SAN GABRIEL — Flushed with victory after voters' landslide endorsement of a one-year moratorium on development, leaders of a citizens group are demanding the resignation of City Atty. Graham Ritchie, who once called the measure "illegal and unconstitutional."
"He's shown arrogance toward the community, particularly with regard to his flip-flopping position, which seemed to add a cloud of confusion to the issue and to defuse whatever momentum the community might have," said Greg O'Sullivan.
O'Sullivan is chairman of Citizens for Responsible Development, which circulated petitions to place the moratorium on the ballot.
The measure was approved in a special election Tuesday by more than a 5-to-1 ratio.
Public debate on the measure focused largely on its legal implications. Opponents, including all five City Council members, contended that it could make the city vulnerable to lawsuits by property owners. Ritchie ultimately changed his mind about the illegality of the moratorium, but he continues to say that it imposes a liability on the city by "taking away all potential use of property" for a year.
In what Ritchie sees as a precedent-setting decision, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled last June that Los Angeles County should compensate a Glendale church for seizing church land as part of a flood protection area. Attorneys for O'Sullivan's group disagree that the San Gabriel moratorium would be affected by the ruling.
"In the unlikely event that the measure is challenged, we have absolutely no confidence in his (Ritchie's) ability to defend the interests of the community," O'Sullivan said.
Ritchie, a stern presence at most council meetings, could not be reached for comment on the demands for his resignation. Mayor Janis Cohen declined to comment.
The demand was part of a flurry of recriminations after the election, which drew 28% of the city's 12,991 voters, about three times the number who voted in last year's council election.
As votes were being tallied in the city clerk's office at City Hall, the council conducted its regularly scheduled meeting. Dissidents in the audience commented acidly about council members' opposition to the moratorium.
During a period when the public was invited to address the council, an emotional Gary Meredith, co-chairman of Citizens for Responsible Development, held up copies of anti-moratorium statements that were mailed to voters several days before the election.
"What I'd like to find out is if any of you had anything to do with this," Meredith said, waving a letter that called his organization "a group of zealots" and warned that the moratorium would cause some important businesses to leave the city.
Meredith claimed that some people who signed the letter, including two local automobile dealers, had subsequently renounced it.
"Most of my neighbors think that the reason you refused to debate us was that you were saving lies and filth like this for the last moment," he said. Council members refused an invitation by the Pasadena chapter of the League of Women Voters to participate in a debate on the ballot measure before the election.
But Councilman Sabino Cici charged that members of Meredith's group had "harassed" the signers of the letter into reversing their positions. "There were gobs of six people or more going to their businesses and threatening pickets. . . . You guys are totally uncontrollable," Cici said.
Meredith charged that Ritchie had been instrumental in "preventing us from getting answers" about legal issues.
"That's a lie," Ritchie shot back.
Councilman Edward Lara said that since Citizens for Responsible Development was formed, there had been "threats, violence and arson." He did not give specifics.
Leaders of Citizens for Responsible Development denied that they had threatened businessmen or council members. The businessmen who were mentioned as victims of harassment could not be reached for comment.
Mayor Cohen adopted a more conciliatory position. "The number of votes is fairly indicative of the way people want to the city to go," she said after the meeting, "so that's the way we'll go. . . . I think it's time to regroup, bury the hatchet and get on with it. I'm tired of all the mudslinging, and I think they (the citizens group) are too."