Council Vote Stops (for Now) Large East Pasadena Development on Site Which Likely Contains Toxins

Project expected to return to Council for more discussion next month

Published : Tuesday, July 10, 2018 | 5:13 AM

Editor’s Note: This article originally reported that all four of the recommendation under consideration were passed, but in fact, it was only the adoption of the environmental documents that passed unanimously, recognizing that the staff’s environmental analysis was complete and correct.

Following a three-and-a-half-hour public hearing Monday, a Pasadena City Council 4-3 vote temporarily stymies further progress on a proposed mixed-use housing development for a 400,000 square foot site at 3200 East Foothill Boulevard in East Pasadena, the former site of a U.S. Navy weapons research facility.

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

Abutting the I-210 Freeway, the development site is currently used a public storage operation called “Space Bank.”

For additional background, see our previous story here

The site likely contains potentially dangerous toxins left over from Navy research and testing, as previous studies have indicated. The proposed developer would have to conduct a large and thorough cleanup.

In an unusual move, Mayor Terry Tornek proposed Councilmember Gene Masuda — who opposed the project over environmental concerns — to introduce a motion to “not accept” a staff recommendation to approve the first of five measures, halting the project’s progress, at least for the moment.

Because of the nature of the motion, Councilmembers who voted against Masuda’s motion were in favor of moving the project forward.

Said Masuda, prior to the vote, “This is such a complex project. I can’t [support] the air filtering system, and this is still near the freeway. There’s toxicity in the soil.”

Masuda also expressed concerns about traffic congestion and parking.

Four other elements under consideration—adopting Land Use findings for a zone map amendment, establishing the project Number PD 36- 3200 as a Planned Development with various conditions of approval, directing the City Attorney to prepare the Ordinance for the Zone Map Amendment, and directing the City Clerk to file a Notice of Determination with the Los Angeles County Recorder—did not pass the Council.  Only the adoption of the environmental documents were passed unanimously, which recognized that the staff’s environmental analysis was complete and correct.

“This will come back to us, “said Mayor Tornek, who said he was in favor of the project.

“It better come back soon,” responded Councilmember Margaret McAustin, who said that the project, despite her concerns about soil cleanup and mitigation efforts, met the City’s need for more housing.

As presented in a report by Senior Planner David Sanchez, the developer, Pasadena Gateway, LLC, a division of Dallas-based Trammell Crow, Inc., proposed demolishing 29 existing structures on the approximately 8.53 acre project site and constructing eight separate residential and mixed-use buildings, subterranean and above-ground parking structures, as well as landscaping.

The project would 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 project site is on the south side of East Foothill Boulevard, between North Kinneloa Avenue and Sierra Madre Villa Avenue in East Pasadena. It has been occupied by the Space Bank Mini Storage Facility since 1978 and, according to the staff report, was owned and operated by the U.S. 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.

A wide range of speakers at the meeting supported the project, while others voiced concerns about the site’s toxicity and the displacement of the businesses currently located there.

“This is the right project in the right place,” said Pasadena Chamber of Commerce CEO Paul Little. “This is a good project. We need housing.”

Little also noted, as did others, that the developers would be working with John Muir High School’s Engineering and Environmental Science Department during the construction of the project.

Iron Worker’s Union Local 14 rep, Al Duarte, echoed Little’s comments, saying, “The applicant is investing in us.”

Pasadena Heritage Executive Director Sue Mossman also spoke in favor of the project, saying, “This is a crucial part of our history.”

While Councilmember Steve Madison had originally asked to table Monday’s vote due to the absence of Councilmember Victor Gordo, the Council will likely take up the matter again in August.