Caltrans Housing Bill | SB-381 Heads to Assembly Floor for Approval

The City could buy the homes at Caltrans’ original 1960s-era acquisition price, rather than for the current market price

Caltrans homes South Pasadena
FILE PHOTO: Esteban Lopez | News | South Pasadena homes controlled by Caltrans for decades. House located on Valley View in South Pasadena

The city of South Pasadena’s bill to encourage the sale of up to 68 Caltrans properties in town was unanimously approved without amendment Thursday by the Assembly’s Appropriations committee.

“The City is pleased that SB-381 continues its journey through the legislature,” the City said in a statement. “Next up will be the Assembly floor, where we anticipate the bill will be amended.”

The bill, which has already been approved by the state senate, “would allow for more local control over the disposition of the state-owned properties along the SR 710 corridor and put the city of South Pasadena in a much better position to safeguard and champion the interests of their community” according to Senator Anthony J. Portantino, who authored the bill on behalf of the city.

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The City could buy the homes at Caltrans’ original 1960s-era acquisition price, rather than for the current market price. That would save the city millions of dollars, but cost Caltrans an equal amount in foregone revenue. The trade-off is that the city must use the single-family properties for low- or moderate-income ownership or rental housing for a term of at least 55 years.

PHOTO: Esteban Lopez | News | South Pasadena homes controlled by Caltrans for decades

The bill would require single family houses, including historic homes, to be offered to the City of South Pasadena after they are offered to present occupants, who either decline the offer or don’t close on a sale within nine months of when administrative rules are adopted. Multifamily properties would also be offered first to their residents, if they have formed a legal entity for common ownership, and then to the city. The City would get first crack at all other properties, including vacant land.

If the City sells the homes, proceeds would be reinvested in low- or moderate-income housing in town.

The City has still not finalized how it will finance the acquisition if the bill is ultimately signed by the governor.

PHOTO: State Senator Anthony J. Portantino, 25th Senate District

The bill also more than doubles to $1.2 million for the fund Caltrans maintains, composed of proceeds from its property sales, to rehabilitate the properties, many of which are dilapidated. Caltrans is expected to pay over $4 million to inspect and repair single family homes, including historic properties. Under the bill, five of the houses would be sold to qualified buyers at prices based on their 2016 appraisals, costing the state an estimated $2 million. But the agency will also save up to an estimated $10 million in administrative and maintenance costs.

The bill does not affect Caltrans’ 710 corridor properties in Los Angeles or Pasadena. Senator Elena Durazo’s SB-51 which changes the Roberti Act for the sale of Caltrans houses for low and medium income housing and was signed by the governor July 23 — addresses Caltrans properties in El Sereno.

A legislative staff note said SB-381 and SB-51 “will need to be reconciled.” Amendments to do so are anticipated when the bill comes to the Assembly floor, possibly in the next week or two.

“There certainly is an effort to have some consistency, in the corridor, bit there is also a recognition that each city has unique qualities as well,” Portantino told the South Pasadenan News. “Sb 381 is our attempt to respect South Pasadenas individual concerns.”

Meantime, the South Pasadena City Council received an update on its “non legislative” approach to pushing for the acquisition, something it hopes to do through a bilateral deal with Caltrans that would be subject to the approval of the California Transportation Commission. The CTC has recently emerged as an ally in the effort to get Caltrans out of the property management business in the former 710 corridor.

On Saturday morning August 14, the City hosted three of the CTC’s 11 commissioners for a tour of some of the properties, including Chair Hilary Norton and commissioner Joseph Lyou. The tour, arranged and overseen by Portantino along with one of his staff people, included City Manager Arminé Chaparyan and three other city officials along with Council Members Michael Cacciotti and Jon Primuth. The group surveyed properties on Fairview and Columbia St., as well as some of the historic properties. Because no one from Caltrans was present, the party was unable to go into any of the structures, but they toured both vacant and developed sites, including the 12-unit structure at 626 Prospect.

The City, on behalf of the residents who applied to purchase 626 Prospect, is suing Caltrans for awarding it instead to Pasadena Friendship Baptist Church — a transaction the CTC has put on hold pending the outcome of the litigation. The City said that when SB-381 is on the Assembly floor, there may be amendments affecting the disposition of the 626 Prospect sale.

PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | News | Apartments on 626 Prospect Ave

During last week’s Council session, Cacciotti said Portantino moderated a post tour discussion with commissioners. “We had a great exchange” and the meeting was “very productive.” Cacciotti said what he gleaned was that the commissioners are ready to cut a deal. “They were there to listen, they are very informed and knowledgeable about the issue,” he said.

The CTC is mandated to have a joint meeting with the California Air Resources Board, on which Cacciotti serves, and with the state Department of Community and Housing Development. In that meeting, “they will keep in mind what we’ve shared with them about our issues with housing along this corridor.” But he warned that CTC’s jurisdiction over Caltrans is “limited.”

He also said the commissioners were up to speed on SB-381 “and seemed supportive,” though ethics rules prevented them from stating a position.

“We have a lot of work to do with Caltrans” regardless whether SB-381 is approved, Council Member Primuth added. “It was good to hear form the commissioners what they can’t do, what they could do, and how they can play a role hopefully building a process in which the city is much more involved in taking these properties.”

Primuth added that Portantino has been a “hero” for the city not only in legislation but in helping with tenant concerns. Cacciotti and Mayor Diana Mahmud said they agreed that the meeting with the CTC commissioners could not have happened without Portantino.

At its August 18 meeting, CTC executive director Mitch Weiss said that given the increasing interest in the disposition of Caltrans properties and the related legislation, the CTC will be organizing a “listening session” in the coming months to hear from all interested parties and stakeholders.

At the same meeting, Chair Norton mentioned the South Pasadena tour and said it is among the “fact-finding missions” commissioner have undertaken to see how the matter is being handled in cities throughout the state. Commissioners are open to invitations from other cities. The “important thing” is ensuring that these properties are brought up to code and made available for affordable housing. Norton wants to “create pathways with Caltrans” to accomplish this so the state can begin meeting the state’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment numbers “as quickly as possible.” The CTC is looking forward to its “listening session” with Caltrans “so that we can do this in an organized fashion instead of one by one.”



Ben Tansey
Ben Tansey is a journalist and author. He grew up in the South Bay and is a graduate of Evergreen State College. He worked in Washington State as a reporter in a rural timber community and for many years as an editor for a Western electric energy policy publication based in Seattle.