Rude 911 Dispatchers, Animal Control, Group Homes Subject of Tuesday Community Meeting

Officials from the state Assembly, the county Sheriff's Department, and the county's Animal Control agency spoke to various concerns brought to ACONA's attention at Tuesday night's meeting

By Justin Chapman, Altadena Patch, 5/26/2011

A community meeting held by the Altadena Coalition of Neighborhood Associations (ACONA) Tuesday covered three major topics: group homes, dispatch issues at the Altadena Sheriff's station's temporary headquarters in La Crescenta and animal control.
Elliot Gold and Holly Rundberg started ACONA last June in an effort to pull all the various community and neighborhood organizations and associations together to create a more cohesive community.  Tuesday's meeting was attended by 32 Altadenans.

Group Homes
The first presentation regarding concerns about the presence of group homes and residential facilities in Altadena was given by Tanganica Turner, the Field Representative of Assembly member Anthony Portantino.
Turner was unable to provide a lot of data about the homes, such as how many are present in Altadena and where they are located, but she said she will let Gold know as soon as that number is available. She was also asked about the density limit regarding these facilities.
"As far as the amount of group homes in one area, the county will allow one home every 300 feet," she said. "If there is more than one in that 300 foot radius what they'll do is they'll ask you to apply for a particular license, but once all of your T's are crossed and your I's are dotted you're able to have that facility there. The process for licensing is very difficult and complicated."
On the state level, she said, if someone is providing care that is licensed by the state there are particular requirements and there is a process they must go through to obtain a license. For instance, if they're offering substance abuse treatment or psychiatric treatment or medical treatment, then they would of course have to obtain a license and that comes through the state of California. With that licensing the state is then able to regulate the actions and the activity of that particular home.
But in Altadena there are homes that are not licensed by the state of California because they are not providing a service that is required for a license. There are homes in Altadena that are boarding homes and sober living facilities but they're not offering a particular care that needs to be licensed by the state, by the county, or by the health department, according to Turner.
"They're kind of sliding under the radar as far as regulation is concerned because they're running them as private businesses for nonprofit organizations," she said.
However, she admitted that she works more with state level issues regarding these types of homes and so some of the Altadenans' questions about the county's regulations went unanswered. But she did offer to facilitate having experts and officials from the county regulatory agencies appear at the next ACONA meeting.
She also suggested that if residents feel certain homes in their community area are becoming a public safety issue that they should contact their public safety officials (in this case the ), which would put it on record and give residents a much stronger case should they choose to go to the county with their concerns.

911 Dispatchers
Next up was the second in command of the Altadena Sheriff's station, Lt. Roosevelt Johnson, who attended the meeting to address concerns that were brought to Capt. Steve MacLean's attention at the last ACONA meeting regarding what Altadenans see as rudeness on the part of the Altadena Sheriff's dispatchers, which are usually the first impression a resident receives from the station.
On the meeting's agenda, it stated that the dispatchers should "communicate concern, empathy, clear information, and a speedy response" and that this is not happening on a regular basis.
Lt. Johnson said there is no excuse for poor service, community service, and professional service on the part of the Sheriff's Department. He added that if any resident has concerns they can call Lt. Joseph Dempsey or himself directly. Johnson also addressed confusion pertaining to the fact that the Altadena Sheriff's station, which is still undergoing renovations, is currently operating out of the La Crescenta Valley Sheriff's station.
"Our current situation is a little unique because of the renovations going on," he said. "We know you expect a certain level of professional service and we at the station have that same level of expectation. And we will hold our personnel accountable for delivering that level of quality service."
He said that the department takes complaints seriously.
"I want you to know that every single complaint that comes in from you guys about our dispatchers comes across my desk," Johnson said.  "I read and approve every single complaint and subsequent investigation related to those. And the captain also reads and has to approve every single complaint and the result in terms of what we do to the personnel."
He added that Altadena is the only station in the county that does not have its own dedicated watch commanders. Their shift watch commanders work out of the La Crescenta station.
"So if you have a problem, generally, with service that's being delivered to you in the community, you are asked to speak to the watch commander, which means you're speaking to someone from the Crescenta Valley station," said Johnson. "Out of the complaints that we've received, I can tell you that personnel have been reprimanded for not speaking to the public in the manner that they're supposed to, not taking the call seriously, not dispatching cars when it's required, and per our department policy, if you call and ask for a squad car to come to your house, you will get a Sheriff's deputy car responding to your house."
He explained that once the Altadena station lost its jail, it also lost its watch commander because that was one of the main responsibilities of a watch commander. When construction is done at the station, there still will not be an on-site watch commander just yet.
However, 911 calls will go to the Altadena station instead of the La Crescenta station, which has not been the case in the past. He suggested that residents bring their concerns of not having an on-site watch commander to the Altadena Town Council and Supervisor Michael Antonovich's office.
Renovations on the Altadena Sheriff's station began last May and in July of last year they moved all of their communications equipment to the La Crescenta Valley station. Although he said construction was supposed to be completed last September, the only completed wing so far is the lobby of the station. If the inspection of the lobby area is approved, they expect to have dispatchers working out of the lobby as well as have that lobby open to the public once again within two weeks.

