Town Hall Meeting on Old and Central Pasadena Dominated by Discussion of Homelessness

Panel discusses new Measure M money, decreasing crime rates, and a level of homelessness that remains a challenge throughout the City

Published : Thursday, December 6, 2018 | 6:01 AM

Pasadena District 6 Councilmember Steve Madison hosted a panel of local experts Tuesday speaking on”Old Pasadena and Central Pasadena: Present and Future.”

While the Convention Center meeting was upbeat and optimistic, the issues of homelessness and the lack of affordable housing came to the fore on several fronts.

The evening presentation before about 60 Pasadena residents included reports and perspectives from Interim Police Chief John Perez; David Reyes, Director, Planning and Community Development; Fred Dock, Director, Department of Transportation; Bill Huang, Director, Department of Housing, and Steve Mulheim, President and CEO of the Old Pasadena Management District.

Madison, after introducing the panel, began by reminding the audience of the end of the historic, decades-long 710 Freeway extension battle.

“Of course, this now gives rise to a whole new set of challenges,” Madison said, adding, “‘How do we go about acquiring the property back from the state?’ ‘ What do we do with it when we have it?’”

“Those are good problems to have,” he added, but then asked, “How do we manage the through traffic that uses that corridor like it’s a freeway now, and then how do we assess, and decide on, and then pursue, the projects that will be available to us through the funding that Metro and Caltrans and measure R and some other sources will provide for us?”

Madison also addressed the planned changes for the Metro Gold Line At Grade crossing near California and Arroyo Parkway, explaining that either an underpass and overpass would be built for the auto traffic, “to address the problems of delay and traffic and congestion.”

Madison recalled that early in the Gold Line planning, Congressman Adam Schiff (D-28), at the time a fairly new elected official, emphasized to him that if Pasadena insisted back then, on changes to the crossing “it would not have the light rail.”

As Madison remembers, “I was told, ‘It’s just already on a track, no pun intended, and it’ll either be built like this or it won’t be built.”

Now nearly ten years later, the end of the 710 extension plan, clears the way for those crossing changes.

Transportation Director Fred Dock explained further, saying, “At the moment there has been a look at the grade crossing by what used to be the Blue Line Authority Southern Foothill Extension Construction Authority, and they feel that it might be feasible to be able to separate those two tracks at California by raising the tracks over California and then slightly depressing California Boulevard between Arroyo Parkway and Raymond.”

The move would allow both of the intersections to retain that grade and “would have very little effect on properties outside of the Arroyo Parkway, and Raymond east of California Boulevard,” said Dock.

Dock added, “Obviously the properties that are currently adjacent to California Boulevard, on the east side of the tracks, would be affected by this project. And those are the things that have to still be developed and sorted out.”

Madison then introduced Director of Planning and Community Development David Reyes, who reviewed the thinking behind updating the City’s General Plan.

Said Reyes, one of the primary tenets of the city’s 1995 general plan is an agreement between city council and City residents to focus development and in around the City Central District, so that its commercial corridors, to the north, south and east and west, serve as buffers for the residential zones of single family residential zones.

“I think that the city really prides itself on the preservation of what Pasadena stands for,” added Reyes, “whether we’re talking about the aesthetics or some of the principles and morals it has. And so that leads into the planning process.”

According to Reyes, when the City Council adopted the updated general plan and vision for the city in 2015, “the largest change was really focused on allowing mixed use projects in areas that don’t currently allow any residential. Other than that, the densities that were promulgated by the plan are very similar to what they are today in terms of the allowed maximum development.”

“And so,” he continued, “we’ve started this process of implementing the general plan that was adopted and there are eight specific plans in the city. And so we’re now updating all of those plans.”

“With respect to the central district,” added Reyes, “we think it’s one of the most challenging and interesting plans because, within it, it has many plans.”

Reyes then spoke to Pasadena’s housing crisis and its lack of affordable housing.

Said Reyes, “One of the main issues that we’re going to be grappling with come 2019 is the state’s response to the crisis that is the lack of housing and supply in California.

According to Reyes, the state has set forth an official statement of fact acknowledging that there is a housing crisis in California.

“There’s not enough supply to meet the demand,” he said, “and so going from there, they’ve established a variety of regulations both proposed, and some that are already enacted.”

While a recent bill—SB 827, exerting more control over local communities in terms of creating more housing—was defeated in April, Reyes said Tuesday, “We want to show state legislators that the city of Pasadena actually acknowledges that yes, there’s a housing issue and we have a responsibility to produce housing and in fact, we’ve done a fantastic job over the last five years.

Said Reyes, “We’ve actually under construction, either just about done, or are already have their (Certificates of Occupancy) over 1,700 units in the last five years, another 945 are approved, but have no building permit and then another 2,600 are currently in the pipeline.

