Altadena Residents to County: Tear Down This Wall!

A retaining wall illegally built in the Rubio Cañon stream bed still stands as the rainy season approaches. The County says it must be torn down by Monday unless the owner can demonstrate how to keep it from impacting neighbors

By Justin Chapman, Altadena Patch, 10/26/2010

More than a month after the county issued a stop-work order to two Altadena residents for building a 10-foot retaining wall in the Rubio Cañon streambed, the wall and all the tools used to build it remain.
With rainy season approaching, angry residents are saying the wall's location could alter the flow of water and debris, producing safety hazards in the neighborhood.  They also claim that two oak trees were cut down, a loss of a valuable natural resource.
"I believe we should prosecute these people," said Mark Goldschmidt, chairman of Altadena Heritage. "Heavy rains could come through and move 40,000 feet of sediment and change the whole topography. This is right by urban interface and definitely has wildlife value. It really is a theft of land from the people, especially the oak trees."
The wall was constructed on the property of Moninder and Ruchi Birdi, but its construction was illegal, as it was in a protected streambed.  The construction allegedly also took out two large oak trees, a crime punishable by up to $20,000 per tree.
While Moninder acknowledges there may be problems with the wall, he denies that any trees were cut down.
"I want them to show me where these oak trees were that I supposedly removed, or I am going to sue them for defamation," said Moninder. "My wife and I are tree lovers. That's why we live there. I'm not building or expanding anything, I just want to protect my property and my family."
He said the reason he wanted the wall built in the first place is because boulders fall down into the canyon and cause damage to his property. The Birdis also said they have had regular encounters with a large bear, and they believe the wall can block it from their home.
The stream, located just north of where Rubio Cañon Road turns into East Loma Alta Drive, is what's called a blue-line stream. It has certain legal standing, and even if you own the property, as the Birdis do, you cannot do work on it. Essentially it is undevelopable land.
Before the stop-work order was issued, the Birdis claim they were unaware that they needed permits to build the wall on their property.
Besides grading the streambed and building the stone wall in a position that could divert the entire stream to the east, workers also made a path north into the streambed. Moninder said the Spanish-speaking workers built the wall larger than he intended.
Other vegetation and sand have also been removed. Several huge piles of rocks dot the property, which includes the Birdis' home and an old octagonal building that once was a Boy Scout facility and the gateway to Camp Huntington before the bridge and dam to the south were built. Tools, wheelbarrows and other equipment still surround that building.
So far, the Birdis have been charged by the county for building the wall and grading without permits.
Martin Barco, an engineer with L.A. County Building and Safety who issued the stop-work order, is working with an engineer hired by the Birdis to mull their options and obtain any necessary permits. However, the Birdis are considering taking the wall down anyway.
They are working on a mitigation plan with the county that should be released in the next week.
In the mean time, the county has done little to weigh in on whether the situation should be considered hazardous or not.
Larry Tran of L.A. County Public Works said he is investigating the situation and should have more information soon, but did not have further comment.
Paul Ayers, staff counsel of Save the Altadena Trails organization, is doubtful that the county will do anything about the situation.
"They should have regulatory agencies swarming all over them," he said. "I want the county to go in there with a bulldozer tomorrow and take that wall out. ... Unfortunately, my experience is the county won't do anything."
It takes a lot more than just a few complaints to get the county to act, he added.
"At the end of the day what usually happens is there's some kind of casualty, and there's a lawsuit," Ayers said.
Ayers added that he doesn't think the Birdis are bad people intentionally working against the public interest, they're just ignorant about the rules they are violating.
But Moninder Birdi feels that the public has assumed the worst about them.  He noted that commenters on a story posted on the Altadenablog last month were particularly harsh.
"We're a young couple, we don't have a lot of resources, and this has been so stressful for us," said Moninder Birdi. "Every comment in the Altadenablog story really hurt us."
He said the entire experience has made him wonder why people have not been willing to work out their problems directly with him.
 "We love living there, and if push comes to shove and we can't afford it, we'll take the wall down," Birdi said. "But if people are concerned, why haven't they called me and talk to me about it? Nobody ever called me. Let's talk it out, guys. If we're neighbors, treat me like a neighbor."
There is still some question of what it will mean if the wall is not taken down.
Moninder claims the wall is actually a long boundary of the bank and that it just so happens that the boundary cuts into the stream where the wall was built.  He's not sure the wall will be as damaging as others have said.
Others claim the wall does cut into half of the streambed, it has altered the flow of the stream and water could be diverted to those vulnerable pipes.  Many of those pipes connect to mains that run into Pasadena.
"This is really frightening," said Altadena resident and real estate agent Steve Haussler. "I'm most concerned that the county isn't doing anything. I believe in due process, but I also believe in the police powers of the state to remove that obstruction. If they do nothing and damage occurs, they are liable. There's a time when government has to act for public safety."
Haussler, who has family that lives in the area, said major events happen in that canyon every 15 years. Surrounding properties are in danger, pipes could be washed out and a catastrophic event might knock the whole thing out, he said. There's also the danger of a rock flow in the canyon bed that hasn't come down yet.
"If they cause damage to my family's property, and the county's aware of it, what's our recourse?" Haussler added.
As anyone familiar with Altadena knows, activists here don't mess around when it comes to water.
In July a stream in Millard Canyon that is home to rare wildlife dried up after the Lincoln Avenue Water Company diverted the water away to test pipes, prompting the U.S. Forest Service to send the utility company a cease and desist letter.
Reporter Laura Monteros of the Altadena Headlines Examiner wrote at the time that the conflict between the company and local residents was fed by failures in communication between the parties, a lesson that could certainly be applied to the current situation in Rubio Cañon.
UPDATED: Since publication of this article, Kerjon Lee of LA County Flood Control has informed Altadena Patch that the Birdi's are required to tear down the wall by Monday, November 1 or submit a mitigation plan that would demonstrate how to keep the wall and avoid any negative impacts on neighbors.