Animal Control Issues
Before the fairly sparse audience got their chance to ask the speakers some final questions, Lance Hunter, the Animal Care and Control Manager of the Baldwin Park Shelter, gave the floor to Sgt. Zeke Morales to speak to the concerns raised by ACONA folks on animal control in Altadena, including the slow response time.
"Most of the concerns that get called into our office are barking and noise complaints," said Morales, who has been assigned to Altadena. "When we respond to a house we normally do the full investigative work to prosecute and educate. A lot of times people believe the notice to appear are citations where they have to go to the Pasadena Courthouse, but it's actually a notice to give them time to get to our shelter to license their animals. I try to explain this process to every resident I interact with."
He added that he embraces the work he does because he knows Altadenans require a higher level of service. He mentioned that he regrets that there is not a closer unit to Altadena, but that residents do have 24 hours of service. There is always someone working even graveyard shifts in case of animal emergencies.
"We deal with household pets, horses, livestock, and other domesticated animals," he said when asked if animals such as coyotes fall under their jurisdiction. He added that they rarely pick up animals in Altadena and get more complaints about barking dogs and noise issues than anything else. "Very seldom do we get humane cases."
The next ACONA meeting will be held in either August or September and will be announced by Gold in the next few days. Meetings start at 7 p.m. at the Altadena Library. All are welcome to attend. To suggest or request items to be put on the agenda, contact Elliot Gold at

The Future of West Altadena Redevelopment

As the governor sticks to his plan of eliminating all redevelopment funds for bodies such as the West Altadena Project Area Committee, uncertainty about that voice for West Altadena abounds

