In what some residents had described as a classic confrontation between property rights and the right to preserve Azusa's quality of life, voters have turned down a plan to build apartments, homes and light industry on the Azusa Greens Country Club.
Voters defeated two initiatives in a special election Tuesday. One would have rezoned the Azusa Greens golf course to permit development, and the other would have authorized a $26-million bond issue so that the city could buy the property and maintain it as a golf course.
The zone change measure was defeated by a vote of 1,803 to 1,518, and the bond initiative by a vote of 2,580 to 635.
Hoots of Victory
At the Civic Auditorium, where the ballots were counted Tuesday evening, members of the Citizens Committee to Save Azusa Greens, the prime opposition group, punched the air and hooted victoriously when reports from the precincts around the golf course came in.
"It all comes down to the fact that hundreds of volunteers went out and worked," said Howard Kennedy, president of the group. "They weren't paid for what they did, but they had the facts and the truth." The organization had made an issue of the fact that proponents outspent the opposition by $103,000 to $3,000.
Owner Backed Initiatives
Of the city's 13,426 registered voters, 3,396, or more than 25%, turned out. City Clerk Adolph Solis said it was a "surprising" number for a special election, equivalent to the usual turnout for the city's regularly scheduled elections for public office.
The two initiatives were brought to the voters by Johnny E. Johnson, a Santa Fe Springs real estate investor who built the golf course 22 years ago and who is its present owner. Johnson, using a Los Angeles-based political consulting firm to run his campaign, collected 3,500 signatures last spring on each of two petitions, enough to force the special election.
Contacted late Tuesday at the country club, a somber Johnson said he was not certain how he would proceed. "I'll live up to my contract," said Johnson, who maintains that the golf course was built only as a buffer between the Owl Rock Quarry and residential neighborhoods. The quarry, on the northern and western edges of the golf course, is scheduled to cease operations in two years.
"When the rock plant closes, I'll decide what to do," Johnson said.
3 Opposition Precincts
A "yes" on Proposition A would have authorized a zone change permitting developers to replace the 111-acre golf course with 457 single-family homes, 707 apartments and about eight acres of light industries and offices.
The "no" vote carried only three of the city's 12 precincts. But in those three, all in the northern part of the city near the golf course, the majorities were substantial enough to outweigh mild approval in the other nine.
In all three precincts where the opposition was strongest, more than one-third of the voters turned out, whereas the turnout in other precincts was as low as 13%.
"In the final analysis, the people around the golf course got the vote out," said Solis.
Proposition B, the bond authorization measure, was badly defeated in all 12 precincts.
The measures were brought to the voters when, after two years of debate on the development plan, the city attorney held that four of of five council members were ineligible to vote on it because they own property within 2,000 feet of the golf course. The City Council then invited both sides to take the matter to the voters through the initiative process.
Another Ballot Measure
Somewhat clouding the issue is another golf course zoning measure that will be on the ballot next April. The measure, backed by opponents of Johnson's development plans, would prohibit the use of the golf course for anything but recreational purposes.
Political consultant Lynn Wessell, who ran Johnson's campaign, said his organization would be active in the spring election. But he conceded that even a defeat of the April ballot measure, which would be a victory for Johnson, would not provide the authorization necessary to proceed with development of the golf course.
"We'd be in the same spot we were in before there was an election," Wessell said.
In discussing his group's victory, Kennedy said pro-development forces had circulated "a tremendous amount of propaganda" in areas of town away from the golf course. "We couldn't spend the amount of money that they did," he said.
Others said the main reason Johnson's initiatives were defeated was the threatened loss of green space in the city. "Only 3 1/2% of Azusa is recreational space, and half of that is the golf course," said Beth Anne Phipps, a member of Kennedy's group. "So much of California is being developed now. Once the green goes away, it isn't coming back."
Johnson, claiming that the golf course is not profitable, has threatened to "walk away" from the property, leaving a weed-choked empty space in the middle of the city. "I have to sit back and analyze what I'm going to do," Johnson said.