Quietly calling it quits

Caltrans set to settle with tenants in protracted eviction case

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 10/21/2010

The four-year David and Goliath battle between a lone renter and a behemoth state agency trying to evict him and his family appears to be nearing an end. 
A settlement agreement is in the works between Don Justin Jones, a longtime political activist and staunch opponent of plans to extend the Long Beach (710) Freeway to connect with the Foothill (210) Freeway, and Caltrans, which over the course of nearly 50 years has come to own his and hundreds of other properties standing in the way of a connector route that now is not likely to be built.
On Oct. 13, Glendale Superior Court Judge John P. Doyle ordered the two parties to resume the pre-jury trial settlement talks. According to the case summary posted online, a settlement has been reached and the court has ordered the case permanently sealed. 
The case is set for another hearing at 8:30 a.m. Nov. 15 in Department 3 of the Glendale Courthouse, where the two parties will either tell Doyle that a deal has been struck or ask for more time. According to Jones, he and his attorney, David Etezadi, are still negotiating with Caltrans officials. However, neither Jones nor Etezadi were allowed to speak about the proposed settlement.
Pasadena land use attorney Chris Sutton, who represents the Caltrans Tenants Association, said it’s problematic for state agencies to enter into private settlement agreements. “I don’t believe in secret settlements,” Sutton said. “It’s not conducive for a democratic republic. You could have sat there in the courtroom and heard what went on, but now, since it’s sealed, no one can find out. It’s a shame, because it has implications for other tenants.”
In 2006, harsh words were exchanged between Jones and a Caltrans contract worker, who was at Jones’ home on Madeline Drive doing badly needed repairs. Jones reportedly told the worker to “get the fuck out of my house,” which is one of the reasons Caltrans gave for serving Jones and his wife eviction papers in 2008. 
The incident occurred around the time the idea of connecting the 710 and 210 freeways with tunnels was being presented to the public, a proposal that Jones and many others who were against the original extension plan opposed.
For years, Caltrans, which owns more than 500 properties in the so-called 710 Corridor, allowed many of those properties to fall into various states of disrepair. The agency wants as many homes as possible to be vacant, according to Sutton, because once the freeway surface plan is formally scuttled, those homes can be declared surplus and sold at market rate. If renters are living in those homes at that time, they would be offered first crack at buying the property at an affordable rate.
“Few tenants have been able to buy their houses over the last 15 years,” Sutton said. “This attack on Don is an incredible waste of resources. They’re attacking him so they can have another vacant house to sell.”

Just amazing ‘Zest’ for life

Huell Howser and Christian Perry help celebrate Pasadena Senior Center’s 50th birthday