By Justin Chapman, Altadena Patch, 5/25/2011

If Gov. Jerry Brown's budget is passed, West Altadena could stand to lose its redevelopment committee, which uses state funds to help purchased blighted properties and attract new businesses in the Lincoln Corridor.
The West Altadena Project Area Committee's (WAPAC) existence is uncertain right now, as is every other redevelopment advisory body's, not to mention every county's redevelopment agencies across the state. In fact, the fate of every redevelopment agency is up in the air.
At Monday's WAPAC just north of Lincoln Crossing, one of the committee's main achievements over the year, a county representative named Bill Johnson of the redevelopment agency that WAPAC advises, the county's Community Development Commission (CDC), gave a presentation on why both the WAPAC's and the CDC's futures are at stake.
Brown has proposed cutting all state funds that go to redevelopment agencies statewide in both of his proposed budgets: the one in January that failed to pass by one vote in the state Assembly and the revised one that was unveiled May 16.
Even though California got more money than expected this year, both budgets call for the total elimination of all 400 redevelopment agencies and aim to put more money in public health, safety and education, according to Corde Carrillo, the Director of Economic Development and Redevelopment for the county's CDC . So far, the state Senate has not taken up the proposed budgets.
If the CDC is dismantled, there would be no need for the WAPAC, and West Altadena would have one less advisory body looking out for its business interests.
The state legislature is supposed to pass the budget by June 1, but that hasn't happened in a long, long time, so it might be a while before anyone knows what's going to happen. Carrillo said that if Brown's budget passes, there would be an agency to unwind the redevelopment activities both in West Altadena and any other redevelopment area in the state.
"I think he sees redevelopment as an initial funding source," Carrillo told Patch in a phone interview before Monday's WAPAC meeting. "Once redevelopment areas are eliminated, money would be used for public health and safety. He's finding new money, but it's having no effect, as far as we can see, on his plan. He hasn't looked at accepting, at this point, the reform proposals for redevelopment areas. He sees this as the future funding stream he may need to pay off some of California's debt."
The area that WAPAC covers makes up 80 acres centered around the intersection of Lincoln and Woodbury.  The agency was adopted in 1986, and its main achievement was bringing in the Lincoln Crossing development, which transformed a blighted area into a successful shopping development (though it has ). A map of the redevelopment project area is attached to this article.
The agency is designed to last a total of 40 years, but that 40-year duration still could be cut in half if Brown's budget is passed, which is still very possible, Johnson said at Monday's meeting.
"Although the measure was defeated in the state Assembly, it can be brought up for another vote at any time," he said. "So just because they vote against something doesn't mean they can't bring it back and vote on it again and again and again. Part of the governor's proposal would have taken $1.7 billion in redevelopment funds to help solve the state's current budget problems, so the whole reason for eliminating redevelopment was to go after the money."
In the short term, the billions saved by the redevelopment agency would go towards Medi-Cal payments and trial courts, but in the long term local residents could see more direct benefits from the money: the funding sources going towards redevelopment would be redirected to local education funding.
Elimination of the agencies is not just a Democratic proposal.  The proposed Republican budget also calls for redevelopment agency tax increment funds to be swept to the state in order to balance the budget, according to a report released May 18 by CCN Client Alert. The report goes on to say, "The Republican version does not, however, indicate whether it adopts the Governor's proposal or one of the other proposals calling for a voluntary transfer of such funds. The Republican version simply accepts the need for redevelopment agency revenues in order to close the budget deficit gap."
Both Carrillo and Johnson said that state lawyers for the legislature have told lawmakers in the last month that elimination of redevelopment agencies could violate the California constitution.
"The lawyers in the state legislature have issued an opinion that this transfer of local funds, beause that's what tax increment is, to the state would violate the state constitution," said Johnson. "Meaning it would be illegal to do that. But the legislature doesn't always listen to their lawyers. So the legal opinion has been provided by the state lawyers to the members that are there in the Assembly and it hasn't yet come back up for a vote again. But the governor has not changed his position at all. The state lawyers have said that it may not be legal because you can't transfer local funds to the state to pay for state needs, but the governor refuses to budge. And it simply creates a great deal of uncertainty for all redevelopment agencies statewide."
Two redevelopment reform bills have been introduced, according to Johnson's report to the WAPAC on Monday. One is called SB 450, and it seeks to reform redevelopment housing laws. The other one, SB 286, is a broader attempt at redevelopment reform.
"SB 286 makes numerous changes in reforms to redevelopment law," said Johnson. "Most significantly it excludes the educational share of tax increment for many or new or expanded redevelopment areas. It means the schools would be exempt from getting redevelopment funds."
So what would all this mean for West Altadena if WAPAC gets dismantled?
"There would be one less advisory body to speak for the redevelopment area community," said Carrillo. The Town Council is responsible for all of Altadena, so they would maybe look at the West Altadena area, and there might be members of them to speak about West Altadena in an advisory capacity. If the community wanted to, they could ask for another type of organization to speak for them or the business community in particular. It's certainly a possibility to have a privately funded entity to replace WAPAC."
Allan Wasserman, a member of the Altadena Town Council and that advisory body's representative on WAPAC, is also supportive of a privately funded entity with similar goals as WAPAC if it goes under.
"West Altadena would probably try to recreate a private form of it (if WAPAC was eliminated)," said Wasserman. "Something that's not state sanctioned, but an independent committee, probably financed by private individuals. They could reemerge themselves as a private entity that stays involved with the community."
WAPAC was formed because West Altadena requested a PAC when the county first formed a redevelopment area. Supervisor Michael Antonovich was supportive of it. PACs have to be constituted within redevelopment law. Their members are elected and they cover business owners, property owners, retail, homeowners, and other neighborhood associations.
"We provide administrative services for WAPAC," explained Carrillo. "We're a county support; we don't sit on WAPAC. The committee is made up of community leaders and has its own bylaws."
"Nothing officially has been done to end (the CDC and thus the WAPAC)," said Wasserman. "But redevelopment across the state is being scrutinized. Time will tell."
WAPAC meets the fourth Monday of every month at 6 p.m. at the Business Technology Center, located at 2400 N. Lincoln Ave.

Church Group Wants to Start Farmers Market, Other Events at Former Altadena Nursery Site

The new tenant of the old Altadena Nursery site, an outreach branch of a Pasadena-based church, has moved in and began preparing for local community events, such as a farmer's market and other open-air fairs

