City Summons the Press | Hanscom Drive Inspection Warrant Explained

A special presentation put together by city officials to explain their side of recent code enforcement inspection of a South Pasadena residence, who's owner has filed a lawsuit agains the City of South Pasadena.

PHOTO: Ben Tansey | News | Code enforcement inspection on Hanscom Dr. with police escort.

The January 11, 2018 sewage spill on Hanscom Dr. in South Pasadena was the fault of homeowner Alison Smith, city officials told reporters Friday afternoon. And while the city filed its answer and cross compliant in the lawsuit Smith brought seeking redress for damages and emotional distress, the city is not only prepared to mediate, but is even willing to pay for the mediator.

Overwhelmed by what the city officials regard as a plethora of misinformation on social media about the events surrounding the Hanscom Dr. sewage fiasco, South Pasadena’s top officials called on local media to attend a 2:00 pm sit down in the city’s Fire Station to press their case. Present were Mayor Marina Khubesrian, City Attorney Teresa Highsmith, Spokesman John Pope and on the phone, City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe.

“It is not true that the City accepted responsibility for the sewage spill, which we believe was caused by a clog in Ms. Smith’s own sewer lateral,” Pope said. And while the cause remains in dispute and is the subject of an ongoing city investigation as well as the litigation, “it is the city’s position that it was her own un-permitted plumbing work” which caused the backup.

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After Pope gave a detailed timeline of events, Highsmith discussed aspects of the case at length. The city also disclosed the results of its controversial inspection of the Smith home last week, saying it’s building official identified 29 findings constituting a wealth of permit violations—a record of noncompliance that the officials said was nearly unprecedented.

“Ms. Smith has chosen to knowingly perform substantial work inside and outside her home and on her property without any building permits, electric permits, plumbing permits, mechanical permits or grading permits,” he said. But Highsmith said the city would try to work out a compliance plan with Smith and vowed not to bring the inspection findings into the litigation.

Highsmith also sought to clear up criticism that the city overreacted when it sent three police offers to serve Smith the warrant and on the next day stationed both a uniformed officer and a police captain in an unmarked car for the inspection itself. The City Attorney said sending police officers is common practice in South Pasadena and elsewhere to serve warrants to the rare building owners who do not grant officials permission to inspect their property. She said that this was the only time she was aware of it happening this year in South Pasadena.

She said the three officers were on their way to another event when they were called upon to serve the warrant.

In addition to a copy of Pope’s statement, the city provided a copy of the timeline, a copy of the building inspection report and a copy of original claim Smith filed.

The South Pasadenan News has also obtained a copy of city’s Answer to Smiths amended complaint  and the City of South Pasadena’s cross claim.

“Generally the city avoids addressing legal issues in public when there is pending litigation,” Pope told the reporters. “However we have little choice but to respond when the facts are ignored or misrepresented as they have been repeatedly” in regard to Smith affair.

More on this issue as the story unfolds.

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.


  1. This seems to prove exactly what many of us are saying. I’m sure it’s unethical and against policy for the city to discuss the results of a home inspection. It’s also against policy for the city to discuss ongoing litigation. I know the case is being discussed all over social media, but so what? If the city is being run by professionals, they should ignore what’s going on on social media, and litigate their case where it belongs.

  2. I’d like to know where the three detectives were headed. Somehow that doesn’t ring true. Where was the actual warrant after it was obtained from the Alhambra Court? This is a small town. Wherever the three of them may have been going, one of them could have served the warrant and gone back to City Hall to meet up with the others. I’m not buying this. Editor: I think you should interview the three detectives: Palmieri, Jacobs, and Dubois. I doubt the city will let you near them.

  3. The city is being run by a bunch of elected thugs. Does this press conference not prove that? It’s time for the city Council all to retire and recognize that the people that live here now do not want 40-year-old Style justice.

  4. So now that we have two completely incompatible sets of claims, it seems like the kind of clashing truths that a jury should work out.

    But note that none of this addresses the question about a pretextual search: a search in service of the lawsuit, dressed up as unrelated code enforcement. The city’s position is now that the code enforcement inspection had nothing to do with the lawsuit, and also that the code enforcement inspection revealed things that protect the city from the lawsuit. At the very least, the judge overseeing the lawsuit should hear that the city went to another courthouse for a warrant to search the home of a litigant.

    A very aggressive course for the city to choose. We’ll know the truth after both sides air their evidence at a trial, and I hope to see one.