“These numbers far exceed the required green allocation,” he continued, “the residential needs assessment that put upon us and we want to show state legislators that we actually are doing our fair share, and we shouldn’t be, sort of trampled upon, if you will, with respect to new state legislation that is seeking to punish bad actors that don’t produce housing. And so that’s an issue that we’re going to continue to grapple with, and we may lose.”

Interim Police Chief John Perez also spoke to the housing issue, specifically the homeless issue, and its effect on the area.

“It’s something that’s not going to go away anytime soon,” he began.

Perez reported that in Central Pasadena, there was 250 calls for police service relative to the homeless far this year.

“We do have an increase in transients not getting along,” he said.

“Of the homeless calls,” said Perez, “we’re looking for ways to actually track these better. Some calls come into dispatch and we can’t really track them as homeless because the issue might be some kind of event that happened at a store, and so we’re trying to find better ways to really identify how many homeless calls that we get.

Perez also said that homeless issues take up perhaps a third of the daily work of patrol officers.

Speaking to local crime numbers, Perez said that the City has seen a decrease of 34 percent in residential burglaries, 20 percent decrease in commercial burglaries, and has seen 168 more deaths citywide this year than last year.

Perez also noted that this year has seen 24 more burglaries citywide than did last year,area had 1000 burglary alarm service calls in the area.

“However,” said Perez, “only two of (those calls) were actual burglaries. And that tells me that the alarms are working.”

Of the 124 burglaries in the City, said Perez, most are centered in Old Pasadena.

“We are doing surveillances and investigations trying to figure out who’s doing these,” said Perez. “The majority of those again, are in those structures around the area, around Old Pasadena.”

Perez also noted that the Police department is maintaining higher enforcement for speeding along the 710 corridor.

“We have to make sure we stay on top of that to know that everybody is going to be looked at for their speed. So please do stay aware of that,” he said.

Like Reyes, Perez also spoke on the homelessness issue, calling it “the number one issue in the region.”

Old Pasadena Management District Director Steve Mulheim also spoke indirectly of the area’s homelessness issue, as he outlined a vision for his district.

“We’re looking at Central and Memorial Park,” he said, “and how we can activate those spaces through, some of the activities that the city programs as well as some additional things that we can do through events.

Continued Mulheim,” We certainly work with the Housing department and with the HOPE team for the police department in trying to mitigate some of the effects of the homeless population that we have. One of the most effective things that we can do is bring positive activity into that same area. So we’re looking at how we can improve that.

Mulheim also explained that following a recent survey of owners, as well as consultants, they discovered “the greatest opportunities (we) have are the network of alleys that run through old Pasadena, and connect a lot of those areas, and that’s something that just doesn’t exist anywhere in the country.

“In fact,” said Mulheim, “they looked at Europe to find examples of how we might be able to better utilize that. So we’re focusing on side streets and alleys and how we can improve those areas. We worked with the city to create improvements there to bring some landscaping in. We hung cafe lighting above.

Mulheim added, “We’ve held a number of events there, and just a few weeks ago, we had a salsa band and about 1,500 people that were in the alley dancing salsa. It was full of kids to older folks, and it was really a great evening and a great use of that space.”

Housing Director then spoke directly to the issue of housing and its effect on the city, saying, “Homelessness is a very difficult, complex issue.”

“The good news,” Huang continued, “is that last year, in 2017, we permanently housed 167 people. This is important because permanent housing is the only thing that ends homelessness. It’s not a cot, it’s not a sandwich. Those are important and those are helpful, but if you want to end homelessness, you need to permanently house them.

But, said Huang, “The bad news is that for every three persons we housed, five more homeless individuals showed up, and so the homeless count last year was 677, and that is up 18 percent in one year, but interestingly, 75 percent of those are not chronically homeless.

Huang explained that the number implies that “the vast majority of our homeless individuals of people experiencing homelessness here are experiencing homelessness because of economic reasons. They are not chronically homeless, which means they are not repeatedly homeless, homeless long term, or have a severe disability, mental health or physical health disabilities.”

“That said,” Huang continued, “68 percent of our homeless population is unsheltered and that’s pretty typical for Southern California.

“Two thirds of the homeless population are unsheltered,” Huang continued, “meaning they’re not living in one of our shelters or transitional housing facilities, but they are living out on the streets under the bridges in vehicles. And 97 of those unsheltered homeless persons were in District 6. A troubling trend for us is that’s 37 percent of our homeless population. that’s 253 persons.”

Huang added that the City’s largest homeless sub-population are “older homeless individuals.”

“These are 50 years old and over,” he said “And this this has seen an increase of 65 percent over the last two years.

“On the good news front,” said Huang,” there have been some state surplus budget dollars that had been allocated towards homelessness, homeless services as well as the county quarter cent sales tax measure H that was passed about a year and a half ago. And that is providing over $3,000,000 of new funding to the city of Pasadena.

Huang continued, “Although most of that, the state’s surplus money, is one-time money, it is still important money. So what we plan to do with that money is to expand a number of programs that we already have going.”

The programs would include homelessness prevention and emergency rapid re-housing, said Huang.

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