By Justin Chapman, Altadena Patch, 5/23/2011

Although the plan for the local Grace Community Outreach group to move into the old Altadena Nursery site at 1968 N. Lake Avenue took a little longer than they anticipated, according to one of the church's board members, Arthur Bonner, they have officially moved in and began operations around mid-March.
In November Patch that a branch of the Pasadena-based Grace Community Bible Church, called Grace Community Outreach, plans to use the site as an outreach center and a location for community events, such as a farmer's and/or vendor's market.
Right now they are still working on a contract for the farmer's market and they want to do it at an opportune time for the community. Bonner mentioned Thursdays and Saturdays as the desirable days of the week to host the market. However they haven't decided yet because they are still waiting for the necessary permits from the county.
"We're in the process right now with LA County to get the necessary permits and get everything structured to facilitate the community," said Bonner. "We're shooting for a farmer's market in June. It will probably be the first big event. The farmer's market appeals to a broad spectrum of the community."
Right now the building still looks abandoned: there is no sign on the building advertising the new tenant Grace Community Outreach and there is still fencing around the front of the property.  But Bonner said that they will eventually put up a sign to promote themselves after they receive the county permits. In November, however, Bonner explained to Patch what their goals were.
"What Outreach does is community events," said Bonner. "One of the main things is a farmer's market-style open-air fair, where we have local and non-local businesses set up booths and sell things like green and natural furniture, fruits, vegetables, flowers, natural and hemp clothing, natural incense and candles; that sort of thing. There are also booths for freelance writers and self-publishing, and people from different denominational churches handing out literature."
He said all operations will be held within the boundaries of the property. The purpose of holding these types of events is twofold. It's a way to generate revenue for the Grace Community Bible Church by charging a fee to individual vendors for space for their booths. It's also their way of giving back to the local community.
Previously, Outreach events were held at the Rose Bowl. While most vendors come from all over to participate in Outreach's events, Bonner said they're open to all local vendors.
"That's the intention," he said. "To pull as many individual Altadenans and Altadena businesses who operate in that capacity as possible into our events.
Altadena Nursery had to close up shop late 2009 after it was unable to continue paying rent for six months to the landlord, Balian Investments LLC, owned by local developer Missak Balian. Less than a year later Grace Community Outreach became the new tenant.

Town Council Waiting on County for Proposed Parking Ordinance

Altadena Town Council chair Gino Sund said that owners of large nuisance vehicles are finding ways around the overnight parking restrictions, so the council sent a proposal to the county to include retail areas in the prohibited overnight parking rule

By Justin Chapman, Altadena Patch, 5/23/2011

A year ago the Altadena Town Council submitted a proposal to the county to update Altadena's parking ordinance. The council is still waiting for the elected County government to vote on the changes.
There's a problem with the existing parking ordinance that prohibits any commercial vehicle weighing more than 10,000 pounds from parking between the hours of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., Sund told Patch in a phone interview. It only pertains to residential areas, not business and retail areas, of Altadena.
"So they would park overnight around areas like Woodbury and Lincoln," said Sund. "They would find a place that wasn't prohibited by this ordinance."
Sund said the problem was immediately obvious, and last May the Town Council sent a proposal to the county to extend the new rules to commercial areas.
According to the county's Department of Public Works Public Information Officer, Bob Spencer, county counsel has finished reviewing the council's proposal and just returned it to Public Works, where it must go through a couple additional administrative processes before it can be presented to the Board of Supervisors for discussion and a vote.
"It's slowly making its way through the system," said Spencer. "But there is no definitive date as of yet when it will appear on the supervisors' agenda."
The slow pace of the county is not the only problem with parking in Altadena, according to Sund.
He said that Pasadena has very strict parking rules, which causes more people to park in Altadena. The new ordinance for Altadena, Sund said, was drafted after public hearings were held and submitted to the county counsel. He's not sure when it will be on the supervisors' agenda, but expects it to pass because there are other unincorporated towns that already have the same ordinance.
Over the years there have been a lot of complaints from the community about safety hazards regarding large vehicles that sit around for a long time in one place. There have also been concerns expressed that Altadenans don't want their town to be like Pasadena, with its stringent parking restrictions. However, Sund said this additional parking ordinance will affect only those who park their large vehicles overnight and for long periods of time.
"It's virtually not going to affect most Altadenans," said Sund. "We're just trying to get rid of these nuisance large vehicles."
The ordinance aims to prohibit overnight parking in retail areas as well for large vehicles and to allow the Sheriff's Department to write tickets to prevent Pasadenans from parking overnight in Altadena.
"It doesn't affect cars, RVs, trucks; it affects large vehicles, or a large truck with a boat on the back," said Sund. "So it's to stop that kind of thing. If you own an RV, you can get a free permit at the Sheriff's station to allow you to park your RV in front of your houses. That's the intent. It's not an absolute abolition of parking overnight, it's to stop people from parking these big vehicles overnight all year long and outside Pasadena people parking in Altadena."
According to Title 15 of the county code (15.64.075), a nonconforming vehicle "refers to any trailer or vehicle if any part of such trailer or vehicle, together with all fixtures, accessories or property affixed thereto (other than single post radio antennas), measures more than eight feet in width, seven and one-half feet in height, or 20 feet in length."
Unincorporated communities in the county such as Marina del Rey, Ladera Heights, and Park Windsor Hills already have similar ordinances in place. The proposal that the town council submitted to the county is currently being reviewed, but it's anyone's guess when it will appear on the county Board of Supervisors' agenda. It has been a year since the town council submitted its recommended additions to the existing parking ordinance and still no one knows when the supervisors will vote on it.
"Sometimes you have to do something," said Sund. "Otherwise people will take advantage of Altadena's loose parking rules."

