It's Been Two Years Since Diamond Bar Incorporation Election Failed, and Now . . . : Cityhood Issue Stirs Again

Times Staff Writer

The second incorporation drive in two years has begun here amid concern that this largely affluent community could lose its identity to outside interests if cityhood fails again.

Led by Phyllis Papen, the incorporation committee of the Diamond Bar Homeowners Assn. is again circulating petitions, the first step in gaining approval from the county for a vote on the issue next year.

Cityhood failed by only a 3.5% margin in a 1983 election, but Papen and others say voters are more frustrated with county government today and have a stronger interest in incorporating.

Aim for 1986 Ballot

Papen's strategy is to get the cityhood issue on the November, 1986, general election ballot, a move that some believe could improve its chance for success.

Don Stokes, a community resident and chairman of the Diamond Bar Municipal Advisory Council, said he believes more voters would go to the polls in a general election than voted in 1983, which was an off year.

In 1983, 6,696 of Diamond Bar's 14,600 registered voters cast ballots, with 3,463 voting no and 3,233 voting yes on incorporation.

"The voters have had two years to think about it," said Papen, who worked for cityhood in the last campaign. "I think they realize it's in the best interest of the community to gain local control."

The advisory council, a locally elected five-member panel that makes recommendations to the Board of Supervisors, is the only voice for the community of 37,000 in governmental matters affecting the area. But the supervisors are not required to abide by the council's decisions, and some residents believe the board is not responsive to their needs.

For example, Papen said the homeowners' group believes that a general development plan for the area, approved by the Board of Supervisors in 1983, is being ignored and that self-government is needed to achieve a balance between residential and commercial interests.

Ray Anderson, a spokesman for Supervisor Pete Schabarum, who represents the Diamond Bar area, acknowledged Papen's complaint that the supervisors have on occasion diverged from the community general plan after it was agreed upon by regional planners and Diamond Bar homeowners. But, Anderson said, the changes were necessary.

One recent decision by the supervisors that angered homeowners and the advisory council was a rezoning of commercial property in south Diamond Bar to include light industry. A number of residents, including cityhood proponents, said the change robs the future city of sales tax revenue. Anderson, however, said that rezoning for light industry was fiscally more sound.

Papen said many homeowners backing incorporation also object to what they call a glut of condominiums and single-family residences. She said homeowners believe that the supervisors have neglected the community's need for parks and commercial development while allowing developers to overrun the community with unneeded housing.

Anderson said Schabarum has taken no stance on the issue of incorporation and would leave the question up to voters.

No Formal Opposition

Unlike the last petition drive, the new effort so far has met with no organized opposition. Two residents who led the opposition in 1983, however, say they will remain uncommitted until a new analysis of Diamond Bar's finances is completed by the county's Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), which is charged with ensuring that communities that wish to become cities can support themselves.

Lavinia Rowland, treasurer for the advisory council, and Diamond Bar resident Gary Neely said they led the group opposing incorporation last time primarily for economic reasons.

Although Diamond Bar had been given the go-ahead for the election by the commission, Rowland said she believed the commission's analysis was flawed. She said estimates of pay scales for city employees were based on information supplied by cityhood advocates and may have been overly optimistic.

In addition, Neely said, the state was trying to resolve a shortage of funds at the time, calling into question the allocation of approximately $2 million in motor vehicle revenues which the formation commission had included in its estimated budget for Diamond Bar.

Neely and Rowland said their previous economic objections may not apply to the present cityhood campaign, but they said they will support incorporation only if they believe the formation commission's new figures show that Diamond Bar can generate the money from taxes and other sources to support city services.

One Declared Candidate

No community leaders have yet expressed opposition to cityhood. However, Paul V. Horcher, an attorney and member of the Municipal Advisory Council, has sharply criticized the five chief petitioners. Horcher, the only declared candidate for the City Council, said he believes the five homeowners are pushing incorporation because they wish to be the first City Council members for the new city. Council members will be elected at the same time the cityhood vote is taken, and will serve only if incorporation is approved.

Horcher and Papen, both of whom ran for City Council in the last election and won enough votes to serve, have traded barbs publicly, each accusing the other of using the cityhood drive to promote their own political ambitions. Papen, a real estate broker, said she has not decided whether to run again. None of the other four named on the petition, all members of the homeowners association, have announced any intent to run and none were candidates in the last election.

"We have not even qualified for the ballot," Papen said of Horcher's accusation. "He is premature in bringing up these kinds of issues that have nothing to do with qualifying with LAFCO."

Papen and the other four petitioners--Tim Larsen, David Edgett, Gordon Vihlen, and John Forbing--must within six months gather the signatures of 25% of the registered voters in Diamond Bar, then wait through the bureaucratic approval process that includes the budget analysis by the formation commission, their recommendation to the Board of Supervisors, and the supervisors' approval of election plans.

Some Say 'Last Chance'

While the petitioners say Diamond Bar is ripe for incorporation, some residents say this is the community's last chance.

Stokes said incorporation is essential to forestall annexation by surrounding cities. Two years ago, the supervisors allowed the City of Industry to annex a 600-acre parcel jutting into an area that proponents of incorporation had hoped to include in the new city.

City of Industry officials say they have no further interest in acquiring land in Diamond Bar. And officials in Pomona, the other city touching the proposed boundaries of Diamond Bar, say they have no plans to expand into the area.

But Stokes said intrusion on Diamond Bar's borders is inevitable unless it becomes a city.

"The community of Diamond Bar will have to incorporate in 1986 or we will never incorporate," Stokes said.

Another factor, according to Stokes, is the expected withdrawal of Transamerica Development Corp. from its financial interests in the community.

Founded in 1950s

Transamerica founded Diamond Bar in the mid-1950s, purchasing about 8,000 acres and selling it piece by piece over the years to developers. What was originally touted as a "planned" community, however, has become something different from what the founders envisioned; space that had been set aside for shopping centers and schools, long-time homeowners say, filled up with residences instead.

Still, Stokes said, Transamerica has acted overall as a stabilizing influence for the community.

Transamerica Vice President Don Ury confirmed that the company plans to sell its last remaining holdings in Diamond Bar within a year.

Once Transamerica is gone, Stokes said the area will be more vulnerable to speculation by developers unconcerned with the community as a whole.

Horcher agreed. "Diamond Bar is in danger of losing its identity," he said. "This is a turning point in its evolution."

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