It was a busy year in La Cañada Flintridge. Residents came together to mourn losses and celebrate victories, they made their voices heard at the polls and in public hearings, they made history in real estate and sports, and, at La Cañada High School, students were instructed to try to get a little more sleep.
Here are the 17 most important local stories of 2017:
1. LCF Loses Dave Spence
Dave Spence suffered a fatal heart attack at his home May 16. The devoted city councilman and six-time mayor was 80.
In March, he’d been re-elected for a seventh term as a member of the City Council, on which he’d served since 1992: “In my opinion, La Cañada Flintridge is one of the greatest cities in this state,” Spence said during his last campaign.
Spence enthusiastically cultivated influence that extended beyond LCF, giving the city a voice on numerous regional government agencies that ranged from the California Contract Cities Association and the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments, to the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District and the Los Angeles County Sanitation District.
During his tenure, Spence was integral in the movement to connect sewers through much of LCF. He also advocated for the building of the Town Center and for the city’s popular trail system. If not for him, LCF would not have Music in the Park each Sunday evening in summer.
Steve del Guercio, another former mayor remembered Spence this way: “Dave Spence’s love for our community was truly unparalleled in our history. Seemingly ubiquitous, he touched the lives of generations of La Cañadans with his kindness, goodwill and dedication to helping others.”
2. 710 Tunnel Proposal Collapses
Despite a recommendation from the L.A. Metropolitan Transportation Authority staff to approve a 4.9-mile, $3.2-billion single-bore tunnel, on May 25, Metro’s Board of Directors voted unanimously against it, essentially ending a 50-year debate over the controversial SR-710 project.
The latest proposal sought to bore beneath El Sereno, South Pasadena and Pasadena to connect the “missing segment” of the 710 freeway between the 10 and 210 freeways. Instead, the Metro board decided to rededicate $105 million of Measure R funds toward a host of incremental transportation improvement plans, such as coordinated traffic signal timing, ramp metering, street widening, as well as promotion of carpooling and transit use. Another $645 million will be available for further allocation along the corridor.
Jan SooHoo, an LCF resident and leader with the No 710 Action Committee, was pleased with the result: “This is going to be a win-win for everyone,” she said.
The city of LCF actively opposed the freeway extension since 1999, when then-City Councilman Anthony Portantino rallied his colleagues against what was then a proposed above-ground stretch of freeway intended to close the 710 Freeway gap.
3. Sagebrush Transfer Nears Approval
On May 3, the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization voted 8-1 to preliminarily approve the transfer of westernmost La Cañada Flintridge from Glendale Unified School District to LCUSD. The ruling marked a significant step forward in the latest attempt of many by Sagebrush residents spanning 50-plus years.
“We’re delighted at this outcome,” said Tom Smith, one of the chief petitioners behind the request to redistrict the 385 acres of LCF.
The vote countered the recommendation by the L.A. County Office of Education, which found that the petition failed to meet five of the nine required conditions, including proving that Sagebrush is more substantially tied to the LCUSD community than to GUSD’s.
GUSD can appeal the ruling with the state board of education, but first both sides await findings from a California Environmental Quality Act review, which was expected to take about a year. Once completed, the county committee will vote whether to put the matter to a vote of residents.
4. Measure LCF Passes Easily
With overwhelming support, Measure LCF passed in the Nov. 7 election. The $149 million general obligation bond garnered approval from 71.33% of voters, substantially more than the 55% required.
The funds generated by the bond are to be used to repair and modernize classroom and school facilities, including fixing roofs and plumbing, improving student safety, and supporting advances in technology and curriculum.
“We’re honestly blown away by the support,” said Josh Epstein, co-chair of the Yes on LCF campaign. “It tells me people care about the schools. This wasn’t an election that was going to generate a lot of news, it wasn’t a big political election, but people still showed up because they think these kinds of things are important.”
Voters also re-elected Dan Jeffries and Kaitzer Puglia to the LCUSD Governing Board, and elected Joe Radabaugh for his first term.
5. Target Named Town Center Tenant
Target announced on Aug. 16 that it signed a lease to move into the former Sport Chalet space, with plans to open in July 2018. The nationwide chain indicated it would operate a 45,865-square foot “small-format” store in the La Cañada Flintridge Town Center, the 10th of its kind in the Los Angeles area.
The retailer stated that it planned to tailor merchandise to meet local needs, including apparel and accessories for the family, as well as a grocery selection that will include produce; elevated beauty assortment; home and decor essentials, a CVS Pharmacy and Starbucks. Target announced plans to hire nearly 100 employees.
Though there were community concerns that the popular retailer could increase parking and traffic woes, Pat Anderson, CEO of the LCF Chamber of Commerce, said she was delighted: “It’s going to be great for our community.”
