December 10, 2016 Neighborhood Meeting Summary

December 11, 2016

Preparation

E-mail and phone reminders

Attendees

6 members

Meeting

Agenda Items:

The meeting began about 11:25 am

  • Avon site in escrow with Home Depot for Research & Development
    • The Avon property is located on the south side of Foothill Blvd, immediately west of the freeway bridge across Foothill Blvd.
    • The property is almost 14 acres and consists of six parcels. It extends south to Walnut Street. A parking lot on the south side extends west to Daisy Avenue. The most south eastern parcel extends to Kinneloa Ave.
    • Avon has had a distribution facility there for many decades, at least since the 60s. It was adjacent to the rail line until the building of the freeway rerouted it.
    • In January of 2013, Avon announced that it would consolidate distribution at a mid-west facility, close the Pasadena location, and sell the property.
    • Pasadena City officials subsequently made a deal with Avon to stay for another three years in return for sales tax reimbursements. That time has past and Avon did not change its mind.
    • The property is up for sale.
    • Avon has long been a major generator of sales tax revenue for the city.
    • Under the city's new General Plan and Land Use Diagram, the property is not zoned for commercial retail usage.
      Most of it has a newly created zoning designation called "R&D Flex Space", which is described as "Characterized by a wide range of industrial uses such as light manufacturing, research and development, creative office and incubator industries, and limited ancillary commercial and office uses." Two parcels nearest the freeway are zoned for Open Space; these are just east of and across Eaton Wash.
    • The old zoning designation for all of the parcels was industrial, with retail sales allowed only as an "accessory use".
    • On November 30, a Community Meeting was held at PCC-CEC to provide information about what is and is not known about how the Avon site might be used and the potential purchase of the property and subsequent development application that might include a Home Depot store.
    • The meeting was arranged at the request of Council member Masuda.
    • At least 100 community members attended the meeting. Pasadena Now reported 200.
    • David Reyes, Pasadena's Director of Planning and Community Development presented a power point about the pace of development in the city currently and historically, the zoning for the Avon site, and the development process after an application is received by the city. Throughout the presentation he allowed questions and tried to answer them.
      Here is an Adobe Acrobat (pdf) of his slides, including a satellite image of the property with parcels outlined, and the zoning map.

