Legal Challenge Filed Against Civic Center Kimpton Hotel Project

Local group alleges violations of California Environmental Quality Act and Pasadena Municipal Code

Published : Tuesday, November 8, 2016 | 6:33 AM

The battle over the City of Pasadena’s approval to build a six-story, 185-room hotel on city-owned land directly across from the Pasadena City Hall and within the Pasadena Civic Center National Register Historic District has moved into a new phase after the Pasadena Civic Center Coalition, a group of local preservationists (PCCC), announced Monday their filing of a court challenge to the proposed development.

The lawsuit alleges that the City violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by certifying an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that fails to consider many of the project’s impacts, including those to cultural resources, loss of trees, and traffic impacts related to no on-site parking. In addition, the group alleges, the EIR does not address the project’s inconsistency with General Plan and Specific Plan policies regarding the protection of open space.

The litigation also cites what it said are violations of the State Surplus Land Act and the Pasadena Municipal Code’s requirements for disposal of surplus property, because, says the suit, the project allows private for-profit use of land that is currently public open space.

According to the PCCC, the hotel project would demolish and remove almost all of the 1923 authorized parkland across from City Hall to make way for the hotel’s planned six-story tower.

“Building on this open space blocks views of City Hall and of neighboring historic buildings as well as impacting two important civic memorials: the Robinson Memorial and Pasadena’s Sister City Trees,” said activist and architectural historian Ann Scheid.

“The City of Pasadena failed to adequately evaluate the impacts of the historic district as a whole; did not evaluate the impacts to immediately surrounding contributing buildings, including City Hall; and failed to address the cumulative environmental impacts over time to the historic Civic Center from loss of public open space,” added Amy Minteer, a partner at Chatten-Brown & Carstens, the firm representing the preservation group.

“A revised environmental impact report is required to thoroughly analyze and mitigate those impacts before this project can move forward,” Minteer added.

Built in 1927, the Pasadena City Hall is a City of Pasadena Historic Monument, and a California Historic Landmark, and the Pasadena Civic Center is nationally recognized as one of the best examples of Beaux-Arts design inspired by the City Beautiful movement of the early 1900s.

The PCCC said it supports the rehabilitation of the Julia Morgan-designed YWCA building and believes the historic building can be rehabilitated without sacrificing the monumental setting of the City Hall and the integrity of the Civic Center.

“The City started with a proposal to push the back end of this hotel into the face of City Hall, and preceded to ‘back into’ all the environmental findings required to justify the project. From the beginning, the City cut corners in a desperate attempt to obtain project approval through a rigged public process,” said PCCC member Jonathan Edewards.

Edewards added, “We couldn’t just stand by and ignore the threat of irreversible damage to Pasadena’s Civic Center.

“In an unprecedented move in 1923,” he continued, “Pasadena citizens bought the land and financed our Civic Center buildings that created the heart of the City with the dome being one of the most recognizable city landmarks. As the July 1980 National Register nomination form states, the Civic Center has a park-like character: it was ‘planned around the citizen—truly a place for people, to walk, to picnic and sunbathe, and to sit with friends among the trees and enjoy the open vistas.’ This legal action is only part of our efforts to ensure a better Civic Center for all Pasadena citizens.”

The Kimpton hotel decision by the City Council on August 16 not only approved the EIR and its conditional use permit but also mandated a host of “conditions of approval” that ranged from parking to loading variances, along with permits for a hotel operation and the sale of alcohol.

In addition, the decision mandated that various modifications be honored, such as directing the City’s Design Commission to address the hotel’s corner height and articulation at Union and Garfield, as well as a recommendation to the Urban Forest Advisory Committee to search for ways to preserve as many trees as possible, including the Sister Cities Tree Garden on the southeast corner of Holly and Garfield, near the Robinson Memorial.

“I think that overall this is a good decision,” said Councilmember Margaret McAustin at the time the hotel project’s EIR was approved. “The building is a little larger than I would like to see, but I think it’s going to turn out very well.”