As 2017 Closes, No Shortage of Ongoing Issues for Pasadena

Published : Tuesday, December 19, 2017 | 6:35 AM

As 2017 Closes, No Shortage of Ongoing Issues for Pasadena

Illegal Pot Dispensaries. A movement supporting rent control. Task forces. School budgets. Police “surveillance.” Here are some local stories which kept Pasadena on the edge of its seat during the past year.

Snuffing Out Illegal Pot Dispensaries

The City’s Code Enforcement Commission approved requiring a Pasadena property owner to evict an illegal marijuana dispensary tenant from her building.

Pasadena Code Compliance Manager Jon Pollard told the Code Enforcement Commission in early December that Amelia Caltacci, the owner of the property at 775 East Washington Boulevard, has been consistently unresponsive to City efforts to halt the operation of the illegal “public nuisance” known as the “The Spot,” on her property.

Caltacci has been issued a “Cease and Desist” notice and four administrative fines between May 2017 and November 2017, totaling $2,013 by the City of Pasadena, but has not responded, said Pollard. She was not present at the hearing.

“I believe she has no interest in complying with any of our notices,” said Pollard.

“She has had enough notice,” said Commissioner Roslyn Simpson after Pollard’s report.

Despite the passage of Prop 64, which legalized possession and sale of recreational marijuana, the State allows cities and municipalities to create their own individual laws. The Pasadena City Council last month unanimously voted to not allow any dispensaries within City boundaries.

Tenants Rise Up

The Pasadena Tenants Union (PTU), the year-old renters rights advocacy group which launched a rent control initiative petition drive November 15, chose to fight for a city-wide Charter Amendment vote on the measure by residents instead of pushing for City Council creation of a City ordinance because they believe Councilmembers are biased against rent control and either favor development and landlords or are landlords themselves.

“The Pasadena Tenants Union decided that it was necessary to go after a ballot initiative rather than rely upon the ‘normal workings,’” said Michelle White, Pasadena Tenants Union member, at a forum conducted by the Pasadena Progressive Discussion Group, “because we’re very familiar with the history of Pasadena and how [the City Councilmembers] relate to tenant issues and affordable housing.”

According to White, no City Councilmembers have as yet taken a stand in favor of rent control. She said at least three Councilmembers are themselves landlords.

“We have no support in City Council for protections, meaningful protections for the preservation of people who live here, where we’ve got problems in terms of preserving the affordable housing that we have,” said White.

Two City Councilmembers interviewed by Pasadena Now took issue with the notion that they are biased “against” rent control.

“It’s something that’s worthy of a discussion” said Vice Mayor John Kennedy.

“I have no bias for or against rent control and I will do what’s in the city’s best interest,” said Councilmember Victor Gordo.

New Task Force Takes on Civic Center Design

Pasadena’s Civic Center Task Force, formed after the City Council effectively slammed the door shut on a luxury boutique hotel across Centennial Plaza from City Hall, and then subsequently decided to embark on “robust public discussion of the Civic Center as a whole, began meeting to create a new plan for the long-shuttered historic Julia Morgan-designed former YWCA building and the Civic Center itself.

The Task Force is currently gathering data, convening public meetings, and will develop recommendations with support from the Planning Department staff, reportedly within the first half of 2018. The Planning staff will then forward the Task Force recommendations to City Council, for approval.

Grappling with Colorado Bridge Suicides

Faced with a troubling number of suicides and suicide attempts from the Colorado Street Bridge this year, some even after the installation of temporary 10-foot-high metal mesh fencing around alcoves that dot the span, the City’s Colorado Bridge Task Force held the first of several meetings in November, to publicly discuss and explore permanent suicide deterrent enhancements to the historic structure.

The meetings are, according to City officials, an effort to gather public input on options that can be incorporated into the historic bridge to help deter future suicide attempts.

The meetings also came as the Habitat for Humanity Desiderio Park housing project under the bridge nears the halfway point on the completion of nine new homes. The homes are being built with the assistance of the families who will actually occupy the houses next summer, according to Frances Hardy, Director of Resource Development at San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity.

The suicides and suicide attempts have troubled Habitat staff as well as local Arroyo residents who have voiced concerns in the past over the proximity of jumpers to their neighborhoods, and the mental health effects on local residents.

Councilmember John Kennedy, chair of the Public Safety Committee, knows too well the pain of suicide and its effect on those around the troubled would-be jumper.

Said Kennedy back in November, “This is a difficult topic and it actually, as it relates to suicide, comes close to home, because my sister-in-law committed suicide last year. It creates a rippling trauma through the family that’s not easily eliminated or pacified and so, if the City of Pasadena can do anything to assist those individuals who are having a difficult time in their life and are contemplating suicide, I think we have an obligation to find out what works and implement what we can as a community, as a city,” Kennedy said.

