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They Hope 3rd Time Is Charm for Cityhood : Hacienda Heights: After two failed attempts, supporters are resurrecting the bid to turn this diverse community into the county's newest city.

March 07, 1991|IRENE CHANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HACIENDA HEIGHTS — To motorists zipping by on the Pomona Freeway or navigating around the bends of Turnbull Canyon Road, this bedroom community might seem a mishmash of incongruous features.

Single-story California ranch homes sprawl across the base of the Puente Hills. Horse stables dot the countryside, surrounded by picket fences and lush green fields.

Higher up in the hills, custom-built luxury homes--some selling for $1.5 million--command breathtaking views of the San Gabriel Valley.

But spread out in the flats below is a bustling hub of Korean, Chinese and Latino businesses sitting alongside Anglo establishments--a testament to the rapid growth of the area's immigrant populations.

Finally, there are the only two landmarks in town that draw tourists from all over: a 1,531-acre dump and a glistening Buddhist monastery, the largest in the Western Hemisphere.

Hacienda Heights "is difficult to characterize," said Bill Lynch, 60, who owns Kwik Copy Printing on Gale Avenue. "It's just a good place to live and a good place to own property. Just a good place."

But some community leaders believe they can weave all the diverse elements together and make Hacienda Heights more than just a bedroom community. They are resurrecting a long-fought campaign to become Los Angeles County's newest city.

Next week they plan to kick off a voter petition drive for an election on the issue. They also intend to start enlisting volunteers and contributors for the effort.

However, Hacienda Heights has a history of aborted attempts to become a city that might discourage even the most determined proponents of incorporation.

In 1982, just as residents were gearing up for a November cityhood election, opponents of the move discovered that some of the signatures on a petition calling for the vote had been forged. Los Angeles County officials canceled the election.

Then, three years later, another cityhood drive failed when political squabbling erupted among those spearheading the effort.

But now, community leaders say they've learned valuable lessons from their past mistakes, and are determined to succeed this time.

They already have a backer in Los Angeles County Supervisor Deane Dana, whose newly configured 4th District includes most of Hacienda Heights. Dana said this week that he will support the incorporation drive--a clear shift in attitude from former Supervisor Pete Schabarum, who did not favor Hacienda Heights cityhood.

"It looks like an area whose time has come to be a city," Dana said Monday. "I'll assist them in any way I can if they come up with a viable plan. I would even consider letting them use my name on their literature."

Dana's help is important because he holds a seat on the county's seven-member Local Agency Formation Commission, which reviews all cityhood applications. It then recommends to the Board of Supervisors whether to proceed with an election, in which a simple majority would be needed to approve cityhood.

In 1982, LAFCO found there was a large enough tax base in Hacienda Heights to support a city government. The supervisors had set an election date shortly before the signature fraud came to light. This time around, cityhood advocates believe the area is in even better financial shape because of a surge in local business activity.

But community opposition may resurface. Charlie Gray, a member of a group that opposed the first drive to incorporate, said opponents plan to reorganize when the cityhood effort gains momentum.

"We don't need another layer of government," Gray said. "The community runs along smoothly. What services are we missing? We've got wonderful everything."

The pro-cityhood group's reasons for wanting to incorporate are virtually the same as they were nine years ago, and similar to views shared by cityhood proponents in areas from Malibu to the San Fernando Valley.

Cityhood proponents portray the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which governs unincorporated areas, as a political behemoth that takes too much away in taxes--most recently in the form of a new 5% utility tax to fund mental health programs--and doesn't give much back in the way of services directly to the community.

In a city, they say, residents would have more control over a number of issues, including how their tax dollars are spent, the size of homes that may be built, the kind of commercial development allowed and whether to beef up police patrols.

"We need a City Council where the individual citizen can have a one-on-one opportunity to meet with elected officials," said Jim Baker, who is heading a seven-member committee that will run the cityhood campaign. Baker is vice president of the 35-year-old Hacienda Heights Improvement Assn., a residents group.

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