City Council Plans Next Step in $6.3 Million Caltrans Property Takeover

Additionally, the City will review demands for more stop signs on Meridian Ave, where residents have taken issue with hazardous conditions

FILE PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | News | City Council meets at City Hall

Anticipating success in its ambitious strategy to take control over the future of up to 68 Caltrans properties in South Pasadena, the City Council on Wednesday is poised to authorize the next step. If all goes according to plan, the city could close escrow on the properties as early as September 2022.

After receiving reports from and providing direction to its Legislative and Non-Legislative Caltrans Surplus Properties Ad Hoc Committees, the Council is set to authorize its housing contractor and city staff to issue a request for proposals for an inspection and repair estimate on 22 unoccupied properties, and to work out details of how to fund and finance purchase and rehabilitation. The work is contingent on Caltrans granting access, and it is undecided if or how much of the inspection cost will be split between Caltrans and the city.

The overall purchase would include 56 single family houses, 10 multi-family residences and two empty lots — including what is now the community garden. The city issued a two-phase acquisition cost estimate $6.285 million.

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The cost for the RFP issuance and exploration of funding options is already covered in the city’s existing $75,000 contract with its housing contractor, Chino-based CivicStone Inc., which to date has billed the city $16,789.

According to South Pasadena Mayor Diana Mahmud “The Governor has until October 10 to sign enacted bills.  I know SB 381 directs Caltrans to develop emergency regulations to implement its provisions (assuming it is enacted), and that Caltrans then has 90 days from the date its emergency regulations are approved [by the Office of Administrative Law] to submit to the City an offer for purchase of the properties.” She further explains the process: “…then the emergency regulations must be approved by OAL.  Also, the staff reports notes we are proposing an amendment to the bill to clarify that the City will not be able to close on any tenant-occupied property until 274 days after Caltrans emergency regulations are adopted, to provide ample time for tenants to obtain financing for the purchase of their home.”

More specifics on the plans are provided in a detailed staff report (Item 14) from the City Manager.

The City’s optimism appears to be based on the progress of SB 381, the city-sponsored bill that would enable it to purchase the properties at Caltrans’ original cost in exchange for ensuring the properties are used for low- or moderate-income ownership or rental for at least 55 years.

The bill, authored by Sen. Anthony Portantino, “has moved through the Senate without opposition,” according to the city staff report, and was approved 8-0 on July 12 by the Assembly’s Committee on Housing and Community Development. The committee made two amendments, including one to increase to $1.2 million the amount Caltrans can spend on repairs, and another to keep the resale price of certain homes to existing tenants at a level based on their 2016 appraisal.

The bill now awaits a hearing in the Assembly Appropriations Committee sometime in August.

The Legislative Ad Hoc Committee — consisting of Mayor Diana Mahmud and Council Member Jack Donovan — is advocating for a further amendment detailing terms of the sale to the city, including its ability to utilize a double escrow.

“Further amendments may be forthcoming as a result of Sen. Portantino’s discussions with Caltrans, as he seeks to veto-proof the bill,” the staff report cautioned. Portantino told the South Pasadenan this week that while he’s optimistic the bill will get to the Governor’s office, he expects Newsom “will have a lot to say” about it. While there’s been informal communication, Portantino said the Governor does not generally engage fully on a bill until it reaches his desk.

Meantime the Non-Legislative Ad Hoc Committee (consisting of Council Members Jon Primuth and Michael Cacciotti) is working on the city’s alternative strategy to negotiate a deal directly with Caltrans and the California Transportation Committee. It is planning to host a meeting with CTC commissioners, Caltrans staff and other stakeholders to tour certain Caltrans properties in town and to discuss various issues, the staff report said.  Portantino and his staff, along with community representatives, will also be invited on the tour, which is tentatively set for the first week in August.

Also this week, the Council is set to provide direction to staff on the installation of all-way stop signs at the intersections of Meridian Ave and Oak, Pine, and Maple Streets. Demands for such signs have been a cause célèbre in South Pasadena for over 20 years. The City will also consider authorizing a $9,010 contract amendment with Adhami Engineering Group for the preparation of engineering design, construction documents and specifications for rectangular rapid flashing beacons at Meridian Ave and Oak St.

On a related note, the City is also set to authorize contracts for the Fair Oaks traffic signal improvements project. Up to $541,250 will be authorized for Cross Town Electrical and Data, Inc., and $149,429 for Willdan Engineering for construction management and inspection services.

The city is also planning to authorize spending $59,000 for emergency repairs to its water system due to damage caused by a Dec. 9, 2020 Southern California Edison power surge that caused an outage throughout the city. The surge damaged equipment at the Grand Reservoir and Pump Station, including the booster pump starter, surge protector, SCADA logic control panel and communication radios. The equipment provides pressure regulation and water storage to pump water to the city’s high elevation Raymond Pressure Zone. Grand Reservoir is the second largest water storage facility in town, with a 2.3-million-gallon capacity.

The surge took Grand Pump Station out of service, but Public Works was able to keep the system operating through back up facilities.

Repair work was completed by General Pump Company and Control Automation Design.

A staff memo said Public Works has filed a claim with the city’s risk insurance provider.



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.