The problems in La Habra Heights started with llama poop.
The investors weren't impressed and neither were La Habra Heights city officials, who sued the Loughs, saying that their animals and huge, open drums of animal waste at their home were a stinky, unsanitary mess. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge agreed and ordered the Loughs to stop producing Llama Brew.
FOR THE RECORD:
La Habra Heights: An article in the Feb. 2 California section about ongoing disputes between residents and the city of La Habra Heights said that George Edwards has gotten into physical fights with residents at council meetings. Altercations involving Edwards have occurred at a public vote-counting at City Hall and at a meeting of the La Habra Heights Improvement Assn. —
The case set off years of controversy that officials say has nearly paralyzed the small town's government.
The Loughs and a handful of local gadflies with their own agendas have filed thousands of public records requests, so many that the city had to hire additional staff to fulfill them.
City Hall limited its public hours in January because the nine full-time employees were overwhelmed by daily visits from the group. The city's finance manager quit, saying she couldn't take the stress. The city attorney announced her resignation in December.
City Council meetings devolve into yelling matches and sometimes drag on for hours.
"Everybody take a deep breath in, a deep breath out," Mayor Roy Francis said as he called a recent meeting to order. "I'm asking the people that speak today to keep it civil, to keep the names out of it."
During another recent meeting, one man looked at another man and grinned.
"What brings you down?" he asked. "Bad government?"
"No. There's nothing good on TV."
All the hubbub is a huge departure for a town known for its quiet locale and sprawling lots.
With a population of about 5,300, the wealthy hillside community on the Los Angeles County and Orange County border prides itself on its avocados and rural nature. Its winding roads have few streetlights and no sidewalks, and its only businesses are a private golf course and a small real estate office. One resident in its only park called it "just a bunch of mansions on a hill."
Angry about the city's meddling in his home and business, Lough unsuccessfully ran for City Council in 2011, saying he was fighting to uphold La Habra Heights' motto of "Rural Living." A self-described watchdog, he has accused the city of threatening residents, awarding contracts to friends and stifling public comment.
In November, the council limited public speaking time at meetings because the Loughs and two friends, George Edwards and Stephen Blagden — authors of local opinion blogs — spoke so often that annoyed members of the public stopped attending meetings, council members claim. The group responded by coming to a meeting dressed in black to protest the "death of free speech."
City officials, Lough said in an email, blame him and his wife "for every ill in this city, and also the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, too."