AGUA DULCE Airport- Airpark Divides New Town Council Members

Tuesday, February 15, 2005
Airpark divides new Town Council members
The Antelope Valley (CA) Press

AGUA DULCE – The election of two men hoping to see limits placed on Agua Dulce Airpark, along with one airpark supporter, were confirmed to the community’s Town Council following a recount of the votes Sunday. The election took place Nov. 2, but questions about the eligibility of 206 absentee ballots brought in as a group postponed the vote count and led to a three-month delay.

An independent election review committee set up by Los Angeles County 5th District Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich recommended in December that all the ballots be verified and counted. Former Lancaster City Clerk Donna Grindey, acting as a paid consultant to the council, completed the verification process last week.

Sunday’s recount took nearly nine hours, said Jeff Gersh, chairman of the council’s election committee.

“We were very thorough,” he said. “We went through all the absentee ballots that Donna Grindey flagged for us (as questionable), and they weren’t in any specific order, so it took time to find them.”

Preliminary results from Sunday’s recount show council incumbent James Hall as top vote-getter with 487 votes. Candidate Ze Gonzales won a seat with 422 votes and candidate Rich Dyer, the airpark supporter, was awarded the third open seat with 412 votes.

Nearly 930 total ballots were cast, an astounding turnout for a Town Council election.

The council acts as an advisory board to Antonovich, whose 5th District includes the Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys.

Of the total, 690 ballots were cast at two polling places and 238 ballots were received as absentees.

“Thirty-five absentee ballots (were) rejected for various verification problems,” council President Andy Fried told the Valley Press in an e-mail.

The “signatures (on the outer envelope) did not agree with county records; voters (were) registered at addresses outside of Agua Dulce in areas such as Acton, Woodland Hills and La Puente. Three outside envelopes had no signatures at all, and were thus disqualified.”

The council’s bylaws likely will be changed to prohibit absentee ballots, Gersh said.

Incumbent Judith Dalton Fried, wife of the council president, garnered 394 votes, while candidates Lorene Cangiano and Eric Harnett were supported by 381 and 353 votes, respectively.

Dyer, Cangiano and Harnett support Agua Dulce Airpark’s expansion plans, while the other candidates expressed varying degrees of opposition to the small airport that has been at the center of community controversy.

Airpark officials hope to build an exclusive “fly in” community of homes for aircraft owners. They also hope to open a membership club for Agua Dulce residents who want to use the pool and soccer fields built on the grounds in recent years.

Some residents near the airpark, meanwhile, complain of unsafe flying and noisy planes scaring their animals, and the airpark also has been cited for expanding without necessary permits.

At the direction of Antonovich, the county’s Regional Planning Commission conducted a revocation-modification hearing over the airport’s operating permit in January in Acton. The heavily attended hearing was continued until March 16, and leaders from various community groups and the airpark continue to meet in an attempt to reach a workable compromise.

Gonzales said he loves aircraft and has “nothing against the airpark, but I am against the airpark’s large expansion that they want to do.”

“I hope we can work with the airpark so that it doesn’t abuse the community and so the airpark will survive,” Gonzales said, adding he was humbled by the community’s support of his candidacy.

“I’m glad I’m in, and I will try to do the best I can for the whole community, and not just the special interests.”

Hall, who works for the Los Angeles City Fire Department, is married to Ramona Hall, a leader of the anti-airpark group Concerned Citizens of Agua Dulce. Hall said he withdrew his membership from that group when he became involved with the council to avoid a potential conflict.

“I hope to have a good working atmosphere (on the council),” Hall said. “We have good people on the board, and I welcome Ze Gonzales. I know him to be an honorable and good person.”

Both men commented on the long process to determine the results of the election.

“It’s just weird, because here we are in America, and here’s Iraq, and they’re having elections there with the bombings, and they have the results in a week,” Gonzales said. “Here we are, 95 days later.”

Hall said, “I’m shocked and surprised (by the win, because) it just drug out so long.”

The new members will be sworn in on Wednesday, Feb. 23.