Altadena Garbage Contract Approved

The contract will lock in Altadena residents with Athens Service as their provider

By Dan Abendschein and Justin Chapman, Altadena Patch, 5/17/2011

The county Board of Supervisors approved a garbage contract for Altadena residents on Tuesday that will make Athens Service the sole franchise for Altadena at a monthly charge of $18.06 per household for basic services.
The contract was listed on the agenda on Tuesday and Town Council Chair Gino Sund said Tuesday night he had received word that it had been approved, and a spokesman for Supervisor Michael Antonovich confirmed it Wednesday.  Sund said he expects the contract will start some time in September.
Currently, Altadena is serviced by various private providers with different rate structures, but the Athens contract would force residents to get their service through the company.
Initially, county officials had withheld the terms of the new contract, but revealed the details after an Altadena Patch public records request.
The $18.06 monthly service charge will cover once a week automated trash collection and recycling service with each customer receiving one 96 gallon refuse container, up to two 96 gallon green waste containers, up to two 96 gallon recyclable containers, and a 64 gallon manure container. The second containers and the manure containers are available only by request, but don't raise the price of service.
Additional 96 gallon containers beyond that go for $5 each and additional manure ones for $10. Customers will be billed through the mail on a quarterly basis, and there is a 25 percent senior discount.  Homes on streets that are difficult to access could cost $22.57 per month.
Annual rate increases would be done by a formula that is heavily dependent on the Southern California portion consumer price index (CPI) that is used to measure cost of living increases. There could also be an increase depending on the cost of diesel and on the fees charged by the waste facilities that Athens used  (the formula that would be used can be viewed at right).
The terms of when there would be an increase were set by county officials when they put out a request for proposal for the contract.
The contract would run for seven years with county officials having the option of extending the contract on the same terms for three additional years.
Other features of the new trash contract will include:
  • Three on-call bulky item collections per year in unlimited quantities, including certain electronic device
  • Collection of excess green waste that is bagged and bundled ten times a year
  • Semi-annual electronic waste and clothing drop-off events
  • An annual curbside cleanup event in unlimited quantities, and free container roll-out services for qualified customers.

Whiz Kid: Catching up with Juilliard-Bound Ariana Solotoff

Solotoff is performing her senior recital at Oneonta Congregational Church in South Pas Saturday

By Justin Chapman, South Pasadena Patch, 5/12/2011

Ever since she could remember, South Pas resident Ariana Solotoff knew she wanted to be a professional violist. A senior at the Center for Independent Study (CIS) Academy at Pasadena High School, Solotoff, 17, grew up surrounded by music and always had ambitions of attending the prestigious Juilliard School. This month, her dreams came true when she was accepted for the fall 2011 semester. 
"[My mom] had a chamber group, like a string quartet, and they would rehearse at our house back in Long Island," Solotoff recalls. "And when I was about 3 or 4, I would be sitting in the middle of the four of them drawing while they were rehearsing."
To celebrate her transition from high school to college, Solotoff is hosting a recital—which she organized herself—on Saturday at 7 p.m. at . You can expect sophisticated performances from Solotoff and a slew of her friends: pianist Anton Smirnoff, violist Jenni Seo, violinist Erin Dennis and cellist Lindon Chen.
"I am having this recital to sort of finish off the first part of my life with a great performance and to relish in the fact that I have actually become good enough to even think about auditioning at places like Juilliard and Colburn," she said.
It's also a farewell and goodbye to high school and Los Angeles, she wrote on her Facebook event page.
"This performance is a way for me to show how far I've come since I started," she said. "It's like the beginning of me going to college and the end of everything else."
With the help of her private teacher at the University of Southern California, this is something Solotoff decided to coordinate independently from high school. Although Solotoff can also play the violin, clarinet, trombone, guitar, piano and cello, the viola takes precedence and is her main passion. She practices the viola anywhere from 30 minutes to four hours everyday.
"I play viola everyday of my life unless I'm so ill that I can't get out of bed," she said. "These other instruments I have played in the past—I could pick them up again if I wanted to, but I am a violist."
In addition to attending (CIS) Academy, Solotoff attends The Colburn School and takes private lessons at USC with Donald McInnes. (He's a world renowned violist and solo performer who recently went to Beijing and Shanghai to teach seven-hour master classes in Chinese conservatories.) Not to mention, she teaches music at the , which her mother founded, directs and owns.
"[South Pasadena Strings Program] is home to many, many fantastic young musicians who have been to Carnegie Hall twice and so on, and they're getting pretty big," she said, adding: "It's like a little community of little musicians. They're so cute running around with their violins."
With her violinist mother as her first teacher, Solotoff learned how to play the violin when she was about 6 years old. That's when she became interested in playing music. Her favorite kind of music is classical, but she also enjoys Klezmer, a traditional Jewish style of music, and jazz. She tried playing jazz on viola for a while, which she said was a fun experiment.
"This is what I want to do with my life. It's my only passion," said Solotoff. She added: "I don't have a backup plan; I really plan on doing this for the rest of my life. I was born a musician, and I'm going to die a musician basically." 

