Council Moves ‘Space Bank’ Foothill Boulevard Project Forward Despite Toxins Concerns

Numerous residents voice concerns about the toxicity of former Naval weapons site, from both previous experiments and current freeway fumes

Published : Tuesday, July 17, 2018 | 4:05 AM

Following a lengthy public discussion in a meeting that ran until nearly 1 a.m. Tuesday morning, the Pasadena City Council has paved the way for a proposed mixed-use 550-unit housing development for 3200 East Foothill Boulevard in East Pasadena.

The large-scale project, which has been nearly twelve years in development, would dramatically alter its Sierra Madre/Foothill Boulevard neighborhood.

The development site, which abuts the 210 Freeway, is currently a public storage area called “Space Bank,” and is the former site of a US Navy missile testing operation.

The Council, which voted to approve the project’s Sustainable Communities Environmental Assessment (SCEA) last week, took no new testimony on the issue Monday.

In a split vote with Councilmember Gene Masuda leading the opposition, the Council approved the Land Use Findings of the Planning Department, 5-3, and directed the City Attorney to prepare an ordinance for a zone map amendment to change the zoning of the site, and directed the City Clerk to file a Notice of Determination with the Los Angeles County Recorder.

A number of speakers, including Councilmember John Kennedy, pressed Planning Director David Reyes on the level of filtration possible to protect the project tenants from its proximity to diesel particulates from the nearby 210 Freeway, which the project abuts. Reyes reported that tenants would be provided with special air filters with a MERV rating of 13.
MERV refers to the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value which was developed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioner Engineers (ASHRAE). MERV values vary from 1 to 16. The higher the MERV value, the more efficient the filter will be in trapping airborne particles, according to ASHRAE.

A MERV 13 filter would capture 75% of particulates, while a MERV 16 filter would provide 95% filtration, said a City environmental planner. A MERV 13 filter is the legal requirement, said Reyes, who added that the health risk from the project is under Air Quality Management District (AQMD) requirement, and is projected over thirty years.

Kennedy also added a requirement that tenants in the project be given “full disclosure” as to the risks of living so close to the freeway, and instructions on the use of the special air filters.

Councilmember Gene Masuda, in whose district the project is located, said following the vote, “I’m disappointed. There was a lot of good testimony tonight. But to me, this was a project that was saying, ‘It’s okay to live near the freeway.’ That is not something we should be saying.”

Masuda also expressed concern about the ‘totality’ of the impact of a number of similar projects planned for that area in East Pasadena.

The project developer, Pasadena Gateway, LLC, a division of Dallas-based Trammell Crow, Inc., proposes demolishing 29 existing structures on the approximately 8.53 acre project site and building eight separate residential and mixed-use buildings, subterranean and above-ground parking structures, as well as landscaping.
The project would also include a total of 550 apartment units and 9,800 square feet of retail and restaurant space. Three of the buildings would be four stories, five would be five stories, and all would have a maximum height of 60 feet.

The project would also include approximately two acres of combined on-site recreational and open space amenities consisting of a public park in the center portion of the site, two courtyards, a dog park, a paseo, a fitness center, two clubhouses, and a retail court.

Housing units would be mixed on each level and would include 165 studio units, 165 one-bedroom units, 192 two-bedroom units, and 28 three-bedroom units. Sixty-nine of the units would be affordable, 23 would be moderate income, and 26 would be very low income.

Parking would be provided in a two-level subterranean parking structure located on the north side of the property along Foothill Boulevard and a five-level above grade parking structure located along the rear of the property adjacent to the 1-210 Freeway.

A total of 839 vehicle parking stalls and 84 bicycle parking stalls would be provided.

The 8.2 acre main project site is on the south side of East Foothill Boulevard, between North Kinneloa Avenue and Sierra Madre Villa Avenue in East Pasadena. The site has been occupied by the Space Bank Mini Storage Facility since 1978 and, according to the staff report, was owned and operated by the US Navy as the Naval Information Research Foundation (NIRF) Undersea Center, beginning in the late 1940′s through the late 1970′s.

The site was reportedly used by the Navy for testing and scientific work involving classified materials, torpedoes, and other weapon systems.

The Navy vacated the site in 1974. The site was subsequently purchased at auction by Space Bank, Ltd. in 1978 and has been used since as a self-storage facility. Historical use of the project site for research, testing, and assembly of torpedoes and other weapon systems has generated the presence of hazardous materials in soil and soil vapor, and potentially in groundwater beneath the property. The project includes remediation required by and at the direction of the California Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC). The remediation would be required to be completed before utilizing the site as a mixed-use development.

The developers would also be required to install groundwater monitoring wells to determine the ongoing levels of contaminants.