6. City Hall’s $11 Million Move
The city announced on Jan. 11 that it agreed to pay $11.23 million to purchase the former Sport Chalet office building for use as a future City Hall. The purchase followed a recommendation by an ad hoc committee comprised of citizens, Realtors, city staff and consultants, as well as the completion of a 90-day due diligence that analyzed physical, legal, environmental and suitability factors.
LCF agreed to pay La Cañada Properties — the company belonging to the Olberz family, who founded Sport Chalet in 1959 in LCF — a cash deposit into escrow of $5.65 million with the balance carried on a two-year, interest-free promissory note.
The move from the current City Hall headquarters (a cramped 7,160 square feet) to the facility at One Sport Chalet Drive (27,881 square feet) will allow the city to address deficiencies in office space, meeting rooms, staff work areas, ADA accessibility and parking, while also allowing the city to consider revenue-generating options for excess space, according to City Manager Mark Alexander.
7. Devil’s Gate Sediment Project Shrinks
The “Big Dig” was scaled back when the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a scaled-down version of the Devil’s Gate Dam Sediment Removal project on Nov. 7.
Instead of the 2.4 million cubic yards previously approved for removal from the Hahamongna Watershed Park behind the Devil’s Gate Dam, now 1.7 million cubic yards will be scheduled to be removed over a three- to five-year span.
That’s still more than the 1.1 million cubic yards suggested in a plan set forth by the city of Pasadena and championed by environmentalists. Nonetheless, several speakers at the meeting expressed satisfaction with the compromise, which passed 5-0 after being proposed by L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger.
But not everyone was pleased: “Supervisor Barger’s amendment moves in the right direction, but we’re still very concerned about the inadequacies of the mitigation program. You need to do more,” said Tim Brick, managing director of the Arroyo Seco Foundation, which teamed with Pasadena Audubon to file suit and win a partial court victory in April.
8. FSHA Plans Pass Muster
After five years of discussion, revision and preparation, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy’s campus improvement plans moved forward following unanimous approval from the La Cañada Flintridge Planning Commission on Oct. 26 and the City Council on Dec. 19.
The city approved the Environmental Impact Report and adopted a pair of resolutions allowing for a General Plan amendment and a zone change, including the annexation of 24.66 acres by LCF of the private school’s campus area located within Pasadena.
“We started on this journey in 2012,” said Sister Carolyn McCormack, president of FSHA, after commissioners voted 4-0 to approve the plans. “Like all good journeys, there have been many challenges, many moments of concern, but through it all, it’s been an amazing team effort.”
FSHA’s Specific Plan outlines a 15- to 20-year, multi-phased project. It includes an increase of the campus’ total building square footage by about 116,000 square feet to about 333,502 square feet — 99,000 square feet of which will be included in a new parking structure.
9. LCF Greenlights Flintridge Prep Upgrades
The City Council on Nov. 21 upheld the Planning Commission’s decision allowing Flintridge Prep’s multi-phased campus improvement project to advance.
Sally Ametrano, a neighbor who lives next to the campus, appealed the Planning Commission’s ruling, citing concerns related to the private school’s plans to build a 17,205 square-foot, 42-feet, 6-inch classroom structure — a Collaborative Leadership Building — in place of the current 3,325-square-foot Alumni House.
Council members accepted several mitigation efforts to increase privacy for neighbors, including planting additional trees to better screen the property and reducing the number of windows that will face neighbors.
“Schools have always been the cornerstone of our community,” Mayor Pro Tem Terry Walker said. “Schools are why people move here, and we’re fortunate to have wonderful schools, public and private. Our property values here are higher because of our schools, and we have to keep those assets up.”
10. Former Principal Sues LCUSD
Former La Cañada Elementary School principal Christine Castillo sued LCUSD, alleging sex discrimination as well as intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. In a complaint filed just before the new year, she alleged she was discriminated against, demoted and put on indefinite leave because Superintendent Wendy Sinnette was unhappy that Castillo informed her she was pregnant a month after accepting the principal position in July 2012.
The LCUSD Governing Board denied the charges in a statement: “It is unfortunate that the representatives for Ms. Castillo are pursuing a legal strategy that has nothing to do with the facts. Her placement into the classroom [in 2015] had absolutely nothing to do with her maternity leave of four years ago.”
Castillo’s tenure with LCUSD began in July 2012, when she moved from Seattle with her husband, LCHS Principal Ian McFeat, to take principal positions in the district. Castillo is seeking unspecified damages and a jury trial.
11. Injured Student Sues District
The family of a La Cañada High School special education student sued the school district, claiming in a Dec. 11 trial brief that negligence by district employees resulted in the boy being seriously injured when he fell from gym bleachers during an assembly on May 20, 2016.
Attorney Robert Glassman argues that the district’s failure to install guardrails on the bleachers from which Ethan Kalnins fell caused a fractured hip and led to resulting physical, emotional and psychological duress.
