ArtCenter master plan set to transform south campus; three-quarter-cent sales tax measure to be placed on Nov. 6 ballot
By Gus Herrera
At their latest regular meeting, the Pasadena City Council approved two massive projects that will certainly alter the fabric of their respective districts.
The first, a controversial mixed-use project at 3200 E. Foothill Blvd. (currently the site of Space Bank self-storage) returned to the agenda for a second consecutive week after failing to achieve approval on July 9.
According to staff’s report, the project, which was approved by a vote of 5-3, will include the demolition of the 29 existing structures on the 8.53-acre site and the construction of eight separate residential mixed-use buildings (all buildings will be a maximum of 60 feet tall). The project will also include two parking structures – a two-level subterranean garage and a five-story above-grade lot (total of 839 vehicle spots).
The complex will provide Pasadena with 550 apartment units, including 69 on-site affordable units, and will feature an open-space design with various courtyards, park space, and retail stores.
Although some welcome the project as a new recreational destination for East Pasadenans, others question the safety of allowing potential residents and their families to live and play in such close proximity to the 210 Freeway.
Council Member Gene Masuda, who represents this area of East Pasadena (District 4), urged his colleagues to join him in opposing the project.
“I voted against this complex last week,” he said, “it’s a known fact that if you live near a freeway, it’s unhealthy … I want our council members to ask themselves, ‘would you want your family to live next to the freeway?’ I think not.”
Council Member Tyron Hampton was similarly unconvinced by the project’s plan to mitigate potential health risks, “I can’t hold on to mitigation … it’s not concrete enough to say that this is going to be a safe place … it’s just not the development for a place that close to the freeway … I stand with Council Member Masuda and his district in voting no.”
Masuda also opposed the project because of the additional traffic that 550 additional units will bring to an already-saturated stretch of Foothill Boulevard. He cited the handful of other large developments within a few blocks and reminded everyone of the potentially dangerous consequences of boxing in the engines of Fire Station 37, which is located at the corner of Foothill and Halstead.
On top of all these concerns, the project site was also formerly used by the Navy as an ordinance testing facility – a factor which has “generated the presence of hazardous materials in soil and soil vapor, and potentially [the] groundwater beneath the property,” per staff’s report. The developer will bear the full cost of remediating the property and no building permit will be issued until the clean-up satisfies the standards of the California Department of Toxic Substance Control.
In the end, the project was approved after council agreed to include a condition that would require future residents to be provided with a copy of the project’s health risk assessment at the time of lease agreement.
Later in the evening, council approved a second monumental project – ArtCenter College of Design’s 15-year master plan.
According to the city staff’s report, the ambitious plan will increase ArtCenter’s attendance by approximately 5,000 full-time equivalent students and increase faculty/staff from 753, to approximately 994 between the college’s two campuses.
In addition to renovating ArtCenter’s Hillside Campus, the plan also includes a major construction project that will revolutionize the school’s southern campus (located between South Raymond Avenue and South Arroyo Parkway).
Construction will include three 100-foot-tall, eight-story buildings for academic programs and student housing, an elevated open quad area over the Metro Gold Line, and a mobility hub.
Although council approved the master plan unanimously, the project was not immune from a bit of controversy – ArtCenter was also asking for a text amendment to the city’s zoning code to allow outdoor electronic signs, a request which was tabled for further study by the council.
The master plan had hoped to include the installation of a massive 8,000-square-foot digital gallery on the façade of the existing 1111 S. Arroyo Parkway building, but various residents and council members alike felt that allowing electronic signs was a slippery slope for the city.
Finally, past midnight, council voted to place a three-quarter-cent sales tax ballot measure on the Nov. 6 ballot. If approved, the city hopes to create a locally-controlled revenue source to help offset ever-increasing operating costs and millions of dollars of unfunded capital needs. According to the staff report, the sales tax would provide approximately $21 million annually.
The ballot would also include an advisory measure asking citizens whether they would support using one-third of the measure’s revenue to help fund Pasadena’s public schools.
Following brief deliberation, given the late hour, council approved the measure without opposition.
“I’m normally not supportive of a tax in general,” said Council Member Hampton, “but I believe in you [City Manager] Steve Mermell … you’ve been doing your darnedest to balance the budget.”
“To the voters, let us know what you think,” said Vice-Mayor John Kennedy, “we’ve got to do something because costs continue to rise.”