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Slow-Growth Group Leader Goes to Work for Developer

May 26, 1988|EDMUND NEWTON | Times Staff Writer

SAN GABRIEL — You figure it out, says City Councilman Sabino Cici. Citizens for Responsible Development, the slow-growth group that has assumed a dominant role in the political life of the city, got started in 1987 by mounting a high-profile campaign against the proposed development of a hotel-and-restaurant complex on Valley Boulevard.

There were stormy City Council meetings, lawsuits and a campaign for a ballot initiative on the controversial plan for the 11.5-acre Edwards Drive-In Theater site.

That was before last month's election shook things up on the City Council, giving it a distinct slow-growth coloration.

Now, Gary Meredith, co-chairman of Citizens For Responsible Development (CFRD) and one of the most articulate opponents of the hotel-and-restaurant proposal, has announced that he has taken a job as the project's spokesman.

"What do you call that?" says Cici, with an incredulous laugh.

Cici, the only holdover from last year's council, which supported the development, calls the move by Meredith "questionable."

"I think people are puzzled about this," said Cici, whose four colleagues on the current council are CFRD leaders. Three of the councilmen were elected in a clean sweep last month, and the fourth was selected last week to fill a vacancy. "People really don't know what's going on," Cici said.

But Meredith, a marketing and advertising specialist who runs his own business out of his house, calls his new post a victory for the forces of restraint in the city.

"We're getting everything we asked for," Meredith said.

Opponents of the project had asked for community participation in planning the project and had demanded the elimination of a proposed 150-room Ramada Inn. Citizens for Responsible Development had objected especially to the heavy traffic the hotel would have brought to San Gabriel's already clogged streets, as well as to expected strains on city services.

But based on conversations with the owners, Orange County developers George and Roger Chen, both of CFRD's goals are now within reach, Meredith said.

"The owners are very open to the idea of giving up the hotel," Meredith said. "Very open."

He said the owners were also prepared to hold study sessions with residents in replanning the site.

He added that the owners were also prepared to publicly retract charges that Citizens for Responsible Development was waging a campaign of racism against Asian developers.

"They're willing to state publicly that CFRD is not a racially motivated organization but simply interested in the quality of life in its own community," Meredith said.

'Communication' Problem

"Communication is the biggest single problem regarding that property," he said. "I think I can help by being a partial solution to that problem."

With the new orientation of the council, the San Gabriel Commercial Complex, as the project is officially called, faces a troublesome future, city officials say privately. Four of the council members are on record as opposing the hotel, and the project faced a gantlet of hearings and votes before construction can begin.

"After the election, we had to adjust our pursuit in order to get the project going," project manager Alan Lee said.

Lee said a final decision has not been made about the hotel, but the developers want to cooperate with residents. Two study sessions with residents will be held in early June, he said.

However, if the developers decide to make major changes in the plan, such as eliminating the hotel, they may have to begin the entire governmental process over again, City Administrator Robert Clute said.

"The final plan must conform to the provisional plan," he said. "If it doesn't, then it's a whole new ballgame."

The city, which faces a $350,000 deficit next year, also faces the prospect of added delays in the expected revenue from the project.

Meredith insisted, however, that there is more flexibility in city land-use ordinances than Clute suggests. "We have our attorneys working on that," he said. "The ordinance is very ambiguous on that point."

The project has been the subject of intense controversy in San Gabriel since March, 1987, when dissidents jammed a City Council meeting to protest plans for the site. It became a symbol for the rapid pace of development in the city, which protesters said was eroding the quality of their lives.

Ballot Initiative

When the City Council nevertheless voted to approve a zone change, giving developers the right to build a hotel-and-restaurant complex on the last major piece of open land in the city, Citizens for Responsible Development sought to block it with a ballot initiative, which was killed on a technicality.

A subsequent lawsuit eventually prompted the city to order a revised environmental impact report, requiring updated data on the project's effects on traffic and sewage and water service. The city is in the process of responding to comments on the revised document, said City Planner Dennis Mackay.

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