In the Old West it would have been called a range war.
Disagreements over how about 100 acres of land--located in Arcadia but bordering homes in El Monte--should be developed have kept the two cities feuding for years.
It is a fight that has been fought on legal grounds and over sewer connections.
The struggle flared up again last month when Arcadia ignored protests from El Monte and granted a conditional-use permit that will allow the owner of the property to sell three acres of the site to Public Storage Inc. for a storage facility.
El Monte, frustrated for years in its attempts to annex all or part of the land, has filed a lawsuit in an attempt to stop the transaction. The owner of the 100 acres has long complained that El Monte has thwarted his efforts to develop the land, even though it is in Arcadia, by refusing to allow him to hook up with the El Monte sewer system. Arcadia's sewer system does not reach the land at the south end of the city.
"El Monte made it plain to me they want the land," said Orion Rodeffer, whose Fountain Valley-based Rodeffer Investments owns the land sought by El Monte. "They will deny me the sewer connection unless I annex to El Monte. I have had so many years of good relations with Arcadia that I consider it a form of blackmail," Rodeffer said.
Court Hearing Scheduled May 12
The lawsuit, filed last month in Los Angeles Superior Court against the city of Arcadia, Public Storage and Rodeffer, contends that Arcadia violated state law by failing to prepare an environmental impact report on the proposed storage facility and that it failed to provide El Monte with a fair hearing before it approved the conditional-use permit. The suit will be heard May 12.
El Monte is asking the court to order Arcadia to rescind its approval of the conditional-use permit until an environmental impact report is prepared. Arcadia, on the basis of an initial environmental evaluation, decided that the project would not have a significant effect on the environment and an environmental impact report was not necessary.
"The litigation is for ulterior motives," charged Arcadia City Atty. Mike Miller. "It is for purposes of delaying and frustrating the (storage facility) project."
El Monte Mayor Don McMillan countered that all his city wants "is for Arcadia to give us 60 to 90 days for our two councils to discuss the problem because they are splitting the parcel."
But, countered Arcadia Mayor Don Pellegrino: "We met on the project a year ago, so El Monte is just killing time."
The dispute centers on Rodeffer's plan to sell the three acres on the south side of Lower Azusa Road, east of Roseglen Street, to Public Storage for a 550-unit storage facility. Rodeffer hopes that nine additional acres south of Lower Azusa can be developed for light industry, in accordance with a plan worked out with Arcadia when he bought the land in 1956.
El Monte City Atty. Sidney Maleck said his city is concerned about potential traffic, parking and sewage disposal problems in a residential area that borders the proposed site.
Although El Monte has little chance of getting any of the 100 acres owned by Rodeffer because he would have to agree to annexation, Arcadia officials complain that El Monte has been able to control what happens to the land by refusing to provide any new industry with sewer hookups.
El Monte has refused such requests by Rodeffer unless he uses the 12 acres south of Lower Azusa Road for residential development.
Without a sewer connection with El Monte, Public Storage would have to install a septic tank to handle waste from the storage facility, which would include accommodations for a caretaker and two public toilets. El Monte officials fear that the septic tank might contaminate nearby water supplies, a charge proponents of the storage facility deny.
"The septic tank will serve only two public restrooms and the security manager's unit, and since the ground water is 90 feet below the surface, there will be no damage to the water," said Carl Beckmann, vice president of Public Storage.
'Don't Want Industrial Use'
"We are trying to be a good neighbor, but we won't give them the sewer because we don't want industrial use of the land," said El Monte Mayor McMillan.
Arcadia Mayor Pellegrino charged that El Monte is "holding the ace with their sewer system and using that as leverage to take that part of Arcadia for nothing. We have met with them time and time again and they won't bend. They think if they wait long enough they will get the land."
But the storage facility is only part of El Monte's concern, Maleck said.
Some El Monte residents are also upset about changes Rodeffer has proposed for an 82-acre quarry he has operated since 1958 north of Lower Azusa Road.
After he bought the land, Rodeffer signed an agreement with Arcadia requiring him to dig the quarry over a 20-year period, which has ended, and then use the quarry as a landfill. The agreement eventually calls for the construction of buildings on the filled site.
Some El Monte homeowners have expressed concerns that whatever Rodeffer uses to fill the quarry may contaminate ground water.
The landfill would be operated by BKK Corp., and, according to BKK spokesman Ernest Winter, would not accept garbage, household trash or any kind of toxic waste.
"The only thing possible is to fill in the hole with dirt, asphalt and concrete," Rodeffer said.
An environmental impact report on the proposed landfill is now being prepared by Arcadia. The project is part of the county's solid waste management plan that is now before the state Waste Management Board, according to a county spokesman, who added that the project will probably be approved.
Mark Sullivan, an El Monte homeowner, contends that Rodeffer has violated his agreement with Arcadia by excavating the quarry at too steep a grade, an allegation Rodeffer denies.
"We are concerned about earthquake safety because they have cut only 20 or 30 feet from the homes," Sullivan said. "We are concerned about what happens to the water table and how to make sure what goes in there doesn't contaminate the water. The water table is exposed right now."
Arcadia City Manager George Watts agreed that the quarry has been dug deep enough to expose the water table--one reason, he says, that the landfill should go in.
"That is why we want to see the pit filled because the water could easily be contaminated now," Watts said.
In the lawsuit, El Monte voiced objections to all the projects envisioned for Rodeffer's holdings both north and south of Lower Azusa Road and the cumulative effect they might have on neighboring homes.
"All projects should be combined," Maleck said. "Since the entire area is going to be developed, we feel they should look at it as a package. We object to both projects (the storage facility and the landfill) because the impact will be on El Monte residents, not on Arcadia." The nearest homes in Arcadia are about two miles from Rodeffer's land.
El Monte has shown an interest since 1966 in all 100 acres owned by Rodeffer.
The city tried unsuccessfully to annex Rodeffer's land after the state passed a law in 1977 that revised annexation regulations. That law contained a loophole, later closed, that allowed one city to attempt to annex parts of another city. In 1978 El Monte initiated annexation proceedings for the land owned by Rodeffer and about 200 acres nearby.
The proposal went to the county Local Agency Formation Commission, which recommended against annexation after opposition from Arcadia and Rodeffer. El Monte then withdrew its application.
The dispute simmered until 1984, when Rodeffer sought the hookup with El Monte's sewer system, a first step in developing the parcel. El Monte refused, even though the mayor of Arcadia pointed out in a letter to El Monte's mayor that inter-city sewage hookups are common.
In a 1984 letter to El Monte seeking reconsideration of the sewer hookup, Rodeffer explained that he did not want to annex his land to El Monte because his loyalties lay with Arcadia, with whom he had long had a satisfactory working relationship.
Fits Landfill Proposal
He explained that his plan for the 12 acres south of Lower Azusa Road, including the storage facility, fit into the overall proposal for the landfill. He said that he had an offer from a residential developer for the 12 acres, but refused it because he feared that solid-fill trucks going in and out of the proposed landfill would disturb those residents.
Despite El Monte's opposition, Arcadia, Rodeffer and Public Storage Inc. are going ahead with plans to construct the self-storage facility, which will consist of six one-story buildings. The Pasadena-based company owns 600 facilities around the country including four in Pasadena and others in Baldwin Park, Azusa, Walnut, Industry, San Dimas, San Gabriel and Monterey Park.
Beckmann said that after a facility is filled, usually in about a year, there is very little traffic.
"Some of our other facilities adjoin residential areas," he said, "and we are a good buffer between residential use and more intense industrial use because we are quiet and do not generate dirt."
"We're willing to stick with it (the project) as long as it takes," Beckmann said.