Voters here, in what Mayor Mary Lou Swain calls a message from the people, have narrowly rejected a City Council-backed measure that would have have rezoned a parcel of single-family residential property to allow construction of an 18-unit condominium.
At issue was a proposed initiative that would have changed the zoning on the 2.2-acre site on the northeast corner of Lower Azusa Road and Golden West Avenue. Opponents and proponents had heralded the measure as a referendum on the issues of residential density and political responsiveness from City Hall.
It was the first special election in the city's 25-year history. The unofficial turnout of 20.7% of the city's 16,462 registered voters was one of the highest in city history for a municipal election, city officials said. The unofficial vote tally was 1,763 to 1,649, or 51.7% in favor and 48.3% against. City officials said they did not expect the official tally to change the outcome of the election.
Making City Hall Aware
Although the measure on the ballot was a simple zoning ordinance, residents in this community of 30,000--80% of which is zoned for single-family houses--seemed to view the election as a chance to make City Hall acutely aware of their concern over preservation of the city's low-density residential character.
"This (vote) goes to the condo issue all over the city," said Patricia Bogle, spokeswoman for Concerned Citizens of Temple City, a homeowners group which opposed the condominium development and spearheaded the referendum. "But a lot of it also has to do with the feeling that the City Council doesn't listen."
Swain, who along with all four of her colleagues on the council approved the condominium project, said, "This (outcome) indicates to me that people are generally concerned with what they perceive as higher density (development) than what they've been used to. It gives us the message to be very cautious and look at things very carefully and be sure we are really feeling the pulse of the people."
Despite opposition from the community, the five members of the council supported the zone change last October, saying the condominium project was consistent with the city's general plan, which calls for medium-density residential development along a 300-foot band on the north side of Lower Azusa.
City officials said they never intended to change basic zoning patterns in the city.
'First Step Backward'
"The project planned was proper," said Councilman Jack Tyrell, who termed the outcome "the first step backward" in his 25 years on the council. "Some people voted against the government. I was disappointed in that people didn't vote in a more informed manner."
But Bogle and her followers contended that rezoning the property represents "zone creep" and would set a dangerous precedent threatening to destroy the character of single-family neighborhoods. They launched an initiative campaign to place the issue on the ballot. More than 1,800 people signed the initiative petition.
Bogle said the election could have been avoided had the council agreed to earlier proposals to reach a compromise.
Homeowners on Golden West Avenue objected to the condominium project proposed by Fairhaven Development Corp. of Arcadia at Planning Commission hearings last April, but did not think they could stop it. Therefore, they proposed placing a cul de sac where the street met Lower Azusa Road to separate their houses from the condominiums and keep traffic levels low, Bogle said. Golden West ends at a lot about 350 feet north of Lower Azusa, the site where Fairhaven Development Corp. wants to build its condominiums. When the City Council refused to their request, the homeowners began the initiative drive.
Sometimes Heated Campaign
Both sides waged active and sometimes heated campaigns. The pro-development forces placed ads in two local newspapers and mailed flyers to each of the city's registered voters. Bogle and her group walked door-to-door to persuade voters to reject the zone change.
Each side accused the other of trying to mislead voters.
Bogle claimed that the pro-development group called the Committee for Fair Community Development tried to confuse voters with a mailer urging "vote yes for single-family homes," even though the referendum would increase density on the property in question.
Tyrell said Bogle and her followers unfairly portrayed the defeated development as a high-density project. It consisted of free-standing single-family units which would have been built on smaller-than-normal lots and shared a common driveway. Tyrell said it would meet many of the same requirements for a single-family house.
The developer could not be reached for comment.