10:00 PM PST on Sunday, January 24, 2010

By LESLIE PARRILLA
The Press-Enterprise

Norco city officials have gained momentum on two significant issues that have drawn strong words from residents.

The City Council voted last week to begin negotiating the purchase of 429 acres of property on Hillside Avenue, land that was contaminated by the former Wyle Laboratories.

It also decided on a second crucial issue, to accept proposals from people who want to run the city’s annual fair, a long-standing event usually run by the Norco Chamber of Commerce. The chamber is having financial problems.

Both issues sparked powerful opinions at a packed council Wednesday.

At one point, the audience booed Mayor Malcolm Miller when he said that everyone, including the chamber, would be permitted to apply to run the city’s largest fair and one of its oldest events.

The financially struggling chamber is facing legal action and owes thousands of dollars to the city and community organizations from services provided at last year’s fair. The event traditionally has been a financial boon to the community but in recent years has been unsuccessful.

Chamber President Gary Hendrickson said Friday he was unable to attend the meeting because of personal matters. He said he is “done with the city of Norco. They want to point fingers instead of help us.”

Residents also expressed concerns about the city’s decision Wednesday to discuss purchasing the former Wyle lab land from EnviroFinance.

The council delayed a vote to rezone the site for preservation and development in exchange for exclusive negotiating rights with the finance company.

The city wants to use the land for open space or other uses, possibly including a dude ranch.

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