With the threat of litigation looming as large as the 800-foot scar on the hillside, the Azusa City Council has sought expert opinion to sift through the conflicting claims surrounding a controversial rock quarry.
After a rancorous public hearing in which council members fought with each other, the audience and officials from neighboring Duarte, the council followed City Administrator Julio J. Fuentes’ recommendation Monday to hire four consultants to perform an independent analysis of the quarry’s effect on the area.
In September, five months of hearings ended when the Azusa Planning Commission unanimously recommended that Azusa Rock Inc.'s 32-year-old permit to mine Fish Canyon be revoked. Before the vote, the commission heard lengthy and conflicting testimony from experts hired by Azusa Rock and Duarte.
The commissioners decided that the 190-acre quarry constituted a public nuisance and that it had abandoned operations for year, violating one of the original conditions of the permit.
Specter of Litigation
Citing the contentious atmosphere and the specter of litigation, Fuentes said the city needs to hire experts who would not be beholden to either Azusa Rock or neighboring Duarte, which is pressing for the quarry’s closure.
“I feel if we’re going to be challenged in court, we should go in with our own record prepared,” Fuentes said.
Azusa officials have said they see the quarry situation as a no-win proposition. If the permit is revoked, putting Azusa Rock out of business, the company has promised to sue. If the council does nothing, officials say, the city could face lawsuits from Duarte or members of an Azusa citizens group, Committee to Save the Foothills.
Fuentes recommended hiring air quality, traffic engineering, geology and noise experts to conduct studies, for which the council allocated up to $100,000.
The motion was vigorously opposed by Mayor Eugene F. Moses, who tried unsuccessfully to persuade the council to revoke the permit Monday night. Moses then unsuccessfully moved that the city initiate litigation against Azusa Rock to suspend operations.
Councilman Harry L. Stemrich, who clashed repeatedly with Moses and audience members, said the mayor should be willing to take full responsibility if Azusa Rock is forced out of business.
“If you’re willing to take that on your shoulders, maybe I’ll be inclined to vote with you on this,” he said.
Moses asked Fuentes where he would be able to find the $100,000 for the environmental studies in a lean city budget. Although the source of the funds has not been identified, Fuentes said he is considering “across-the-board cuts” from city departments to set the money aside.
Legal Defensibility Studied
Council members said the studies could help determine whether the city could defend any action in court.
“We can be very hasty, we can revoke and then go out and lose (in court),” Councilman Bruce Latta said.
Azusa Rock President Tom Sheedy said the consultants will bring much needed credibility to the proceedings, and predicted that the quarry would be vindicated from Duarte’s claims that Azusa Rock is responsible for the dust and noise problems in the area.
Foothill Committee member Lucy Shelton argued that five months of Planning Commission hearings provided more than enough legal footing for the city to revoke the permit.
Meanwhile, Azusa Rock officials said Monday that they are seeking to have the state classify the operation as providing a needed resource.
Azusa Rock attorney Glenn R. Watson confirmed that the rock company’s application was accepted by the state Surface Mining and Geology Division last month. State officials may decide by mid-1989 whether to approve the request. A small portion of the property currently has the special designation, used to safeguard the development of valuable mineral areas.
The city is still assessing the significance of the proposal, but Roy E. Bruckner, Azusa’s director of community development, said it may mean that any decision made by the city could be appealed to the state board.
During Monday’s hearing, Azusa officials took exception to an unsigned Azusa Rock mailer, sent to 9,304 homes last weekend, indicating there would be drastic cuts in city services if the quarry is closed. Fuentes said the mailer, put out by Newport Beach political consultant Harvey Englander, was a “gross misrepresentation of the facts.”
The mailer--headlined “Azusa residents beware . . . A few Duarte residents have a big surprise in store for us . . . And we won’t like it"--outlined a 20% cut in police services and a 55% cut in fire and paramedic protection as reductions that could be expected.
According to city estimates, the rock quarry paid $108,000 in taxes to the city in the past 18 months. Sheedy of Azusa Rock estimated Monday that the company would generate $100,000 in tax revenues this year. The mailer, however, said closing the quarry would mean a $1-million loss in revenue, but specified no time period for the loss.
Moses criticized the mailer, asking Sheedy “how you honestly can put this garbage out? How can you tell us your credibility is good?”
Sheedy said the mailer was intended to counter the flood of publicity from Duarte and the Committee to Save the Foothills, and blamed miscommunication between himself and consultant Englander for the problems with the mailer.
Stemrich and other City Council members have accused Duarte of meddling in Azusa politics and placing undue pressure on the Azusa council.
“Duarte’s sticking its nose in here, and they’re using our citizens and I don’t think it’s professional,” Stemrich said in an interview.
Stemrich referred to Duarte giving $1,000 to the Foothills Committee to make an anti-quarry video, which aired on Azusa’s cable channel last week.
Marlene A. Fox, an attorney who represents Duarte, said the city was protecting its citizens’ welfare and had not done anything improper in its efforts to close the quarry.
“Stemrich’s wrong, he doesn’t understand,” she said in an interview. “Just reverse the situation, involving Azusa people who were suffering from dust. . . . There’s no way Duarte could say to Azusa, ‘Go home, it’s none of your business.’ ”