Councilmembers Take Fight Against Space Bank Project to the State

Victor Gordo and Gene Masuda, question the cleanup of former naval missile and torpedo lab for new housing development

Published : Friday, March 29, 2019 | 5:40 AM

Two Pasadena City Councilmembers continued their fight Thursday against a proposed 8-acre-plus housing development on the site of a former Navy missile and torpedo testing laboratory in East Pasadena.

The planned four-to-five-story, mixed-use development would be located at 3202 East Foothill Blvd. The site is currently occupied by the Space Bank Mini Storage facility.

“There is a fear of the unknown here,” Councilmember Victor Gordo told staffers from the State Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC), adding, “You have a responsibility to build trust here, not tear it down. This is a lasting decision with lasting consequences.”

The planned four-to-five-story, mixed-use development would be located at 3202 East Foothill Blvd. The site is currently occupied by the Space Bank Mini Storage facility.

Gordo and Councilmember Gene Masuda, who voted against the development last July, joined nearly a hundred concerned residents at the meeting to focus on the planned cleanup process at the site.

The meeting at the Pasadena City College Community Education Center, a half-block from the site, was a presentation by DTSC to present its work plans and hear comments from the community.

The meeting also comes only one day after angry residents bombarded County Supervisor Kathyrn Barger with complaints about the use of the chemical Glyphosate (in a product known as Roundup) at a City Hall meeting over the ongoing “Big Dig” project at Devil’s Gate Dam.

Councilmember Gordo said he knows the Spacebank site well.

“I worked there when I was a boy of 11 or 12, packing footballs into gift boxes, to be sold at the Rose Bowl,” Councilmember Gordo told the DTSC staff.

According to Gordo, the site has been a metal finishing shop as well as a body shop, both of which used chemicals, which, at the time, were simply dumped into sewers.

Councilmember Masuda also asked DTSC staff about air quality monitoring on the site, and like Gordo and many residents, asked that the current 30-day public comment period be extended to July 8.

A number of residents questioned the number of incinerators which have existed on the site in its history, with some saying there were five. DTSC staffers said only one was ever discovered over its 20-year investigation of the site.

Among other complaints were reports that the site contains traces of RDX and TNT, which were used by the Navy in developing missiles and torpedoes.

DTSC staff responded to the comments by first saying that the comment period would likely be extended.

“This is not something we can decide tonight,” said Branch Chief Javier Hinojosa of the State Mitigation and Restoration Program, “but I definitely think there will be an extension.”

DTSC Project Manager Nick Ta responded to the question of the number of incinerators on the site, saying that one was at the site’s southern boundary, but that no others were ever found. Ta also said that the DTSC found no evidence of RDX use at the site, although he admitted that some might have been used in the 1940s.

“This was a research and development site,” Ta explained. “It was bench lab testing.”

The large-scale housing 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 and is the former site of a US Navy missile and torpedo testing operation.

The site has been occupied by the Space Bank Mini Storage Facility since 1978 and, according to a City 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 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.

According to the report prepared last year, 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 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.

The developers, who along with many others over the years, paid for testing on the site, would also be required to install groundwater monitoring wells to determine the ongoing levels of contaminants.

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