AZUSA — It looks as if Mayor Eugene F. Moses will soon test the adage, "You can't fight City Hall."
The city has begun public nuisance proceedings against Moses over a 2.5-acre Western theme park, which he began building at the mouth of the San Gabriel Canyon in the 1970s, but never completed or opened.
Within two weeks, there is to be an administrative hearing on alleged Municipal Code violations at Canyon City Ghost Town. If the city's hearing officer rules against Moses, the mayor can appeal the matter to the City Council.
In the end, the mayor may have to raze all buildings on the property to comply with the code.
According to city staff, the ghost town lacks required use and building permits, adequate parking and landscaping, and proper storage facilities for materials on the site. It is also in a generally dilapidated state, according to a "notice of violations and request for corrections" sent to Moses in March.
Under the city code, a property owner who does not correct such violations would be guilty of a misdemeanor. To comply, Moses was to have bulldozed the town or to have submitted a new precise plan for the property by last Thursday. Before approving such a plan, the city could require a list of extensive and costly repairs.
To date, no updated plans are on file, and Moses said he has no intention of tearing down the ghost town.
Moses, arguing that the site does not injure the public or the city's image, accused City Council rivals Tony D. Naranjo and Harry L. Stemrich of instigating the action to hurt him politically.
"It appears I've been the target of personal vendettas of two council members because of my political beliefs," Moses said. "It's not fair for them to do what they're doing to me."
Moses said he has received an attorney's advice that his property is a "legal, nonconforming use" approved by the county before the land was annexed by the city in 1974.
City Council Action
Naranjo and Stemrich denied they initiated the action against Moses, saying that in April the entire City Council told city staff to aggressively pursue all such violations in the city.
"We said there would be no exceptions for anybody," Naranjo said. "How do we go out in the community and tell people you have to fix yours up, but we give council members special favors?"
Naranjo noted that the city has recently pursued similar abatement procedures against former Councilman Lucio Cruz and the father of Councilman Bruce Latta, who were forced to tear down buildings deemed public nuisances.
"There are constant complaints about the ghost town," said Stemrich, who noted that the city has forced the demolition of 36 structures deemed public nuisances since last July. "He's no different than anybody else."
Under city procedures, City Administrator Julio J. Fuentes will appoint a senior staff member to act as the hearing officer.
This is not the first time Moses has run afoul of local government.
In late 1987, he fought an unsuccessful battle against the county Fire Department over the removal of weeds from the back yard of his hillside home.
After receiving repeated warnings and a citation for the pace of his cleanup, Moses paid $1,000 for county agricultural workers to perform the work. The citation was eventually revoked.
San Gabriel Canyon Site
Originally intended as a smaller Knott's Berry Farm, Moses' property, at 1755 N. San Gabriel Canyon Road, contains about 16 cabins, stores and shacks arranged to resemble an Old West town. There is also an assemblage of mostly authentic relics salvaged from as far away as Montana, Utah and South Carolina.
Moses has declined to estimate how much the construction has cost him over the years, but has said he did most of the labor himself.
Among the town's relics are a complete blacksmith's shop, a horse-drawn fire wagon and pieces of Western memorabilia. However, at times, there have also been junk cars and scrap piles visible from San Gabriel Canyon Road.
The property was annexed by the city in 1974, about two years after the county gave preliminary approval for the ghost town.
In the mid-1970s, preliminary plans and building permits were approved, but they lapsed when the work wasn't completed on time, according to the violations notice, which was signed by Community Development Director Roy E. Bruckner and Community Improvement Manager David E. Rudisel.
'No Permitted Uses'
"At this point in time there are no permitted uses on the property," the notice said.
Because there are no valid permits, the buildings have been declared abandoned and, by legal definition, unsafe.
Last year, Moses attempted to sell the property, initiating a standard review of city records that is required under city ordinance, Rudisel said. That is when city officials discovered that no permits had been issued, he said.