City Workers Talk Key Issues Facing South Pasadena

A rundown of a number of items on the minds of South Pasadenans, including economic development, al fresco dining, the impact of the coronavirus on local businesses and the status of the General Plan and Downtown Specific Plan

PHOTO: Lauren Thomas | News | City Water Tower, South Pasadena (2007)

The impact on businesses due to the coronavirus pandemic, economic development, al fresco dining, the General Plan and Downtown Specific Plan are all key issues on the minds of South Pasadenans.

The city’s mayor, Bob Joe, recently queried the city staff on each item and reports on various projects in town.

The following update was compiled by members of the city staff at Joe’s request. Contributing to the effort were: Margaret Lin, Manager of Long Range Planning and Economic Development; Kanika Kith, Interim Senior Planner; and Joanna Hankamer, Director, Planning & Community Development.

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In some instances, answers were edited for further clarification.

What’s the latest with economic development in town? What are some of the projects being constructed and what’s in the pipeline?

South Pasadena market is still hot. Just to give you an idea, new businesses are coming, one existing business is expanding, and many new projects are being processed.

Grocery Outlet, a new business, held a grand opening in early October. A new flagship Starbucks opened early this month at 901 Fair Oaks, and we look forward to welcoming two new businesses – Chipotle and The Habit Burger – at the same location. An existing business, Two Kids Coffee, is expanding into the adjacent unit.

Planning is processing several residential projects for improvements to existing homes that will help increase our property tax revenue. In addition to residential improvement projects, the city’s Planning Department is processing Seven Patios, a new mixed-use project, for Planning Commission consideration and a pre-application for the existing Carrows’ site to include affordable housing and retail.

Recently, the Planning Department completed a pre-application review for the School House project, a new mixed-use project at the school district office on El Centro, and Planning staff continues to have on-going discussions with the new buyer to create a desirable project for our downtown core. On top of this, Planning staff has also been receiving many inquiries from people interested in starting new businesses in our city.

The city has been working on its General Plan and Downtown Specific Plan, can you give me an update on where it stands?

The General Plan and Downtown Specific Plan are temporarily on hold in order to integrate the Housing Element Update. The plans will proceed simultaneously, including through a coordinated environmental review this winter. We anticipate public hearings for all three plans to resume in the spring next year for summer adoption in time for the deadline for the Housing Element, which is due to the State in in October 2021.

What’s the latest with al fresco dining? How many restaurants are involved? When will it start? What was the last action taken by the City Council?

Al fresco dining is the concept of eating outside during the coronavirus pandemic. Several businesses have expressed interest in the Al Fresco Program. Twelve have submitted applications (10 restaurants and 2 retail businesses). Another 18 businesses have expressed interest or support in the program. They include:

• 4 applications for use of private parking space for outdoor business/retail

• 3 applications for curbside pickup

• 3 applications for sidewalk dining

• 9 applications for use of parking lane, although three have since revised their applications to be for curbside pick up.

K-rail installation recently took place in parts of the city. Within hours that they were installed, Shiro restaurant operated outdoor dining in a parking lane. The city paused the two-day installation to accommodate feedback from businesses near Mission/Diamond who do not want the k-rails and who rely on the on-street parking. Modifications were made.

The City of South Pasadena had originally moved forward with the closure of parking lanes along whole blocks based on best practices for pedestrian/vehicular clarity, but based on the reliance of parking by some businesses, the layout has been redesigned, and modifications for partial-block configurations with additional signage have been approved by the city’s public works director.

In August, with modifications made in September, the City Council approved the contract and plan to install the K-rails on Mission for Phase 2 of the Al Fresco program for use of the parking lane for outdoor dining/retail.

The pandemic has been rough on local businesses. Overall, how are they doing? What would you like to say to residents to support them? 

We understand that the pandemic has placed significant constraints on local businesses. The City of South Pasadena has partnered with the Chamber of Commerce to implement the Al Fresco Dining and Retail Pilot Program in an effort to support our local businesses. The needs of businesses have been evolving, and there is not consensus on how best to support the businesses. The City and Chamber of Commerce staff are working to balance the needs and concerns of all of our constituents.

We have received negative and positive feedback regarding the k-rail implementation of Phase 2 of the Al Fresco Program to allow outdoor dining and retail in the parking lane.

Based on feedback from adjacent business owners, we are making modifications to the K-rail and we will increase our outreach efforts including getting the word out about the signage, sidewalk dining/retail and curbside pickup programs also offered as part of the al fresco program.

We would like to thank the community, both residents and business owners, for their patience and resilience.