Angered by a homeowner group's opposition to light-rail service in the San Fernando Valley, leaders of the Woodland Hills Chamber of Commerce have urged businessmen to join the residents' association "to be sure they accurately reflect our goals."
Chamber President Raymond L. Extract said, "It's not a matter of infiltrating--it's a matter of speaking up for our interests.
"We're trying to balance ambiance with reality. 'No growth' isn't the answer. Responsible growth is what we're all after," Extract said.
Chamber officials are distributing membership applications for the Woodland Hills Homeowners Organization to about 800 members of the business group and asking that they become dues-paying members.
Extract said every chamber director who lives in Woodland Hills has already pledged to join the homeowner group, which last month helped persuade the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission to suspend planning for a Valley light-rail commuter line.
According to Extract, leaders of the homeowner group "purport to speak for all of us who own homes in Woodland Hills," but do not reflect the viewpoint of most residents on the light-rail issue.
"They have been critics of business in this community and were at the forefront of the efforts to stop the environmental review process. . . . If this group wants to speak for (us) homeowners, then it is up to us to be sure they accurately reflect our goals. We must have your help."
Caught by Surprise
The chamber's strategy caught Woodland Hills Homeowners Organization leaders by surprise. Members of the residents' group immediately vowed to resist any takeover attempt by the chamber.
"I'm appalled," organization treasurer Ann Fuhrman said of the chamber's move. "I think this is all politically motivated. It's an undermining thing, that's totally clear."
"I think we pretty much represent a consensus of the way homeowners feel" about light rail, said Gordon Murley, the group's president. He said about 500 households belong to his 3-year-old organization, with members in virtually every corner of Woodland Hills.
He said his group opposed light rail because it believes that the five routes proposed for the Valley were poorly planned. "We said, 'Give us a good design, one that will serve the public well.' We're still waiting," Murley said.
Fees to Be Returned
According to Murley, his group will return $20 membership fees to chamber members who are not Woodland Hills homeowners. He said the organization could change its bylaws, if necessary, to prevent a takeover by chamber members.
Extract said chamber members who join the homeowner group will do so as individuals, not as representatives of the chamber.
Fuhrman said that, as of Wednesday, there had been no spurt in membership requests.