Mayor Terry Tornek said that suicides from the bridge would not deter building of the new houses and park in the Desiderio project.

“Some people have suggested that we should hold off on building the park adjacent to Desiderio, or they might have an impact on the Desiderio project. I don’t think it has an effect on the Desiderio project,” he said.

Pasadena Votes to End City-Run Elections, Change Voting Cycle

The Pasadena City Council voted unanimously Monday to adopt a resolution formally approving a plan for Pasadena to end City-run elections and comply with the California Voting Participation Rights Act, bringing the City in line with statewide election dates. The resolution formalizes the City’s intention to bring a new charter amendment before voters in June of 2018.

The resolution does not specify which of several possible election formats the City will ultimately choose.

The California Voter Participation Rights Act, signed by Governor Jerry Brown on September 1, 2015, directed all California cities to shift any “off-cycle” local elections to statewide election dates, if local election participation rates result in low voter turnout elections.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra then opined in July that charter cities like Pasadena must also participate in the move to statewide elections. As discussed in an informal”straw poll” taken by the Council in October, the resolution will formalize the City’s intention to comply with the Act.

The City Council will likely submit a Charter Amendment to voters on June 5, 2018, changing the timing of future municipal election dates held in odd-numbered years, so that said elections will occur on statewide election dates held in even-numbered years.

Police Collect Information on Vehicles Driving in Pasadena. A Lot of Data.

Everytime an Pasadena Police Department SUV passes your vehicle within City limits, its Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) system photographs your license plate, reads it and matches it with your vehicle’s registration data — the legal ownership of the car, its registration status — then stamps the record with the location where it was photographed and direction of travel, along with the exact time the information was gathered.

Enough captures, and your patterns of travel might emerge, were anyone to look up your license plate history.

The system even watches parked cars it passes.

For police, the system is a boon. If the ALPR reader “sees” a stolen car or a vehicle connected with a crime or suspect, it instantly announces the car’s presence and identifies the car to the officers in the police vehicle.

The system works. Over the years, although not all their vehicles carry the system, Pasadena police have repeatedly recovered stolen cars and arrested numerous suspects because of their ALPR system.

But the increasing national popularity of such license plate readers has raised the ire of many civil libertarians, including one local former ACLU president. Many rights activists want to know why the information is collected and saved, and what becomes of the information once it is obtained.

Pasadena civil liberties activist Ed Washatka in October submitted to the Pasadena Police Department a request for public records showing the results of one year’s surveillance on his personal automobile via the Pasadena Police Department’s license plate readers. The issue as grown as activists have noted with alarm the growing trend of data collection nationwide.

“The real question,” Said Laurie Levenson, professor of law at Loyola University, “is not whether or not it’s permissible under the 4th amendment to see this information,” said Loyola Law professor Laurie Levenson. “The question is what they’re going to do with it. Ordinarily, we expect law enforcement to be protecting us against crimes, and then trying to solve crimes. We worry if the government just starts collecting a lot of information on everybody and what they’ll be using it for and that’s a separate issue. That can be addressed by legislators or people who run the department, saying how they’re going to use the information. So even if the 4th amendment allows them to collect it, I’m not sure it’s a great idea for them to do so, or be able to use it for any purpose.”

Levenson added, “What I think is a legitimate concern is how much information you want your government to have about where you are at all times, and where you’re driving and what you’re doing.”

Pasadena Unified Struggles with Big Budget Deficit, Cuts

The Board of Education of the Pasadena Unified School District clarified budget reductions for the District in August, in an effort to reduce the impact of a $5.7 million deficit for fiscal year 2017-2018.

Resolution 2414 put forth by the PUSD in August, showed that the Board of Education is targeting at least $10 million to $12 million in reductions for the 2018-2019 school year. The draft also indicated PUSD intends to reduce staffing levels via attrition to align them with declining enrolment, which has consequently decreased revenue available for District operations.

“Experts on district staffing statewide have stated that our district staffing is too high, which limits our ability to provide competitive compensation to district staff,” part of the draft said, stressing that “health care costs and retirement contributions are rising significantly” at the same time.

In 2005 and 2010, the Board of Education voted to close six schools on the outside edges of the school district in response to low enrolment figures and proximity to other schools, criteria that are similar to those in existence today, PUSD said.

PUSD Superintendent Brian McDonald is also establishing a school consolidation and attendance boundaries committee, as well as a budget advisory committee, to recommend changes in school attendance and budget reductions, the draft resolution said.

In December, PUSD presented the School Board with a list of at least $15 million in reductions in ongoing expenditures, with a tiered list of escalating categories of severity to include a description of the impact of each projected cut.

The PUSD cut 53 Instructional Aide Special Education positions in early December, as the first in what may be many budget cuts, as 2018 moves forward.