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 10/7/2010

TV personality Huell Howser and dancer Christian Perry, no strangers to Pasadena, are teaming up Sunday for “Zest! 10-10-10,” 
a fundraising gala celebrating the Pasadena Senior Center’s 50th anniversary.
Howser, host of KCET’s “California’s Gold,” will guest emcee the catered event, which will be held at a private home in San Marino.
Perry, a choreographer on FOX’s “Dancing with the Stars,” founded his own dance studio, Rose City Ballroom, in Old Pasadena soon after his staff members and students performed the opening number at the 2009 Rose Parade.
Today, Perry teaches traditional and contemporary styles of partner dance, including ballroom, Latin, swing, salsa and tango, at his 3,600-square-foot studio.
About 300 people are expected to attend “Zest! 10-10-10,” with $175 tickets available by calling or emailing the Senior Center. 
Catered by Peggy Dark and The Kitchen for Exploring Foods, the event also features a live auction with vacations and art as prizes. Cocktails and Mariachi music are being provided by Abel Ramirez, owner of El Portal Restaurant. Longtime community leader Maggie Jagels will also be honored for her years of dedication to the center, the first of its kind in Greater Los Angeles, serving as an independent nonprofit center financed through membership fees, public sector funding and private and business support. Art Deco and His Society Orchestra will perform dance tunes of the past 50 years throughout the evening.
“We do wonderful programs and serve 10,000 seniors in the Pasadena area with a variety of things,” said Pam Kaye, the center’s development assistant. “We look forward to raising money to continue our classes and fitness centers and reassurance calls so the ‘zest for life’ in our lives continues.
“What makes the senior center so special,” Kaye continued, “is the variety of opportunities, training, celebrations, senior curriculum and events that we hold for our seniors that keep them active and healthy. We are a major community resource.”
So why choose Howser, who could not be reached to comment for this story, as host? “Huell is a remarkable gentleman who points out all the wonderful aspects of our unique state,” said Kaye. “He’s been a wonderful enthusiastic participant and supporter of the center.”
“We’re going to do a great performance for them,” said Perry, who choreographs TLC’s “Ballroom Bootcamp” and has danced in everything from an award-winning GAP commercial to movies such as “Mona Lisa Smile,” “Be Cool” and “Meet Dave.” 
“We’ve been working with the center for a year now,” Perry said. “Every Monday we teach a class there and we get a great response from that. It’s great to get the seniors moving. They’ve been great advocates for us, so when they asked us to perform at their anniversary gala, we didn’t hesitate.”
As Kaye points out, “Our seniors love to dance.” 

Tickets for the gala are $175. All proceeds will benefit the Pasadena Senior Center. For more information or to RSVP, contact Pam Kaye at The Pasadena Senior Center is at 85 E. Holly St., Pasadena. Call (626) 795-4331.

Round-the-clock art

It’s all art all the time with this year’s ARTWalk and ArtNight

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 10/7/2010

Three popular Pasadena events are scheduled back to back, promising a weekend chock full of free art, music, food and entertainment that everyone can enjoy.
First is the four-hour ArtNight on Friday night, when Pasadena’s most prominent arts and cultural institutions open their doors to showcase free art exhibitions and installations, films, live music and dance performances. Free shuttles will run throughout the evening, stopping at each venue. 
Some of the most anticipated exhibits include “Energy,” a glimpse into the forces that shape us and make us who we are, showing at the Art Center College of Design’s Williamson Gallery; “Steve Roden: In Between, A 20 Year Survey,” the first survey of the artist’s work in all its divergent forms, including sound, and NewTown’s “Convergences,” presenting 11 artists who integrate digital media, sculpture and installation, showing at the Armory Center for the Arts; 24 original works from Pasadena City College’s Artist in Residence program, 1987-2010, including a hidden treasure of contemporary art at Shatford Library; and Don Farber’s “The Dalai Lama and His People,” photography and book signing, and four Taiko drumming performances at the Shumei Arts Council.
These exhibits and shows will be joined by many more during ArtNight, which more than 14,000 people experienced last year.
Then at Saturday’s South Lake Avenue 2nd Annual Food and Wine Festival guests can enjoy mouth-watering offerings from 15 restaurants, live radio broadcasts and food demonstrations and tastings, with special guest appearances by longtime food commentator Melinda Lee and Cindy Dole, with music provided by K-EARTH 101. The event is sponsored by the South Lake Business Association, Pacific Sales, KNX 1070 News Radio and KFWB News Talk 980.
Later that day art explorations continue with ARTWalk, a six-hour urban art fair in the city’s Playhouse District. More than 30 of the best Southern California artists will showcase their work in painting, sculpture, watercolor, photography, mixed media, ceramics, jewelry, drawings and printmaking.
The organizers are still finalizing the list of jazz, blues and pop music performances in and around the Playhouse Courtyard, but look for some holdovers from the Make Music Pasadena festival.
This weekend, you can enjoy art in various mediums across the city, go to sleep and then wake up and have a chance to do it all over again, only at different venues.

ArtNight begins at 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 8, at institutions citywide. Call (626) 792-5101 or visit
artnight for a map of exhibits and more information. 

ARTWalk begins at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 9, at locations around the Pasadena Playhouse District. Call (626) 744-0340 or visit for more information.

South Lake Avenue’s 2nd Annual Food and Wine Festival begins at 10 a.m. Saturday at 440 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena. Call (626) 792-1259 or visit for more information. Admission is free for all three events.