City, Los Angeles County Wrangle Over "The Panhandle"

Narrow strip of land partly under Pasadena Police headquarters belongs to the County, and the County wants its payment

Published : Wednesday, April 4, 2018 | 5:24 AM

It turns out that when Pasadena built its Police Department headquarters building at 207 North Garfield Avenue in 1989, it didn’t exactly own all the property at the site.

A narrow $600,000 strip of land running east and west off Garfield Avenue, the former location of a parking structure entrance driveway, belongs to the County of Los Angeles. And the County wants its money.

“The police building sits, in part, on top of a portion of land that is still owned by the County. This is referred to as the ‘panhandle,’ as it is connected to the parcel of land that the parking garage sits on,” explained Pasadena City Manager Steve Mermell.

The decades-old unresolved dissension was at the top of last week’s formal discussions with Pasadena City Councilmembers and County Fifth District Supervisor Kathryn Barger.

According to a report prepared by the City for the meeting, the parking garage sits on land the City previously owned, and which Pasadena agreed to contribute to the County to build the parking structure. In recent years the structure was transferred to the court system per a state directive, which the City reportedly never agreed to.

Explained Mermell, “We’ve been working with the County for many years in hopes of cleaning up the title to this property. We hope to be close to resolution.”

“The County of Los Angeles and the City of Pasadena are currently in negotiations regarding the City purchasing a small piece of County-owned property near Pasadena City Hall,” agreed Tony Bell, Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s communications deputy.

“The details of the transaction are still being worked out,” he added.

While the matter was discussed, no action could be taken at the meeting by the Council since there was no quorum of Councilmembers.

“It’s a little strip of land and the County owns it,” said Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek. “We have to pay the County money, we’ve agreed on the amount and it’s really just the terms of the payment that needs to be resolved. They just need to bring it to a conclusion.”

Let’s go back half a century: Los Angeles County and the City of Pasadena agreed to build a 963-space Police parking garage in 1966.

In 1989, the current Police building was constructed, and the garage entrance was shifted to Ramona Street on the south side of the building. Pasadena paid $2 million for a heliport and structural upgrades to the parking structure.

But clear title to the Panhandle property was left unresolved.

In 2008, the County transferred the parking structure property to the state—without the City’s concurrence—and in 2012, Pasadena agreed to pay $600,000 for the strip of Panhandle land, paying $30,000 a year at 4 percent interest over 41 years.

Then it all got more complicated when, according to the City, the County recently asked for the balance of the $600,000 to be paid all at once. Which is what the County and Pasadena are now trying to work out.

Once payment is resolved, rights to the parking garage will require a new agreement with the state, according to a City staff report, though the same report notes that all parties agree that City owns 30% of Garage.

The City of Pasadena would officially acquire the Panhandle along with perfect title to the Police Building, according to the City report. The City would also gain the full city share of parking spaces in the garage.

Asked when the issue, unresolved for 29 years, might be officially cleared up, Mayor Tornek told Pasadena Now, “I hope a couple of weeks.”

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