Committee Examining Changes to Altadena Business, Residential Codes

At Tuesday’s Land Use meeting, members began discussing what codes they want to consider changing within the Altadena Community Standards District, which haven’t been altered (with two exceptions) since 1987—and they want your input

By Justin Chapman, Altadena Patch, 5/5/2011

Requirements on signage, level of advertisement, parking requirements, and design standards on both businesses and homes in Altadena are about to come under a review process for the first time since 1987.
The Altadena Town Council has begun the slow process of altering portions of the Altadena Community Standards District (CSD), which are the zoning codes and other regulations and ordinances that property and business owners must follow within the unincorporated community.
The size and amount of signage and self-advertisement on a retail business and additions to homes needing Conditional Use Permits are examples of some of the restrictions that people have to follow.
In the last year alone, the town has seen businesses, organizations, and events ranging from the to the to , a petting zoo for autistic children, run afoul of current zoning requirements in the Altadena district codes. 
At the council's 16-member Land Use Committee (LUC) meeting Tuesday night, the nine present members discussed what the scope of the changes should be and mentioned that they're interested in looking at both commercial and residential standards, including signage and banners on businesses, parking, design standards, mixed-use development and the areas that are both residential and commercial. 
The group will also examine what kind of businesses are desired in what areas of Altadena, more specific setback requirements for additions to houses, and other similar issues.
Altadena's set of community codes has not been altered since 1987, except for two recent changes regarding residential zones and the Hillside Ordinance, which limits new building and development on hillside areas in the town.
There is also a Lake Avenue Standards District that the committee discussed looking at to identify successes and problems that can be addressed in the rest of Altadena. The committee's member and council chair Gino Sund said they will be issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) to hire a consultant to help identify the scope of what changes should be made to the Altadena CSD.
Long-time Land Use Committee member Steve Haussler is on a subcommittee of the LUC along with an architect, a landscaper, and a consultant that is looking at residential zoning problems that come before Land Use. Right now they're trying to see if homeowners who want to only make small additions to their homes, such as building one bedroom or bathroom or a combination, can be exempt from the large homes ordinance that mostly applies to larger additions.
"The existing ordinance has worked very well for many projects," said Haussler. "But it has to do with larger additions. It unfairly affects people who want to build one bedroom or a master bathroom. All of a sudden the ordinance makes it extremely burdensome to do that. And we're looking at that for people to do small additions."
His subcommittee hasn't worked with the county yet, but he plans to make a presentation on their work at either the next Land Use meeting or the one after that. He's hoping for more public input on this process and the bigger project of altering the Community Standards District.
"I'm going to see if the other Land Use members agree with our recommendations and after that we'll go to county staff and see how they feel about it," he said. "We're hoping to come up with language that is close to what county staff expects. The subcommittee is made up of people who deal with the codes. We're not trying to make a major change in the code; we're trying to protect people doing small projects."
He added that he and the rest of the Land Use Committee would welcome more community input. Only two community members attended Tuesday's meeting.
"I don't think the public has enough input on Land Use Committee issues because they don't know it exists," he said. Committee meetings are held at 7 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month in the located at 730 E. Altadena Drive. The next meeting will be held June 7, when the discussion of altering the Community Standards District will continue.
The committee's chairman, Brian League, said at Tuesday's meeting that the committee will eventually make a recommendation to the town council about what changes to the district they think are necessary and desirable, but did not set a specific timeline.
Committee member Brent Musson suggested that they adopt California's Green Building Codes and add it to the district's rules. He noted that California has adopted the codes, which are modeled on the international Green Building Codes, and that so far no city in America has outright adopted the GBC. The committee expressed interest in making Altadena the first to do so.
There are many other issues that Land Use members will look at that affect Altadena's businesses and residents. A recent case, for example, is the mural on the side wall of the Patticakes dessert company on Allen and New York Drive, which was painted by a local artist and because it depicts desserts, pastries, and coffee, which constitutes an advertisement for the store, according to a letter from county planning officials to Patticakes' owners, Mike and Phyllis McLellan. That could be considered an issue that Land Use could take a closer look at to see if there are circumstantial situations that should be exempt.
As for other desired changes that Land Use members will consider, Haussler stated that north Fair Oaks would be ideal for housing mixed with retail, but that the county does not allow it yet.
"Also, on Lake Avenue by , it would be brilliant to have residential mixed with retail," he said. It would make it a better community and Lake is less steep there so I think we'd have more people walking. Right now zoning does not allow it, but I think it would bring a vibrancy that's needed, so for the commercial end, I really hope we can do that."

