What’s The Use? Part I

Those of us who have lived in the Crescenta Valley for a long time know that it is a unique community where people feel connected to each other and to the surrounding foothills. We treasure our rich history and our small-town-in-the-big-city lifestyle and have stood strong to preserve it. For newcomers, it may be difficult to navigate the many jurisdictions that developed through land acquisition and to understand which school district, emergency response agency, utility or political representative covers a particular area. Collectively, though, we are all the Crescenta Valley and it’s more important now than ever to work together for the benefit of all.

Back in 2009, I started to realize that there were projects on the horizon that could threaten the quality of life in our community. I decided to get involved and joined the Crescenta Valley Community Association, a volunteer organization that follows land use throughout the valley, and I quickly learned what was being proposed. First up was the project known as Foothill Lumber. The owner planned to remove the single-story businesses off the corner of Dunsmore Avenue and Foothill Boulevard and replace them with a gigantic three-story retail complex. It was my first experience speaking in front of the Glendale City Council as a concerned neighbor and, thankfully, they agreed that the project was too large for the space and denied it. To its credit, the City Council also reevaluated the zoning in that section and ultimately reduced the height limit on Foothill from 50 to 35 feet. This was a huge win for the community and more in line with the maximum heights in Sunland-Tujunga, unincorporated La Crescenta and La Cañada Flintridge, all of which are near that limit.

Within the CVCA, I continued to advocate for slow growth and thoughtful design when working with community leaders, planning staff and developers. I joined the advisory group for the North Glendale Community Plan, which was tasked with updating the official guide to development in the Glendale portion of La Crescenta and Montrose. The advisory group had envisioned improvements on Foothill that made the corridor safer to walk with smooth sidewalks, places to stop with amenities, charming landscaping as well as underground powerlines, efficient parking and adequate drainage. There were discussions about returning Verdugo City to a more prominent city center and adding cohesive elements like historic lighting along Honolulu Avenue to visually connect it with Rockhaven and the Montrose Shopping Park. The NGCP was adopted in 2011.

Sadly, none of these visions within the community plan ever came to fruition due to lack of funds and political will – well, except one. Due to the confusing jurisdictions identified by the advisory committee and a suggestion to clarify boundaries, in 2015 the Welcome to Glendale sign contest was born. Local artists were invited to submit their designs for a new monument entrance. The rest of the story is history, as they say, when a beautiful design was chosen but badly implemented in two spots along Foothill at Lowell and Pennsylvania avenues. The undersized signs that looked like tombstones were accidentally struck by several cars and demolished in short order. After the debris was cleared, the City did not consider replacing them nor advancing any other improvements from the plan because of the community’s negative response to the sign installation. The County portion of La Crescenta, however, did move forward with its plan for welcome signs and landscaped medians on Foothill.

A decade ago, it was much easier to follow land use because there were local governing zoning codes that guided or restricted development. Nowadays, with the onslaught of California state legislation, regulation and mandates, all the rules have changed and are competing against each other.

Next time, I will report about the new projects in the pipeline for the Crescenta Valley and the strategies being proposed to bring back local control over development.

Susan Bolan