The fight over development in Agoura Hills intensified this week as businessmen and homeowners squared off in attempts to seize control of the young community's City Council.
Pro-growth advocates were the first to pick up candidate papers as the filing period opened for a Nov. 5 election that will seat three people on the five-member council. Candidates committed to development were immediately promised the active support of the 400-member Agoura-Las Virgenes Chamber of Commerce.
But slow-growth forces responded by announcing the formation of an election coalition designed to support environmentalist candidates and "promote the wishes of residents," according to group spokesman Stuart Schneider.
The political maneuvering came as Councilwoman Carol Sahm, who has been the swing vote on development issues, announced that she will not seek reelection.
Personal Attacks Noted
Sahm said Monday that she is quitting because of family and career pressures. But some community activists said her retirement was prompted by a series of bitter personal attacks leveled against her in recent months by pro-development forces.
By the end of Wednesday, three potential council candidates had taken out nomination papers: Mayor John Hood and retired Los Angeles County sheriff's captain and former Chamber of Commerce manager Hayden Finley, both in the pro-growth camp, and Councilwoman Fran Pavley, who is aligned with the slow-growth faction. The candidate-filing period ends Aug. 9. Hood and Pavley will seek reelection.
The two factions have engaged in a continuing fight over plans for a $75-million, high-tech business park in Agoura Hills, an eight-square-mile city with about 20,000 residents situated 10 miles west of the San Fernando Valley.
The project, which would be the largest commercial development in the city, has been supported by business interests. But it has been opposed by homeowners who contend its seven buildings would be out of character with the community's rural atmosphere.
Chamber Changed Bylaws
City Council members are expected to vote on the development application July 24.
Chamber of Commerce leaders last month changed their bylaws to enable the organization to take an active role in City Council elections.
"We don't think the present City Council has the best interest of the business community in mind," chamber manager Robert Perselli said. He said the chamber will back candidates who endorse development of the Ventura Freeway corridor that traverses Agoura Hills.
In a backyard news conference, meanwhile, homeowners disclosed plans for what they called a "For Agoura '85" coalition. Schneider said the group of 50 residents will campaign for candidates pledged to "strict quality controls on new development."
"Hotbed of Development"
"The majority of Agoura Hills' residents want to preserve the rural atmosphere," he said. "This is a crucial time in the city's history. It's a hotbed of development because the city has plenty of open space right outside the San Fernando Valley."
Chris Vicars, another leader of the group, denied the coalition is taking an anti-business stance. "The key word is 'quality' in development," Vicars said.