Who’s Watching the Developers in La Crescenta?


little over six months ago, the community was surprised when bulldozers showed up on Foothill Boulevard just west of Rosemont Avenue at a site locally known as the “Plumb Crazy lot” because of a plumbing business that had been located there. Surprise turned to shock when it was discovered that plans for a massive three-story office building had been floating around County planning offices for months, unnoticed by the community. Once we got a look at the already approved plans, we quickly noticed that the naturally sloping lot was shown on the developer’s plans as nearly flat, allowing him to add an entire story to the building, and still stay under the maximum height allowed. After this was revealed, the County issued a stop work order, and the developer revised his plans to two stories.

This was a familiar scenario. In 2003, a three-story condo building on Florencita Avenue was complete and having interiors finished when neighbors complained that the building appeared taller than the 35 feet maximum allowed. Sure enough, the County came out, measured, and it was indeed several feet higher. The developer was forced to shave off part of the building.

Both of these incidents were embarrassments to County Planning who oversees such projects. In September of 2010, Supervisor Antonovich called on County Planning to report on what caused these embarrassing scenarios, and what would be done to prevent future problems. I’m calling it the “What the heck happened here?” report. That report is out, and blames the developers (surprise!) for submitting inaccurate plans. It also mandates more stringent oversight by planning, requiring photos of the project sites before grading, and checking plans against topographic maps.

That’s all fine, but what can we do locally to make sure developers, and the County, follow the rules? The answer I think is simple. The Land Use Committee of the CV Town Council needs to expand their oversight of local development, and provide an obviously needed second set of eyes. Every community around us – Glendale, La Canada, and Sunland/Tujunga – maintains land use committees, or their equivalents, that hold monthly public meetings, review plans, discuss development, and provide forums for the public to comment on those developments. The Land Use Committee of the CV Town Council, which covers the “Plumb Crazy” project, has declined to do most of these tasks. In fact for several months, their report, which is stuck onto the very end of CV Town Council meetings, has been “No activity”, which has maddened residential neighbors of the Plumb Crazy project.

The president of the CV Town Council Cheryl Davis made it her goal last year to restructure the Land Use Committee into a more active component of her organization. Supervisor Antonovich’s Land Use Deputy attended a recent Town Council meeting and recommended they model themselves after Altadena Town Council’s Land Use Committee, which holds monthly public meetings, contacts neighbors of upcoming projects to keep them informed, and enlists members of the public to better handle the workload. Not surprisingly there is resistance to change in the current CV Land Use Committee. Committee member Robert Thomas has even gone so far as to say the Committee is fine as-is.

I think it isn’t. We’ve had several projects, like Plumb Crazy, float through with little oversight in the last few years, and as the economy heats up, that pace of development will quicken. Besides that, we now have our sweeping new building standards for Foothill Boulevard that were just enacted last year, and those will require the Land Use Committee’s full attention.

Many residents feel that the quiet feel of our neighborhoods is what they love about CV. Most that I’ve talked to have expressed frustration with mega-projects like Plumb Crazy that skirt the rules and urbanize our quiet community. La Crescenta, if developers had their way, would soon look like South Glendale with overcrowded multi-family units, and Foothill would become a concrete canyon of office buildings. The Town Council’s Land Use Committee needs to step up and provide a stronger hand in guiding development in Unincorporated La Crescenta. The future of our community is at stake.