How Will AT&T's Merger With T-Mobile Affect Sierra Madre?

The announcement comes a month and a half after the City Council accepted preliminary plans from AT&T that will modify an existing cellular tower in Sierra Vista Park

By Justin Chapman, Sierra Madre Patch, 5/4/2011

AT&T's purchase of T-Mobile USA from Deutsche Telekom would create the largest cellular carrier in the country, leaving only three major cellular companies in the country: AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint Nextel, as reported by The New York Times Sunday.
The multi-billion dollar deal comes on the heels of an ongoing local agreement between AT&T and T-Mobile. On Feb. 9, Sierra Madre Patch editor John Stephens that the City Council voted to accept preliminary plans from AT&T that will modify an existing cellular tower in in hopes of bettering notoriously bad cell phone coverage from the carrier within the city.
That tower modification proposal followed an agreement between AT&T and T-Mobile to allow the larger carrier to use the existing infrastructure for what is called a "co-location" design in lieu of constructing an independent, secondary tower.
The fate of the modification proposal remains to be seen as the transaction between AT&T and T-Mobile USA has not yet been approved and is sure to set off a regulatory battle in Washington over the effects of the deal on competitors and consumers.
Also of note, a separate but similar story unfolded almost two weeks ago when wireless Internet provider AT&T Mobility over Utility Users Taxes it improperly collected from city residents and turned over to the city.
Essentially, AT&T wants the city to refund taxes to Sierra Madre residents, and they're prepared to use legal action to seek a refund in the amount of $56,861.22. That amount, according to the claim, includes taxes collected from Sierra Madre customers of the company between Nov. 1, 2005, and Sep. 30, 2010. The claim is part of a massive action by AT&T requesting refunds from cities across the country.

