Chamber's Vote Role Draws Ire : Some in Cypress Want Group's City Funds Cut Off

Times Staff Writer

The Cypress Chamber of Commerce, which took sides in a hotly contested election over open space, has angered some citizens so much that they want the city to cut off funding to the group.

The chamber released a letter during the Nov. 3 election campaign opposing Measure D, which requires voter approval for any zoning changes on land designated for public use in the city, including parks, schools and a 300-acre site that houses the Los Alamitos Race Track and an adjacent golf course.

In the letter, which was published in the local newspaper, the chamber argued that the measure would usurp private property rights and discourage development in the city.

But the letter outraged supporters of the measure, who maintain that because the chamber receives a portion of its funding each year from the city, it should not have taken a position in the election.

The measure was adopted with a 54% yes vote.

Some residents have called for revision of the chamber's contract with the city to prohibit the chamber's involvement in future initiative campaigns, and the City Council is scheduled to discuss the issue at its regular meeting Monday. But other residents say the city should end financial support of the chamber.

"We don't want to see the chamber go under so we're not recommending that funding be cut off abruptly, but we believe the chamber should come up with a phased plan where they get off of the city dole," said Joyce Nicholson, co-chair of Concerned Citizens for Open Space, a group that supported Measure D. "They are being subsidized by citizens' money and then using that money to go against us."

But Ned Fox, the chamber's executive director, sees the group's role differently.

"We surveyed the business community about this (Measure D) and our stand reflected their views," Fox said. "We represent the business community, and if we don't voice their views, then we are not doing a very good job of serving them."

The chamber has a budget of more than $100,000, most of which comes from membership fees. But the group also receives more than $26,000 each year from the city, plus the use of a city-owned house for its headquarters. The service contract with the city forbids the organization to endorse political candidates.

Legality Being Checked

Fox said that provision does not preclude the group from expressing opinions and engaging in other forms of political debate.

Residents who supported Measure D have also asserted that the chamber jeopardized its tax-exempt status through its election activity, and Fox said attorneys are checking to see if the chamber's actions were legal.

Fox said that if its actions are upheld, his group would not hesitate to voice its opinion again.

He said it was uncertain whether the chamber's board of directors would accept a new contract if the city revises it to prohibit election activity.

Fox said the money it receives from the city should not be considered a handout because the chamber performs a number of services for the city, including acting as a public information clearinghouse, sponsoring student job fairs and conducting surveys. The chamber has also acted as a liaison between the city and businesses to resolve problems connected with the city's smoking ordinance, he said.

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