      • He made clear that the City has received no development application for the property and therefore has no role in deciding anything about it at this stage. Property sales are entirely between the seller and buyer.
      • Under the current land use designation as R&D Flex Space with a maximum 1.25 Floor Area Ratio (FAR), the 590,000 square feet of the site, would be allowed a maximum of 750,000 square feet of development.
      • He said that because of the discrepancies between the new land use designated in the General Plan and the older zoning and vision of the East Pasadena Specific Plan which covered the area and the not yet created Lamanda Park Specific Plan which will cover the area, the only way development can take place currently is if the developer applies for a Planned Development (PD). Under a PD, the City Council ultimately makes the decision of whether the development will be allowed. Under a PD, the City can change any development standards such as heights and setbacks that did or would apply to the property but, he said, it still must conform to the underlying use designated by the General Plan.
      • In addition to the six parcels owned by Avon, the City owns a strip of adjacent land along Walnut (think it used to be railroad tracks). He said it probably makes sense for the use of that land to be considered in conjunction with whatever project takes place on the Avon parcels. He did not expand on that, but possibilities might be the City selling the land, trading the land (maybe for the Open Space area after its been cleaned up), or requiring the project to make public amenities/improvements to that strip of land.
      • Some people have said they thought the East Pasadena Specific Plan banned big box retail in that area. Mr Reyes noted that the Avon area was not part of the area where big box was banned.
      • One of the disturbing things in his presentation is a statement that "ancillary use" means that retail is limited to less then half the property. But that is hardly what most people would think of as the meaning of "ancillary". Asked about it after the meeting, he agreed the term had not been defined and just less then half was more then one would expect.
      • Another factor that was not discussed is that a standard definition of "ancillary" means "relating to". There is no obvious relationship of a Home Depot to a miscellaneous collection of research and development and high tech companies. Most people looking at the zoning would think that the retail allowed by the definition was something along the lines of the hi tech companies selling their innovations, not totally unrelated commercial entities.
      • Mr. Reyes said that the City now realizes that it is unrealistic to expect there to be enough demand for so much high tech / R&D space. That some of it will have to be used for other purposes. He was not challenged on that assertion.
        Might it really involve how long one is willing to wait?
        If the City really believes that it is not practical, shouldn't they change the land use designation rather then re-imagining the definition?
        How much is this change of perspective a result of the City's desire for more sales tax revenue?
      • Mr Reyes also mentioned that in past years the City had lost a number of large and/or growing companies to other cities because Pasadena did not have any large enough space available. This potential proposal would split this large property into myriad unrelated uses which would squander the potential future use by any large company.
      • A number of people at the meeting expressed surprise at hearing of the proposed 550 unit Space Bank development.
    • Eventually the consultant for the potential developer(s) of the property, Richard McDonald, was requested to come to the front of the room to answer questions and try to explain the situation from his perspective. Mr. McDonald introduced himself as an attorney in land use and development and a Pasadena resident of 35 years (later noting he lives in the Arroyo area). Mr. McDonald is well known in Pasadena and among City staff and leaders. He is a former member of the Planning Commission. He has appeared before the City Council many times in the recent past as a representative for various development projects. He has not always gotten what he was advocating for. He is quite knowledgeable and quick witted, but has a demeanor that rubs many the wrong way. Although many attendees were obviously not friendly to what he had to say, he is more respectful in front of the City Council then he came across at this meeting.
      • Mr. McDonald confirmed that at the time of the meeting, the Avon property was in escrow and that he was a representative for the potential buyers (plural), one of which is Home Depot. He would not disclose the others, because he said that was attorney-client privilege; that would become public if and when the property is sold and a development application filed.
      • He said they were in a due diligence period, that escrow was scheduled to close some time in December, but it could be extended, and/or the buyers could back out if they are not able to put together a plan they think will work. They need to be confident it makes economic sense before letting escrow close.
      • He said that he didn't believe Home Depot was a problem, that the biggest problem to solve was whether they could put together a enough research and development / high-tech entities to take up more then half the space. He said they'd been spending time talking to various potential users including Caltech and Innovate Pasadena.
      • He said they were studying the former Earthlink property up on New York Drive, which is a very under-utilized roughly 400,000 square feet, to try to understand why it is not working.
      • He said they are looking at several different types of retail uses in addition to Home Depot. He mentioned Starbucks.
      • He said that the typical Home Depot is 75 to 125 square feet of space, and that would only be a small part of the property. Questioned about space for parking, he said the newer stores use parking structures, so that would require only about an acre.
      • He said they were working with a well-known Pasadena based architect to think about various configurations and how they might work. He said that retail has different logistical demands then high tech, which creates some difficulties.
      • A representative of Pasadena Heritage at the meeting said that the 1949 main Avon office building is historic and asked if the developer would preserve that building. Mr. McDonald said they had not been considering doing so, but that issue would be dealt with as part of the Environmental Impact Report process.
    • A representative of Pasadena Now asked the audience for a show of hands against a Home Depot and for a Home Depot. The vast majority were against.
    • Subsequent to the meeting there has been long discussion on NextDoor.com.
      • Many objections to a Home Depot relate to traffic impacts. At the meeting there were some statements to the effect that the majority, if not all, traffic could be routed to/from Walnut Street. Someone has also said that Walnut is an under-utilized street. Not mentioned is that it works rather well for going eastbound, but not well for westbound.
