Caltrans Surplus Properties Bill | Transportation Committee OK’s SB-381 for South Pasadena

The committee vote was 16 to 0 with one member not voting

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

The state Senate Transportation Committee voted Tuesday to approve SB-381, a South Pasadena-sponsored bill to promote sales of dozens of Caltrans-owned properties for low- and moderate-income rentals in the city’s portion of the former SR-710 extension corridor. Bill author Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-25) said SB 381 will make it economically viable for the city to purchase and substantially rehabilitate the properties while still giving existing tenants of both single- and multi-family buildings priority to purchase their homes.

The committee vote was 16 to 0 with one member not voting. Before moving to the Senate floor, the bill will make a stop sometime in May at the Appropriations Committee, which Portantino chairs.

Although approved with amendments recommended earlier by Transportation Committee staff, the measure as passed did not include any of the 10 changes offered by the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation (SPPF) that were discussed in detail for two hours at the City Council’s April 27 regular meeting and adopted on a 4-1 vote with Council Member Evelyn Zneimer noting against.

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SPPF opposed a solely legislative approach to achieve the community’s goals for the disposition of Caltrans-owned properties, leading to the Council’s decision to pursue a “dual track” approach in which the legislation will be pursued even as the city works separately to secure the same outcome through a bilateral negotiation with Caltrans.

The Preservation Foundation did not respond to a request for comment.

South Pasadena Mayor Diana Mahmud told the South Pasadenan News the Council changes were adopted too late to meet a Transportation Committee deadline. But she said Portantino, who’s staff representative told the Council some changes SPPF sought could invite a gubernatorial veto, will review the amendments when the bill goes before the Appropriations Committee.

“He reviews requested amendments with an eye to how he believes they may affect the bill’s future prospects,” the Mayor said in an email. If it makes it through the Senate floor, the bill will then go on to the Assembly “where we start the fun all over again.”

Last week, Portantino aide Kristi Lopez said at least one of the provisions the Council adopted to accommodate SPPF could “trigger a veto.” It was a provision to cancel all debt, penalties and disputes alleged by Caltrans against tenants, and to treat all tenants as being in “good standing” for purposes of making a purchase offer. Lopez said Portantino’s office is prepared to offer constituent services to help tenants resolve disputes with Caltrans, but cannot guarantee outcomes. SPPF has agreed to reconsider the wording of this proposal as the bill moves forward.

Only two persons testified for the bill before the Transportation Committee — Mahmud and city housing consultant Adam Eliason, principal of CivicStone, who was instrumental in drafting its terms. No comments for or against were filed.

Also at its April 21 meeting, the City Council approved a contract of up to $75,000 for CivicStone to prepare and implement the city’s plan for the acquisition and rehabilitation of the Caltrans properties.

At its next meeting May 5, the Council is scheduled to authorize creation of a two-member ad hoc subcommittee “to explore in depth the myriad details associated with managing the disposition of Caltrans surplus homes including, but not limited to, potential negotiations with Caltrans, potential creation of a land trust, and financing strategies for purchase of surplus properties.”

The Council has indicated its intent to place District 3 Council Member Jon Primuth on the ad hoc committee. Several weeks ago, Primuth complained vociferously about having been left off an earlier ad hoc committee that led to the development of SB 381 even though most of the Caltrans properties involved are in his district, as well as about Brown Act regulations that made it impossible for him or Council Members Zneimer and Mike Cacciotti to be in on the talks.

“I am not a potted plant,” Primuth said, echoing Oliver North attorney Brendan Sullivan during the 1987 Congressional Iran-Contra hearings.

“Councilman Primuth,” Mayor Diana Mahmud assured him, “You are not a potted plant.”



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.