Mission Bell Project | Carpenter Union’s Appeal Denied

The contested approval was reaffirmed Wednesday night through a unanimous vote upholding the project's status as meeting the guidelines set by the General Plan

SouthPasadenan.com News | Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters' Attorney, Mitchell Tsai (L) and Mission Bell attorney Emily Murray (R)

South Pasadena city council members Wednesday denied an appeal filed by the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters to the Feb. 11 approval granted by the city’s Planning Commission for the 38-unit Mission Bell mixed-use development slated for a prime downtown location on Mission Street.

Assured by city staff and the city attorney that Mission Bell does not violate the city’s General Plan, the Council voted unanimously against the appeal, which also found no support among the half dozen public comments filed. Mission Bell, financed by local entrepreneurs Andrew and Peggy Cherng, has received considerable support from the community.

Council members, meeting via teleconference due to the COVID-19 pandemic, listened patiently to pre-recorded presentations from city staff, Carpenter’s attorney Mitchell Tsai and Mission Bell architect Dwight Bond as each laid out their cases. Brief live rebuttals were also provided by Tsai and Mission Bell attorney Emily Murray.

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Thai pushed his argument that the city must recirculate its California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review because the document erroneously concluded the project will have no significant impact on historical resources and is inconsistent with the General Plan’s goals for historic resources and low- income housing.

He did not revisit his written procedural complaints about notice, an omission Murray — who said the alleged oversight was meritless — underscored in her rebuttal.

SouthPasadenan.com News | SOURCE: Mapbox 2018; County of Los Angeles 2019. Aerial view of the Lutrell Building (high-lighted by yellow border) in South Pasadena

Murray said the appeal “misstates both the facts and the law.” She said the nearly 100-year-old building at 1115 Mission — a portion of which would be demolished by the project — “is not a historic resource” under CEQA because the city’s historic resource survey lists it as “6-L,” a designation requiring only that the city give it special consideration in the planning process. “The city more than satisfied this requirement with extensive analysis and project design features that preserve components of the building’s store front.”

The structure, also known as the Luttrell Building due to its service as an upholstery store under that name, was originally owned by James Henry McCluer (1860-1931), the great grandson of Gen. Joseph McCluer, founder of the city of Franklinville, New York. His wife Kate Hillyer McCluer (1890-1969), a native of England, lived in South Pasadena for 51 years.

Councilmembers had few questions but, citing a problem at a nearby structure in which public parking was used by tenants for storage, did want to know what recourse the city would have if owners do not uphold a requirement to ensure the availability of 17 public parking spaces. Since the building would already be built there is little, they were told, besides accessing fines.

Over the past two years, the Carpenters union has filed at least five lawsuits against LA County cities, including three against Los Angeles and one each against Monrovia and Commerce, challenging administrative rulings concerning developments. The organization has been accused of filing lawsuits to delay development of projects to gain leverage in contract negotiations.

Tsai, an environmental attorney who was recently elected to the Democratic County Central Committee and who represented the organization in the Monrovia case, had no comment on what, if any, further action the union would now take concerning Mission Bell.


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. He and his wife Karin, an arts administrator from El Sereno, live in South Pasadena.