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CAMPAIGN 2000 | LOCAL MEASURES

Efforts to Halt Plans for Wal-Mart, Bixby Ranch Center Fail

Money and city support made the difference, project opponents say. Voters also defeat the bed tax hike in Garden Grove and OK new City Hall in Mission Viejo.

March 09, 2000|ANDREW WAINER and PHIL WILLON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The band of Huntington Beach neighbors who took on Wal-Mart, City Hall and local school bosses raised the white flag Wednesday, a day after voters soundly rejected a local measure to block the mega-discount store.

"That's life in the big city. What are you going to do, fall down and die?" said a beaten Robert Cronk of Crest View United, the group leading the charge against Wal-Mart. "We put up a good fight but we couldn't come up with their advantage in money."

Voters in Seal Beach also nixed a local measure to derail another mammoth retail center, and in Garden Grove voters shot down a proposed hike in occupancy taxes at local hotels and motel. Mission Viejo voters were in a more gracious mood, approving a new City Hall and agreed to let the city enter into a long-term trash-hauling contract.

But it was the Wal-Mart showdown in Huntington Beach that generated the most heat in the months leading up to Tuesday's election.

Measure I, defeated by a 54% to 46% margin, would have nixed the Wal-Mart now destined to consume the corner of Beach Boulevard and Talbert Avenue, including the shuttered Crest View Elementary School.

The measure also would have rezoned the school site as residential, preventing Wal-Mart from building the store.

The hum of approaching bulldozers may be only few weeks away.

"We will begin as fast as humanly possible," said Mayor Dave Garofalo, a strong supporter of new Wal-Mart project.

Garofalo said he expects a ribbon-cutting ceremony in January 2001, and the Arnel Retail Group, which is developing the property, said they would come up with a schedule for the demolition of the school within the next two weeks.

"The demolition permits have been submitted to the city and we are waiting for approval," said Tom Love, an Arnel vice president.

A group of city and school district officials campaigned to defeat Measure I since it was put on the ballot in September 1999. Calling themselves Save Our Schools, Save Our City, the group received almost $400,000 in campaign money from Wal-Mart for their bid to defeat the measure.

Residents of the nearby Crest View neighborhood opposed the Wal-Mart, complaining the retail giant would swamp the area with noise and congestion.

On Wednesday, Crest View United leaders said they had no plans to challenge Tuesday's vote.

"You win some and lose some," Cronk said.

The city and school district say they will receive about $400,000 per year each for the Wal-Mart lease.

"I'm thrilled; sometimes in your career you do something that will affect kids long-term; this is one of those things," said James Tarwater, superintendent of Ocean View School District.

Voters in Garden Grove rejected a proposal on Tuesday to increase the city's tax on hotels and motels from 10% to 13%. City officials were hoping to capitalize on the Disney expansion in Anaheim and the six new hotels in various stages of development at Harbor Boulevard and Chapman Avenue. The revenue would have been used to pay for recent and upcoming salary negotiations with city employees.

"I'm disappointed," Councilman Mark Rosen said. "It's a financial hardship and we're going to have to do some budgeting, working with tight resources."

Former City Councilman Robert Dinsen, who opposed the measure, was pleased with the outcome.

"The [council] has been spending money like mad on additional pay salaries," he said.

In Seal Beach, Measure M was defeated 57.5% to 42.5%, giving the green light to the 286,000-square-foot retail center planned for the Bixby Ranch Co. property on Seal Beach Boulevard and Lampson Avenue.

Preliminary election results from the registrar's office shows that 62% of the voters in the College Park East community, close to the project voted "yes" on the measure. Had the measure passed, the property would have reverted back to recreational/golf zoning.

The "grass-roots campaign" against the center was defeated because of City Council support for the project and a well-funded campaign, say Measure M supporters.

Councilman Shawn Boyd attributes the measure's defeat to the city officials' ability to present the project as "balancing the needs of the city."

"This shows a resounding vote of confidence for our city's actions," Boyd said.

In Mission Viejo, 73% of voters supported building a 47,750-square-foot City Hall on city-owned land at the corner of La Paz Road and Marguerite Parkway for about $57.7 million over the next 50 years.

The vote on Measure K came with just a year and a half left on the city's current lease and followed more than 10 months of cost studies, public opinion surveys and research by a City Hall task force. The vote was an advisory measure and is required by a city ordinance before City Hall can be built.

Mission Viejo voters also approved another ballot measure to allow the city to enter into 10-year waste management contracts. The city requested the issue be placed on the ballot because they believed it would reduce the year-to-year costs of waste collection in the city.

Times Community News staff writers Chris Ceballos, Alex Murashko, Sean Kirwan and Ana Cholo-Tipton contributed to this report.

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