned property within 2,000 feet of the course. So the council itself suggested a kind of shootout at the polls.
Azusa is one of several San Gabriel Valley cities that have been swept by initiative fever this election season. The City of San Gabriel will vote in December on a one-year moratorium on construction of multiunit housing. Citizens groups either are circulating petitions or have announced plans to do so on other ballot measures in South Pasadena, Pasadena, Bonita and Baldwin Park.
The Azusa debate has focused on what long-range effects the proosed development, dubbed the Sierra Mesa Development Project, will have on the city, which is in the midst of a building boom.
Johnson, a Santa Fe Springs entrepreneur who built the golf course 22 years ago, says the project will do only good for the city.
He promises a quality project. "This isn't substandard housing that's going in here," he said. "They'll be security-gated apartments and homes with tile roofs and stucco fronts." He said developers even plan capital improvements for the city, such as new sewer lines and a new reservoir.
But opponents contend that the development will add significantly to overcrowding in the city, overburdening city services and ultimately costing the city money for new school facilities and additional police.
The schools serving the Sierra Mesa project area are already near capacity, Kennedy said. If the estimated 271 children that would be brought into the school system require a new school, he said, it would cost the city about $4.5 million.
"The owners of the property say there would be $1.3 million for the schools from the developers in fees," Kennedy said. "That wouldn't even pay for operating expenses."
He added that the project would increase traffic at some intersections by more than 25% at a time when other new developments in Azusa are already clogging the streets.
City planners, who have maintained neutrality on the ballot measures, confirm that about 900 housing units are either under construction or about to be built at various sites in Azusa, as well as four light industrial projects, two shopping centers and the 140,000-square-foot Aerojet Electro Systems office facility.