Golden Era's Hwy. 79 plan nixed

Source: Press-Enterprise
Date: January 10, 1998

Route request by Scientology film studio upsets San Jacinto

San Jacinto city officials and residents have reacted with suspicion to a Church of Scientology request that the city continue diverting Highway 79 away from the church's Golden Era Productions film studios.

The City Council voted 4-1 Thursday night to deny Golden Era's request that a detour along Sanderson Avenue and Ramona Expressway continue to be designated as Highway 79. Some council members and residents questioned the church's intentions for the original highway, also known as Gilman Springs Road.

A year and a half ago, to allow construction of a bridge across the San Jacinto River on State Street, the state diverted Highway 79 from the stretch of Gilman Springs Road that runs through Golden Era's multimillion-dollar complex in Gilman Hot Springs just north of San Jacinto.

Council members and residents said Thursday that the city should not commit to changing the designation until the highway route is determined once and for all.

"There are issues here I'd hate to see compounded. People are very concerned about the area," said Chris Buydos, a San Jacinto planning commissioner who lives off Ramona Expressway.

Others opposed accommodating the Church of Scientology, which was founded in the 1950s by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, who died in 1986. Promotional and training films for Scientology churches and missions are produced at Golden Era.

"I highly object to appeasing these people. This highway has been here for a long, long time," said Lucille Ferguson, a San Jacinto Valley resident for more than 50 years. "What do they really do there? People ought to know. I resent us changing things for their benefit."

Councilwoman Joan Good questioned whether the request was the first step in a Golden Era plan to close Gilman Springs Road.

Good said she had been leaning toward approving the request when she went into Thursday's meeting, but changed her mind after hearing from residents and Ken Hoden, Golden Era's general manager.

Hoden said residents' concerns were based on a lack of knowledge about the church and its operations. He urged them to attend an open house on Sundays to get a firsthand look at what goes on in the complex.

He said Golden Era requested the temporary realignment of the highway because noise from passing vehicles causes problems when the studios are recording. Stripping Gilman Springs Road of its state highway designation would make it easier to lower the speed limit from 50 to 35 mph and reduce noise, he said.

"The highway is always going to be there. No one is going to lose the highway," Hoden said.

Muriel Dufrense, Golden Era's director of public relations, said the council missed an opportunity Thursday to get one step closer to the final highway alignment.

Local, county and state officials have been trying to nail down a new Highway 79 route for nearly 20 years. Relocation of the road is considered vital to the future economic development of the San Jacinto Valley. Most want the road moved to the west side of the valley to provide easier access to Interstate 10 to the north and the new Domenigoni Valley reservoir and Interstate 15 to the south.

The Hemet City Council last month endorsed Golden Era's request.

The San Jacinto council went against the recommendation of City Engineer Habib Motlagh, who said the request should be granted as long as the city retains control of access along Sanderson and the expressway and Caltrans maintains the roads and makes any necessary improvements.

Councilman Patrick Williams asked why the city should hurry to relieve a problem for Golden Era when it has been slow in helping residents near the expressway, who have complained that access to Chase Street is dangerous.

"Why do we want to move Golden Era's problem to our problem?" he said. "This has little to do with who they are or what they do."

Councilman Jim Conner questioned whether Caltrans would invest in widening the expressway to four lanes.

Mayor Jim Smedley cast the lone vote in support of Golden Era's request.

"I think we have an obligation to be a good neighbor. Golden Era has been a good neighbor," he said.

( categories: )