Loma Alta Celebrates Its 60th--And Last--Year

A 60th anniversary celebration was held at Loma Alta Elementary on Saturday

By Justin Chapman, Altadena Patch, 5/2/2011

Saturday's 60th Anniversary of celebration was a bittersweet day for the school's community. One of the two schools in Altadena officially slated for closure starting next year, the other being , by a  vote by the Pasadena Unified Board of Education, Loma Alta is one of the smallest schools in the district but provided a vital and effective service to students with special needs.
About 100 people turned up for the morning celebration, which was sponsored by the Loma Alta PTA and included a fitness walk, book sale, face painting, nutrition network, special Gummy Bear field day game booths, a reunion for Loma Alta alumni, a Loma Alta history scavenger hunt, dance contests and cheers from the Loma Alta cheerleaders, and a cover band that played after several people gave short speeches.
Students, teachers, parents, volunteers, principal Eric Sahakian, school board members Renatta Cooper and Ramon Miramontes, Dr. Elizabeth Pomeroy of PUSD, the president of the Altadena NAACP, and two Altadena Sheriff's horses and their caretakers enjoyed the festivities, celebrating 60 years of the school's history before it closes in seven weeks.
"We're going to make it a successful seven weeks," Sahakian proclaimed to the crowd before speaking to Patch about what the school's closure really means.
"It's really an indication of the education crisis that we're in right now," he said. "But as educators we always rise to the challenge. We are very resourceful in what we do. And what we do is for the community and the children. Just like a school board member just mentioned earlier, when one door closes another door opens, and there will be positive opportunities for our families and for our students, and they'll get a wonderful education in PUSD no matter what school they attend."
As for where Sahakian will go next year, he said he would love to stay in PUSD, and would be honored and humbled to stay in PUSD, but so far he's not sure what his next steps are.
Miramontes praised Sahakian's work for the school and stated with certainty that there will be a place for him in PUSD next year.
"I'm committed to making sure that Eric stays as an administrator in PUSD," Miramontes said during his speech. "Because what makes a school obviously is our students and our parents and our PTA and our staff and our community, but it's also the leader that keeps it going every day. And Eric, you've shown to us at PUSD that you need to stay with us. We're going to do whatever it takes to make sure you stay at PUSD. You're not going anywhere, buddy."
After his speech Miramontes told Patch that there will be school principal and assistant principal positions available for Sahakian, but that nothing has been decided yet as to where he will go.
"I have seen him and I have heard positive comments from parents, that he's a rising star in PUSD," said Miramontes. "He has the skill sets of a leader, of an educator that needs to understand and have empathy for parents and where children come from. He's patient, he's humble, he's a hell of a hard worker, and people like him."
He also said that a Pasadena charter school named Rosebud will move into the school site starting next year. The school board vote to close the two Altadena schools was very close, passing by just one vote, with Miramontes opposing the closures.
"I think it's more of that trend of marginalizing Altadena," Miramontes said about the school's closure. "There's too much focus on schools in Pasadena city proper, and we have to understand that even if we don't have a sufficient number of students, it's not something that's that much different from other elementary schools. And to not at least seriously consider closing other schools in Pasadena, I think we reinforce how Altadenans feel about PUSD. So even though I live in the city of Pasadena, I think the marginalization has some merit, and this is a case in point."
Teachers and parents echoed his sentiment and expressed their frustration with the school board's decision.
"I'm very upset about the closing of Loma Alta," said Connie Edwards, the Healthy Start coordinator. "I'm not happy. This is my second school closure. We worked very, very hard after they closed Edison Elementary School to come here, to open up a big family center, which used taxpayers' money, and we're losing all of that because our school is closing. I'm not a happy camper. But I'm happy that I can still provide services for our students that are in this community and that are in this school district, so it's sort of like a bittersweet thing."
Healthy Start is a program at five schools in PUSD that provides services to students and parents. Their motto is to "reduce the barriers to learning." It's a school-based program funded by a California state grant that serves the population of each respective school and deals with the socio-economic issues that they're presented with.
Their goal is to make sure each child is ready to go to school ready to learn by making sure they have their immunizations, physicals, dental checks, uniforms, shoes, books, school supplies, backpacks, and much more. They also refer clients out to local agencies to help families with some of these services.
Loma Alta's Healthy Start program will be moving to Altadena Elementary, which previously did not have such a program.
"Hopefully we'll be able to continue to provide services for students and families that need it," said Edwards. "We also refer clients to a variety of local agencies if there's any issue that they have, like if they can't pay their bills, or they need referrals for housing, food, we also do that."
Other teachers and parents were saddened but reserved about the closure of the school. Rosa Iida, a teacher who's been at Loma Alta for 16 years, said she started her teaching career here.
"I'm upset about the closure, but it's been coming," she said. "They've been talking about it for the last five years, and I guess it really happened this year. Most likely I will be teaching at another PUSD school next year. We're all getting transferred to the schools that are in-taking our children, so that would be Altadena and and probably others. As far as we know, the charter school that is coming in next year may share it with the preschool that's already existed here, but that's the last we've heard. But things can happen over the summer, things might change."
She said that although this is the last big community event here at Loma Alta, they have more end of the year events, such as baseball games, the Aquarium of the Pacific coming to the school in June, and the STAR program coming in to do hands-on science and math programs for the next two weeks, which she said the school is excited about.
"We're making the most of the last few weeks and spending all the money we have left over," she said with a laugh.
A couple parents spoke to Patch about their plans for next year. It seems most Loma Alta students will be attending next year. That's exactly what Denise Keyes, who has a child in 4th grade, and Felicia Lee, who has 4th and 5th graders at Loma Alta, plan on doing.
"It's a very sad day and I'm really upset about it," said Keyes. "I've moved on from it but it's a very upsetting moment. I mean, this carnival has kind of given closure. It's like a celebration, and I really wish that we could have stayed open. Next year my daughter is still going to go to school in Altadena, so I'm going to send her to Altadena Elementary."
Lee also called it a very sad day, "but also a joyful day because we're all out here excited, still celebrating the time we had here. But it is very sad. Next year my 4th grader will be attending Altadena Elementary, and my 5th grader will be graduating to middle school, so he'll be at ."
Camille Leal, a parent of a 1st grader at Loma Alta, is still undecided about where to send her son next year. She's even considering taking him out of PUSD and sending him to a private school.
"It's still a decision that we're planning to make," said Leal. "My son has only been here two years, so I think it's sad that they're closing the school but I haven't been here long enough to get a long feeling of the school here. But I have been here enough where I noticed that I liked it here. I felt very comfortable. It was very small, so I felt good about that, because I like the small community. And I think it's sad that they want to close schools because I think there's no reason to do so if the school is doing well with the students. So it's sad, but I have so many different feelings on it."
During his speech, Miramontes addressed the school's closure.
"Although we fell just one vote short of keeping this school open, we gave it a good fight," he said. "I think the community and the parents and the students had their day and their hour in court to argue why it should have stayed open, but it's still going to stay, at least on our watch, a school. And this is to honor the historical taxpayers in the community that contributed so much to keep this as a learning facility," adding, "with a great view."
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