Retail Center Wins Approval of Voters in Fountain Valley

Times Staff Writer

Fountain Valley voters Tuesday approved controversial Measure A, which would allow development of a 140-acre retail shopping center where a strawberry field now stands, according to unofficial election results.

With all 37 precincts counted, Measure A was approved 4,412 to 2,927, a county registrar of voters spokeswoman said.

As expected, the total number of voters in Tuesday's referendum was low at 7,357 voters, which accounted for 22% of the city's 29,834 registered voters, the registrar official said.

John Collins, chairman of Citizens for Fountain Valley, which supported the measure, was elated at what he called, a "grass-roots" victory.

"I would have to attribute it to the fact that it was a grass-roots campaign where the people understood the issue," Collins said after learning of the final vote tally.

Collins claimed that the opposition, which had attempted to forestall the project that was approved by the City Council last Sept. 2, had "confused" the electorate with last-minute campaign flyers that he described as "flat-out lies."

But Woody Young, a spokesman for Citizens for Maintaining the Quality of Life in Fountain Valley, which successfully launched a petition drive that forced Tuesday's referendum, denied Collins' accusation.

Instead, Young, who bitterly noted that proponents spent about $30,000, roughly 10 times the financial amount of what his organization did, called for the City Council's resignation.

"I will ask for the entire City Council's resignation for their misinformation campaign."

While both sides agreed that it was a relatively lackluster campaign, Collins credited the group's volunteer telephone chains, which he said had canvassed whole neighborhoods, and other volunteers who sent out mailers.

More than 125 volunteers, many of whom were part of a "broad-based" support group, had pitched in to help push for the measure's success, Collins said.

Located a quarter of a mile north of the San Diego Freeway at the Euclid Street off-ramp, Southpark, as the development is called, is now a strawberry field owned by Sakioka Farms. The parcel, in a redevelopment area, is bounded by Slater and Talbert avenues, Euclid Street and the Santa Ana River.

Tuesday's election was set in motion last Sept. 2, when the City Council approved a controversial plan that called for a 30-acre retail shopping center, including a Price Club. The remaining 110 acres were to be converted into a business park for research and development and light industrial uses. A height limit of 55 feet would be placed on buildings.

Mayor Barbara Brown had expressed concern earlier Tuesday when she learned at 3:30 p.m. that only 60 people had voted in one of the city's 37 precincts--an indication that the measure's opponents, who represented a "small but vocal minority," could sway the election.

"We knew that the biggest factor was overcoming the apathy factor," Brown said, "Our problem was getting the other three-fourths of the community to go out and vote."

By 10:15 p.m., it appeared that Brown and other supporters of the development were succeeding. However, only 4,202 people had voted, roughly 14% of the city's 29,834 registered voters, according to unofficial results from the registrar's office.

For elected and city officials, the choice was a well-planned approach to development that also could help strengthen the city's long-term budget picture, Mayor Brown said.

"Our (financial) stability is really important. When we voted last year, we were looking at 10-year budget projections that show that in about four years, we're going to be in trouble," Brown added.

The city wanted to invite Price Co., a San Diego-based discount store chain, to anchor the project. Such an addition, Brown said, would have brought an estimated $1.5 million a year in city revenue.

"Instead," Brown said indignantly, "our problem is everybody goes through Fountain Valley to get to the Price Club in Santa Ana. We could be getting more money to help widen streets, get more services and be in control of that whole area in Southpark."

Price Co. executives eventually withdrew their consideration to put a store at Southpark.

A city-funded economic analysis determined that Southpark would, over the project's 21-year life, bring the city about $46 million in sales tax, plus an extra $5.5 million in developer-paid traffic fees.

But for homeowners in the area near Southpark, the issue focused on traffic congestion and slowing "overwhelmingly" rapid development of retail shopping centers throughout the city, Young said.

"The city has a ridiculous argument that we have long-range budget woes. I don't believe it at all," he said, noting that the protest group organized out of a sense of mistrust of the City Council members.

"I would say this is the biggest deception (by the City Council) we've ever seen," he said.

Young, an outspoken manufacturing executive, said the council's inclusion of Southpark, strawberry field and all, into a redevelopment area was poor planning.

"As a result, any potential revenue from that area cannot go towards our schools. In the meantime, we're shutting down schools and discontinuing educational programs because we don't have any money."

VOTE ON ZONING Tuesday Results 37 of 37 precincts, FINAL

Vote % Yes 4,412 60.1 No 2,927 39.9

(Voter turnout 22%)

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