Residents Air Frustrations at Neighborhood Coalition Meeting

County officials informed the audience about where to lodge complaints so they are dealt with promptly

By Justin Chapman, Altadena Patch, 3/30/2011

About 50 Altadena residents showed up to an Altadena Neighborhood Coalition of Altadena (ACONA) meeting Tuesday night to discuss how to handle a new noise ordinance, liquor stores and other nuisance abatement issues.
The meeting was also attended by  Capt. Steve McLean, several other Sheriff's deputies, members of the Altadena Town Council, and members of various Altadena neighborhood associations. 
Community questions were fielded by Sussy Nemer, Supervisor Michael Antonovich's Senior Deputy, and Carolyn Seitz, a planning and zoning consultant who works with the Altadena Chamber of Commerce as well as several other local organizations.
The issues listed on the were all covered, but other issues such as Sheriff's deputies' response time to the to and beyond came up as well.
It also became clear from the questions and concerns posed by members of the audience that Altadena residents haven't been properly informed of the channels they need to navigate in order to receive swift responses to their various complaints.
Nemer and Seitz were there to say that any and all concerns can be brought to them, and informed the audience about which county agency is the right one to contact to lodge complaints so they are dealt with promptly.
"There are certain things we can make more restrictive and certain things we can make less restrictive," said Nemer, referring to the Altadena Community Standards District (which is attached to this article).
The district was established to protect local residents from the negative effects of construction work and to establish size and scale restrictions to protect residential neighborhoods.
"And those standards can be amended," continued Nemer. "Some that deal with signage, some that deal with West Altadena redevelopment; and it dictates how that area was developed. And it can be amended again. "
She added that she has received feedback from the Town Council and the Chamber that business owners feel as if requirements on signage and other restrictions on starting a business are too imposing and are restricting the abilty of merchants to open a business.
Nemer pointed out that those codes were written by the community at the community's request, and said the county will be holding a couple community hearings in the near future to get public input on what changes Altadena residents would like to see in those codes. The county, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Town Council will all be there to listen to the community's concerns.
"If there is consensus among the community those codes can be amended," said Nemer.
On the topic of liquor stores in Altadena, Nemer said that there's not much the county can do to remove the businesses unless they are violating some kind of code.
"Unfortunately, the ones that are there are established businesses and it's really very difficult to get rid of them unless they're violating some type of code, and usually through ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control, a state agency) is where they're able to catch them; if they're selling to minors or doing other things they're not supposed to do."
However, the number of complaints about liquor stores in the community have declined greatly, according to Nemer.
"They don't seem to be causing as much of a problem as they used to," she said. "There used to be a lot of complaints about people loitering around liquor stores, but recently I haven't received any complaints about that."
She pointed out that most of the issues brought up by the present community members will never get a hearing unless residents complain about what a business or neighbor is doing wrong. She encouraged everyone to let the supervisor's office or the Sheriff's Department know if they see wrongdoing. That's the only way the county can see what they can do about addressing those issues.
Leslie Aitken, a contributor to Altadena Patch, said this was the first community meeting she'd ever attended, despite moving to Altadena 34 years ago.
"In fact it wasn't until the Altadenablog and Altadena Patch that I even knew what the Sam Hill's going on around here," said Aitken to a large round of applause from the audience. "It's been a mystery to me, like, who's driving the bus? And really it kind of felt like no one was driving the bus. There's a group over here saying this and a group over here saying that and no one seems to know who's in charge. It gets very confusing. My issue is that nothing gets done unless someone complains."
Nemer responded by saying that generally what the county has heard from the community is that they like the complaint-driven system.
"Residents tell us they don't want us out there proactively enforcing on everything," said Nemer. "But we hear a lot, too, about the codes that are outdated. And we would love to partner with the community to make sure those codes are what you want on the books."
Nemer and Seitz both said they act as the complainant if a resident has a problem with a neighbor but doesn't want to file an official complaint with the county for fear of retribution.
"If you want to be anonymous, I do it that way, too," said Nemer. "If you want to do it confidentially, I'd be happy to do that. I do encourage you to leave a number and name when you call about a complaint, though, even if you wish to remain anonymous, and just let us know that and we will not release your information."
Seitz reiterated Nemer's tip and added, "I also will act as the complainant if you wish to remain anonymous. Sometimes people say to Sussy or me to stop driving around and actively developing a list of complaints. But I'm willing to take the heat for that. I don't mind if it helps maintain some level of peace in the neighborhood.
"This is a really good community, and I've said for years that we have our share of colorful characters in Altadena. And these are people who will complain about anything and everything all day whether there's any merit to it or not. They just look to destroy relationships, to break neighborhoods apart, or to cause trouble. And I think you all know who some of those people are."
While both Nemer and Seitz said they are always available to direct residents to the proper agency to file a complaint, Town Council member Diane Marcussen added that Altadenans can bring their issues to the monthly council meetings, which are held every third Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the .
"This is a big community with a lot of complaints and a lot of things that need to be done," said Marcussen.
Nemer then addressed some of the frustrations aired by audience members about dealing with such a big governmental bureaucracy with so many agencies and departments.
"When you call a county agency, there are a couple reasons why people are disappointed when they call," she said. "Sometimes they do get bad service. It's a really big agency and I can't say that every single employee of the County of Los Angeles is spectacular, because they're not. But also when you call about something that you don't like, but it's not a violation, there's nothing we can do about it. If you don't know who to call, call me."
Seitz pointed out that it's also important to know which agency to call if you expect a speedy response to your complaint or issue.
Some audience members had complaints about the lack of or slow response time to calls for service since the Altadena Sheriff's Department is temporarily being run out of the La Crescenta Valley station while the Altadena station is undergoing repairs.
"As most of you know, we're undergoing reconstruction," said McLean. "The completion date for that is supposed to be April 25. The bottom line, though, is that I'm holding my lieutenants and supervisors accountable for how we treat residents. There's no compromise on that."
As for making some ordinances in Altadena more restrictive, Nemer said that there are limits to what the county can do.
"County counsel has reviewed a lot of more restrictive ordinances that cities and counties have been passing recently in California, and county counsel is kind of the big fish even among other county agencies; our attorneys are fairly confident that a lot of these ordinances wouldn't hold up in a court of law," Nemer said. "There are some modifications we would like to make to our ordinances, but for the most part they're generally where they're supposed to be."
Holly Rundberg, a co-founder of ACONA, told Patch that she and Elliot Gold, who moderated the meeting, founded ACONA in June 2010 in an effort pull all the various community and neighborhood organizations and associations together to create a more cohesive community.
According to ACONA's website, the organization was created to "provide a means for Altadena neighborhood associations and Neighborhood Watch groups to network and share ideas and best practices. ACONA meetings are held bimonthly at the Altadena Library. All are welcome to attend."
Nemer can be reached at  her office at (626) 356-5407 or via email at