Citing a last-minute request from the developer, the South Pasadena City Council on Feb. 3 postponed for one month a vote on the approval of environmental certifications for the 60-unit, mixed-use Seven Patios development to be built on the south side of El Centro St. along the Metro Gold line. The reason for the delay was not given, but it came shortly after the city received public comments from two critics and two supporters of the project.
The City’s Planning Commission recommended the Council approve a “mitigated negative declaration” and an associated monitoring plan for Seven Patios, along with a number of conditions. One condition authorizes the chairs of the Planning Commission and the Mobility and Transportation Infrastructure Commission (MTIC) to decide — within a year after the project is completed — if a study on its traffic impacts should be performed.
A group of eight homeowners along Orange Grove Ave. and Orange Grove Pl. said MTIC “should review the project and traffic circulation before it is built, not just within one year after.” They also argued three stand-alone homes that are part of the Seven Patios development have heights that, while within code, are not compatible with the neighborhood or other recently approved projects nearby.
The group also cited a separate matter detailed at length in a seven-page comment, not including exhibits, filed by resident Delaine Shane, a former environmental consultant with the Metropolitan Water District.
Shane argued the city should have required a more detailed environmental review. The project includes two levels of subterranean parking; there is a “high probability” of buried hazardous waste at the site from at least three sources — a former roofing company, nearby train activity and aging residential refuse. She said the city’s contract planner, Converse Engineers, incorrectly stated that the roofing company, Fisk & Mason, was not at the site because no building permit was found. She goes on to document the firm’s existence at the site for at least 30 years through the 1950s and discusses the types of hazardous material that may have been used by the roofing company, in connection with the railroad, and by the residences.
“Development should be done in a safe and legally responsible manner,” Shane told the South Pasadenan News. “The fact that they initially rejected my legitimate concerns over soil contamination, when they had no true justification for not doing a soil boring sampling program for contamination prior to construction, I found shocking.
Construction practices in the early/mid-20th century were unregulated and companies would routinely dump their construction wastes in water bodies and in the ground,” she said. The Seven Patios project “is so close to residents, to the Orange Grove Park where kids play, and to the Gold Line Station where commuters wait. Why wouldn’t they want to ensure that there was a plan in place to remove potential soil contamination?”
Richard McDonald, the Seven Patios attorney who requested the one-month delay, said he could not disclose the reason but said it was “not anything I regard as unique or out of the ordinary.” He said his client has already addressed the critics’ comments, which he called “unnecessarily dramatic.”
“We did soil samples and we bored holes and found nothing,” he told the South Pasadenan News. In a letter to the city, he said many of the project’s critics offer “nothing more than personal conjecture, speculation or unsubstantiated opinions.” California law requires a higher standard to trigger a more rigorous environmental impact report, he said. In addition, the city’s building department will require another soil report before a grading permit is given, and so “will oversee all excavation and hauling of the dirt [Shane] is so concerned about, i.e., even if something were there, it is being hauled away.”
On traffic, Shane complained the developer’s GANDDINI Group traffic study, in addition to never having been reviewed by the Planning, Freeway or MTIC Commissions, relied on information from 2017 that does not include the impacts of a range of projects now within the planning horizon, including those in the city’s soon-to-be-released General Plan update.
Richardson responded by noting the traffic study is dated February 2020 and that “a number of the suggested commissions do not exist anymore.” He also pointed out that Shane acknowledged the traffic study was not a requirement, and that she had previously agreed to the condition giving the Planning and MTIC chairs discretion over a future traffic study.
Richardson also included a lengthy discussion of the Housing Accountability Act and the recently enacted SB 330, which constrain the city’s ability to disapprove housing developments. In fact, the latter was the subject of a presentation the Council heard at its meeting Feb. 17, after which Mayor Diana Mahmud lamented the Legislature’s ongoing efforts to override local control of housing permits in response to the state’s housing crisis.
In other business Feb. 3, the Council:
— Approved Mayor Mahmud’s appointments to various commissions. Planning Commission Chair John Lesak was reappointed, while Barbara Klein was appointed to the Senior Citizen Commission. Four new members were appointed to the Youth Commission, which has not met since the start of the pandemic: Jake Wong, Eliana Andrea, Yousef Khan and Nadeem Mallet. The Mayor also asked for approval to allow Laura Dahl to complete her term on the Planning Commission and to appoint Frank Catania to the Public Works Commission. These last two appointments were needed to fix what the Mayor said were appointments made “inadvertently” at a previous meeting due to confusion over the expiry of certain terms.
— Heard Council Member Jon Primuth’s motion to create a subcommittee to prepare a statement of the “core values we have as a city by which are going to operate.” The values in the statement should be informed by the “difficult experience” the city recently went through and those of which he spoke of during the campaign, so they can be “operationalized” in the job description of the new city manager for which the city is currently recruiting. Mayor Mahmud said such a subcommittee would fall under the Brown Act and recommended instead that she and Primuth meet informally to develop the statement and then circulate it among the other Council members. Primuth agreed.
Under the recruitment proposal the city authorized Nov. 4, 2020, Bob Murray & Assoc. said the city manager search “can be completed in 13-16 weeks.” Interim City Manager Sean Joyce is slated to remain in place until a permanent is selected. Joyce recently indicated he now expects to remain with the city through at least April 1, over a month longer than originally contemplated.
— Adopted a resolution condemning the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the US Capitol, when the United States’ historically unprecedented tradition of peaceful transfers of power was trashed by a pathetic mob of painfully ignorant fools who were, according to the resolution, “encouraged and incited by the sitting President, Donald J. Trump, some Republican members of the House and Senate, and others who, for months spewed misinformation about the election and its results.”
— Approved a proclamation declaring of February “Black History Month” in South Pasadena. Mayor Mahmud highlighted the fact that redlining, the practice of denying mortgages to credit-worthy people based on their race or neighborhood, was practiced not only by banks, but also by the federal government in its allocation of Federal Housing Administration loan guarantees — a historical tidbit she picked up in connection with recent events featuring Richard Rothstein’s 2017 book, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of how our Government Segregated America.
The Mayor also seconded a request by Council Member Evelyn Zneimer agreeing to a request by the Anti-Racism Coalition to bring forth a resolution, based on a model adopted by the City of Glendale on Sept. 15, 2020, acknowledging the city’s past status as a “sundown town,” under which non-white persons were required to be out of the city by sunset. The resolution is set to be on the Council’s March 3 agenda.
— Recognized an Eagle Scout Award Certificate of Achievement given to Michael R. Johnson of Boy Scouts of American Troop 333, which is chartered out of South Pasadena. Johnson was recognized for outstanding accomplishments in leadership, community service and personal development. Johnson gave an account of his work updating the East LA Boys’ and Girls’ Club Aquatic Center’s safety equipment.
— Received an update from Ontario Mayor Paul Leon, a representative to the Goldline Construction Authority. He said the line, complete through the Azusa Pacific/Citrus College Station, has commenced construction on the next segment to Pomona, for which 3 of 21 at-grade crossings have already been completed, including a considerable amount of electric, sewer and rail infrastructure upgrades. The work is fully funded and ahead of schedule and plans are to complete the new Glendora Station by the end of 2024.
After that, the plan is to continue to Montclair and then, he hopes, to Ontario Airport. However, getting to Montclair alone will require a half billion dollars for which no source has yet been identified.