Guest Opinion | Erika Foy : Gateway to Woes

Published : Sunday, October 20, 2019 | 1:50 PM

Old Pasadena is arguably the most iconic of our city’s neighborhoods. Once dilapidated and run-down, Pasadena Heritage had the foresight to maintain and ultimately rehabilitate the area. In 1979, the city passed the Urban Conservation Overlay Zone, saving the historic structures of Old Pasadena and laying the foundation for revitalization. By December of 1992, LA Times wrote an article about Old Pasadena’s resurgence with the headline, “From Seedy to Trendy: Redevelopment: A once-blighted area is now a hip entertainment mecca. But merchants fear success will bring Westwood-style woes.”

The district of Old Pasadena is an urban success story that has been covered by real estate and city planner magazines throughout the country. Over the years, this historic district has become the heart of our city and the most recognizable part of town, with something to offer everyone from families with kids, to young adults, to professionals, to retirees. Old Pasadena is the type of district other cities are constantly trying to recreate for themselves, and now, sadly, I fear it is at risk.

On October 9th, the Pasadena Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit to allow a cannabis dispensary at 169 West Colorado in Old Pasadena. This property is on the same corner as the Central District Gateway and would be the first business visitors see when entering Old Pasadena from the west. Neighborhood gateways in Pasadena are unique in that these entryways set the tone for each distinct neighborhood, and as such, they subtly present the culture of each neighborhood. Considering that the Central District Gateway marks the entrance to the most popular and recognizable area of Pasadena (and therefore functions in a very meaningful way as the gateway to our entire city), it is a mistake to allow a dispensary to be the first thing visitors see when they visit Old Pasadena.

Instead of creating an inviting space with mature trees, historic signage, and quaint outdoor seating areas to signify the entry of the gateway, we are dangerously close to allowing a store to sell cannabis while, frankly, looking like a fast-food joint (pun intended). While I am not against allowing legal cannabis dispensaries to do business in our city, I do feel that it is inappropriate to put a gateway drug in a gateway location. It would be more appropriate to locate this type of business somewhere less conspicuous, like on Green Street or Union.

This approval is yet another sign of the Planning Commission’s failure to adhere to residents’ priorities as defined in a 2010 outreach effort: small-town feel, good neighborhoods, historic architecture, and tree preservation. From a planning perspective, the proposed use of 169 West Colorado is not in conformance with the goals, policies or objectives of Pasadena’s General Plan.

According to the Specific Plan for this area, “the streets and alleys in Old Pasadena serve as much more than thoroughfares; they are highly social places where people participate in the life of the community.” Colorado Blvd. needs to remain a social gathering place for the whole community as envisioned by the Specific Plan, and I fail to see how a cannabis dispensary reflects this vision.

Not only is the sale of cannabis at this location a violation of the General Plan because this usage excludes the children, teens, and young adults that makeup 28% of our population, but what effect might this new business have on the Old Pasadena brand? By placing a dispensary prominently at the gateway of the district, what are we saying about our values as a community? Is this really the first impression we want to make or the legacy we want to leave for our children?

Further, a dispensary in this location would be detrimental to the neighborhood and welfare of our city because this area is frequented by families and young children. In fact, the business next door to the property in question is Paper Source, an upscale stationery retailer that also sells stuffed animals, stickers, candy, and hosts summer programs for kids. With the addition of this cannabis dispensary, it is likely that parents will hesitate to allow their teens and children to be unaccompanied in the area.

Right now, lawyers, corporations, and developers are getting the lion’s share of consideration when it comes to decisions that affect all of Pasadena’s residents. The weight of their influence is showing up all over town as evidenced by snarled traffic and massive construction projects. The Planning Commission’s decision to allow this dispensary at the Central District Gateway is just one more glaring example of the ways profits are being prioritized over quality of life.

The Planning Commission’s decision to allow this dispensary will be appealed to the City Council next and I hope that the Council will remember who they represent and what they are working towards. Right now, it feels like the city staff is so wrapped up and pressured by these outside entities that they have forgotten they work for us, not developers. Once local news agencies take interest in this questionable decision, we may see headlines such as “From Historic to Trendy: A once family-friendly shopping area in Pasadena is now a hip cannabis mecca. But merchants fear success will bring Los Angeles woes.”

 

Erika Foy is a Madison Heights neighborhood resident and Board Member of the Madison Heights Neighborhood Association.

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