      • Another line of objection is that Home Depot would destroy business for Osh and Ganahl. If they close down, maybe there is no net gain. It has been noted that the City cannot make decisions about what projects to allow based on how they will affect existing businesses.
      • Someone pointed out that Home Depot hardly seems to be the sort of place techies would want to hang out. But actually, there is a lot of neat stuff in Home Depot for techies.
      • What commercial use would make sense there for the community? Most of us already in the community think from the perspective of home owners. But there are many hundreds if not thousands of new residents here or about to be very near to this development, and they are/will be apartment dwellers. Some needs are similar, some very different.
        • One suggestion was that it would make sense to have a movie theater, since East Pasadena has none. But maybe movie theaters aren't popular enough anymore.
        • Some have said they'd prefer a Costco to Home Depot. Either one is useful to single family homes, but not so much for apartment dwellers. Apartments often don't have space for the huge packages of stuff at Costco. They also have no need for the vast majority of stuff at Home Depot. No lawns or gardens, no space for building things, no responsibility for repairs or upgrades.
  • Possible Regulation of Short Term Rentals
    • The Economic Development and Technology Committee of the City Council (EdTech) recently directed Planning and Community Development Staff to study issues and potential regulations for short term rentals and bring the information back to the Committee. Part of the request was specifically to hold community meetings.
    • Community meetings were held the evening of December 1 and the morning of December 3.
    • Here is the slide presentation for the meetings as an Adobe Acrobat file (pdf).
    • The presentation was a minor amount of the allotted time. Most of the time was spent looking at display boards that were set up with questions. Attendees were encouraged to write comments on the boards or on large post it notes which were then stuck to the display boards. A number of planning staff were present to discuss the issues and options one on one with those present at each station. Attendees often ended up discussing with one another.
    • At least at the Saturday meeting, it seemed that most of the attendees were folks who currently host short term rentals. There were not a lot of attendees, but more then often show up for city meetings.
    • Short term rentals are rentals of less then 30 days. Traditionally these are hotels, motels, and bed & breakfasts.
    • In recent years less traditional short-term rentals have increased dramatically with the advent of websites such as AirBNB, VRBO, HomeShare, HomeAway, Craigslist, and many more. These less traditional short term rentals include vacation homes, condos, apartments, bedrooms, couches, back houses.
    • Other cities that are more tourist oriented have encountered problems, including
      • accommodations previously available to long term residents being taken off the market because short term rentals are more lucrative, exacerbating the shortage of affordable housing
      • loss of neighborhood stability when too many residences become a continuous parade of people with no vested interest in the community
      • loss of local tax revenues because most jurisdictions have some kind of transitory occupancy tax which is levied against hotels and motels
      • undermining of the highly regulated hotel/motel businesses
      • lack of inspections or safety standards resulting in unsafe accommodations
      • additional impetus to mansionization as a rental investment
    • There was no indication given that the City of Pasadena has already encountered problems due to the new varieties of short term rentals.
    • Non-hotel/motel short term rentals are currently not regulated by the City. They are legal, within the zoned occupancy limits. One of the attendees reported trying to get a business license and being told there was not any applicable license that could be issued.
    • It is likely that City Council members want to support the City's hotels/motels and are concerned their business could be undermined if too many non-traditional short term rentals take place. The hotel/motel industry is undoubtedly complaining that it is unfair they have to comply with so many regulations and charge the City's Transitory Occupancy Tax (TOT) on each rental while the non-traditional short term rentals do not. And of course, the City is concerned about a potential loss of TOT revenue, and would like to generate more.
    • City staff hired a consultant to try to determine how many non-traditional short term rentals are taking place in Pasadena. They came up with a count of 534 properties in October 2016, more then double the number one year before. (Some attendees said they think the count is too high and questioned how the consultant came up with the numbers).
    • A number of more highly impacted cities have instituted regulations in the past few years. Many of them are being challenged in court. Some of the parameters involved include:
      • the type of property, for example singly family residence vs multi-family
      • owner occupied, where the owner is on-site sharing the property, vs. vacation rental where the owner is temporarily away vs. income property
      • limiting the number of days per year that a property can be short term rented
      • banning short term rentals completely
      • requiring a license
      • requiring a permit
      • requiring inspections
      • requiring payment of TOT
    • Enforcement of any regulations would be an issue:
      • How do you tell the difference between a house guest providing compensation for expenses vs. a short term renter? Is it just based on finding a listing somewhere? If the currently popular websites become too difficult to deal with, folks will just migrate to others. The City will have a really hard time keeping up. People who do short term rentals report frequently having repeat customers and referring previous customers to others when they are already booked. They could just make arrangements directly with one another.
      • As with any other code enforcement, it is likely to be complaint driven. So those who can and want to will follow the regulations, and those that don't will mostly fly under the radar. The bigger a pain it is to follow the regulations, the more that will choose to ignore/evade them.
      • Websites have no legal obligation to police their listings to insure the properties are following a city's regulations. Apparently the workaround is to require that listings for properties in the City include a license/registration number. But it is not always apparent from a listing what legal jurisdiction the property is in - they may not be required to include an address.
