GLENDORA — Voters will go to the polls Tuesday in a special election to decide whether the maximum height of homes built on larger lots in Glendora's foothills should be 25 or 30 feet.
But some in this bedroom community of 44,000 view the vote as more of a plebiscite on Glendora's slow-growth movement than a controversy over the height of hillside houses.
The five-foot difference has become a chasm dividing the community into two hostile factions, one urging residents to "save our foothills," the other proclaiming the sanctity of homeowners' property rights.
"As long as I've been in the community--and I've lived here 25 years--this is the first time I've seen this community choose up sides," Mayor Lois Shade said.
At issue is Ordinance 1530, passed by the City Council, which would have raised the height standard for hillside homes on lots larger than a third of an acre from 25 to 30 feet. The ordinance, which would have permitted homes as high as 35 feet under special circumstances, was placed on the ballot after more than 3,000 residents signed petitions seeking a referendum.
Proponents of the ordinance, which passed by a 3-2 vote, said the 25-foot limit was out of touch with modern architectural styles. While low-slung ranch homes were the norm when the previous ordinance was passed in the 1970s, builders argued, home buyers nowadays want Tudor-style houses with steep-pitched roofs.
The new ordinance was vehemently opposed by members of Glendora Pride, a slow-growth group formed last year to protest the city's hillside development policies.
Although dismissed at first by many in the city establishment as a fringe group, Glendora Pride has demonstrated an ability to marshal its forces with surprising results. In the group's first campaign last April, Glendora Pride member David S. Bodley was elected to the City Council, defeating John Gordon, a former mayor and Chamber of Commerce president.
In August, the group gathered more than 3,000 signatures opposing the housing height ordinance in 18 days, forcing the City Council to either repeal the measure or put it before the voters as a referendum. Glendora Pride leaders say the group represents a groundswell of sentiment from residents who don't want the city's hillsides disfigured by large homes.
"The majority of people I've spoken to are not in favor of the ordinance," Bodley said. "When you put that kind of added height on homes in the foothills, I believe the vistas one sees from the city are not the same." Opposing Pride on the issue is the council majority and a recently formed group called Glendora's Future, which has enlisted the help of the city's five living former mayors in support of the ordinance.
Proponents of the ordinance acknowledge that community sentiment seems to be running in favor of Pride's position, which they attribute to "deceptive" campaigning by the group, such as its "save the foothills" slogan.
"The Pride group has done a good job on its campaign of misrepresentation," said former Mayor Guy Williams. "That's basically how they were able to get 3,000 signatures."
Passage of the ordinance, proponents said, would provide a consistent standard for hillside housing heights, while its defeat would not prevent or reduce development in the foothills. They are banking on a last-minute swing in favor of the ordinance.
"I absolutely am convinced now that the people are seeing that the opponents of this thing have been misleading them, that it's not a 'save-the-foothills' issue," Councilman Bob Kuhn said.
Pride member Darlene Avina said the group has not distorted the issue. "Seeing how the only land that's left to build on is in the foothills, (the ordinance) affects the foothills," she said.
However, some Glendora Pride opponents have questioned whether the group might have hidden motives.
Win Council Seats
"They don't give a damn if we have 25-foot or 30-foot houses on the hills," said Chris Lyman, a member of Glendora's Future. "They just want an issue to get before the people and win some seats on the City Council next spring." Kuhn said he was told by a founding member of the group that "Pride needs to beat the City Council on something to prove their legitimacy in this town."
However, Avina said the group's aim is not to wield political clout but to speak for Glendora residents who have been ignored by the city government.
"If this is defeated, I think it would be a victory for Glendora Pride, but more than that, a victory for the people," Avina said. "I think people live in this town because they like it the way it is and they want to preserve it."