      • If the City requires registration and payment of TOT, will that open the City to liability lawsuits on the basis that the renter inferred that if the City knows about the rental property and charges tax for each rental it must be providing some oversight? So then the City also has to have permits and inspections? All of which becomes costly and a bureaucratic nightmare for a homeowner who just wants to do an occasional rental to earn a bit of cash and/or meet interesting people.
    • Attendees providing short term rentals gave some feedback about their benefits:
      • home sharing rentals are usually much less costly then a hotel, allowing people to stay in the city and participate in activities and shopping that they would otherwise do elsewhere
      • short term rentals in single family homes are far more accommodating to pets and/or families with children
      • home sharing rentals are often preferred by single travelers who feel someone is looking out for them
      • short term rentals in residential areas can put the traveler in much closer proximity to their activity. For example, grandparents visiting grandchildren or vice versa.
      • Home sharing rental hosts are part of their community and have a highly vested interest in making sure their renters will not cause disruptions.
      • Most of the websites have review processes so that bad renters and/or bad hosts are weeded out.
      • It is not necessarily feasible for a short term rental host to rent a bedroom on a non-short term basis. Often they would want that guest bedroom available part of the time for visiting family or friends.
    • Some more questions:
      • How does the City distinguish a bed & breakfast from a (currently non-regulated) short term rental?
      • How does the City currently regulate non-short term rentals (over 30 days)?
      • Why do short term rentals deserve greater regulation plus a special tax?
      • What does the TOT revenue pay for? If TOT is extended to non-traditional short term rentals, shouldn't they have representation on the board/commission that uses some of the TOT revenues for promoting the City and improving/managing the convention center?
      • Why put in regulations now if there is no apparent problem yet? Is it really just about more revenue for the City and more employment for Code Enforcement?
    • If you have comments or questions for City planners about the possible regulation of short term rentals by the City, you can contact Guille Nuñez at [email protected] or (626) 744-7634
  • Summary of Council District Community Meeting
    • Held on Thursday November 17 at Green Dot Corporation. There were three presentations.
    • City budget deficit projected
      • Steve Mermell, the new City Manager, gave a presentation about the projected City budget deficit that will require cutting services or raising more revenue, or both. The biggest driver of the coming problem is pension liability. We reviewed this topic recently: October 15 2016 meeting re: budget
    • Electrical undergrounding program
      • Eric Klinkner of Pasadena Water & Power (PWP) gave a presentation about the future of the City's utility undergrounding program.
      • More information can be found on the PWP website: cityofpasadena.net/waterandpower/undergrounding/
      • We reviewed this topic last spring: April 9 2016 meeting re: underground
      • At the end of the presentation, the audience was asked to raise their hands for whether they favored continuing the underground program or terminating it (actually there was a third option between, but have forgotten it). The overwhelming majority of the audience favored terminating the program. We were told that at the meetings of some other districts the audience favored continuing it.
      • The feedback received from the community outreach in recent months will be discussed by the City Council's Municipal Services Committee in the coming months and then they'll decide what to recommend to the full City Council.
    • Generators for electrical outages
      • Gurcharan Bawa, the current Interim General Manager of Pasadena Water & Power, presented a guide to electric generators for use in the event that the power grid goes down.
      • This was reportedly spurred by Council member Masuda asking him questions because Mr Masuda was looking into buying a generator for himself, inspired by memories of the wind storm aftermath.
      • Mr. Bawa said that although PWP power has historically been very reliable, he recommends that residents of homes with outdoor space who have already taken the more basic measures of emergency preparation also equip themselves with a generator to provide a degree of neighborhood self-reliance in the event of a major emergency.
      • To assist in determining what kind of generator to get, Mr. Bawa had this flyer prepared. It was distributed at the meeting.
      • Afterward Mr. Bawa was asked if solar panels with battery storage wouldn't be sufficient. He replied that for an outage of only a day or two it might be fine, but if the days happen to be cloudy/rainy the panels might not produce enough electricity to keep up with demand. (Somebody with a solar panel system would have to calculate based on watching how well their system works in various conditions, how much electricity they actually need to use, and the expense of a battery storage system. A decent backup generator is still less expensive then a similar capacity battery system).
      • City generator website: http://www.cityofpasadena.net/waterandpower/Generators/
  • Space Bank 550 unit development status
    • The City is working on selection of the consultant who will prepare the Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
    • That is now expected to happen in January.
  • Reporting issues to Caltrans
    • When there are problems on the sides of the freeway, the on-ramps or off-ramps, under bridges, that is Caltrans property and not under the City's jurisdiction. For example, homeless encampments and/or trash. Though the city often works jointly or coordinates with Caltrans, if you try to report these problems to the City they will usually just tell you to complain to Caltrans. You can report such issues to Caltrans at this website:
      http://dot.ca.gov/hq/maint/msrsubmit/
  • Local Crime Summary
    • For the last month, from crimemapping.com: (note that time is typically when reported, not when it happened)
      • Actually nothing reported in our neighborhood within the past month.
  • anything else attendees wish to discuss
    • Hastings Library Season Celebration and Tree Lighting Dec 16
      • Hastings Branch Library is having a celebration of the season followed by the lighting of the big tree outside.
      • Friday December 16, starting at 3:30 pm is two hours of activities and treats including:
        • face painter
        • balloon artist
        • holiday crafts
        • carolers
        • Special Performance by the Dancing Fingers Music Academy & Staff
        • hot chocolate and cookies
      • Lights strung on a big pine tree north east of the library will be lit at 5:30 pm.

Next meeting is January 14, 2017 at 11:15 am, in Hastings Branch Library meeting room

Adjourned about 12:50 pm

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