“Unfortunately for Ethan, he has cerebral palsy and left-side heavy paresis, so his recovery is going to be delayed and he will require additional rehab that will take longer than it would for a person who didn’t have his underlying issues,” Glassman said.
In a statement, Sinnette stated that LCUSD “has made efforts to settle, and has also rectified the very condition that is the subject of the plaintiff’s complaint.”
12. LCF Home Sells for $10.5 Million
In August, an off-market home entered the annals of local real estate history as the highest recorded home sale of all time in the 91011 ZIP code. The estate, located at 4110 Woodleigh Lane, closed with a $10.5 million price tag, placing it squarely on top of the Multiple Listing Service’s list of top-priced LCF homes, surpassing the previous record of $7.85 million for a home recorded in 2016.
Rachel Ashton, who represented the seller along with Partners Trust colleague Laura Brandt, said the 11,296-square-foot home, built in 1928, is described as an Irish country manor. It includes five bedrooms, five full bathrooms, three half-bathrooms, a library with a fireplace, a butler’s pantry, a screening room and an open wine room situated adjacent to a billiards room on a 2.3-acre property that includes a two-story 1,000-square-foot guest house and a three-hole golf course.
Janice McGlashan of Coldwell Banker’s La Cañada Flintridge office and Heidi Lake of Sotheby’s Beverly Hills office represented the home’s buyer.
13. Golfer Earns Historic Walker Cup Win
On Sept. 10-11, La Cañada Flintridge’s Collin Morikawa helped Team USA defeat Great Britain and Ireland, 19-7, to reclaim the prestigious Walker Cup at the Los Angeles Country Club.
For the foursome portion of the Walker Cup, Morikawa made history with Norman Xiong by defeating Harry Ellis and Alfie Plant, 8 and 7 — the largest margin of victory for an 18-hole foursome match in the history of the Walker Cup, which is considered the most prestigious amateur golf competition in the world.
Morikawa, a 2015 La Cañada High School graduate, was one of three U.S. golfers to finish the competition with a 4-0 record.
“It’s the biggest honor to be on the USA team and represent my country the entire week,” Morikawa said. “We lost two years ago and the main goal was to win, no matter what it takes. I’m just really proud of this team.”
14. Later Start to the School Day
At a special meeting May 30, the LCUSD Governing Board voted unanimously to become one of the first school districts in California to begin the school day at 8:30 a.m. on its LCHS and 7/8 campus; it was a departure from the previous 7:45 a.m. first-period start time.
Sinnette cited research from the Stanford Challenge Success Schools program that indicated students at LCHS and LCHS 7/8 were not receiving enough sleep: Kids on campus reported getting between 6.17 and 7.71 hours per night, less than the nine or 10 hours recommended for adolescents.
After the first few months, opinions among students and families seemed to be trending positive, Governing Board President Kaitzer Puglia said.
15. St. Francis in First Final Since ‘64
In its first CIF championship game since 1964, the St. Francis football team lost a thriller, 44-42, against Rancho Verde of Moreno Valley.
The Golden Knights gained their first lead late but held it for only 1 minute and 1 second before the visitors marched down the field and booted a 37-yard field goal as time expired. It was, St. Francis coach Jim Bonds said, an “unfortunate way to lose.”
The Golden Knights finished 12-2 overall.
16. LCF Stars Inspire at “Challenge Success” Day
On April 8 at LCHS, 33 of La Cañada Flintridge’s most successful residents came armed with motivational, biographical messages for about 500 students as part of an event billed as “Challenge Success: Building Your Path.”
“I come from a small community in Pennsylvania,” explained LCUSD Governing Board member Brent Kuszyk, who spearheaded the event. “And I wasn’t exposed to the things that my children and you are being exposed to. I’m amazed every day at the quality of people we have in this community.”
Chris Buck, Oscar-winning director of “Frozen,” and Dr. Mark Urata, division head of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at CHLA, kicked off the event with a pair of keynote addresses in the school’s theater.
Other speakers included Scott Trowbridge, a creative executive for Walt Disney Imagineering; Anthony Portantino, a state senator and former LCF mayor; Michael Yang, a technology entrepreneur who sold his startup mySimon.com in 2000 for $700 million; MiMi Aung, a project manager at Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Valeria Aenlle-Rocha, a deputy district attorney with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department; Kevin Tsujihara, the chairman and CEO of Warner Brothers; and Matt Whisenant, a former major leaguer.
17. Descanso’s Brown, Lanterman’s Patton Retire
In August, executive directors for Descanso Gardens and the Lanterman House retired from their posts.
Melissa Patton bid farewell after 25 years as the only executive director in the history of the Lanterman House museum, which opened to the public in 1993 and went on to become a place for schoolchildren to learn about local history, for researchers to mine area archives and for community members to admire the beauty of the old bungalow-style home.
David Brown left a position he’d held since 2005, during which time the member-supported, Los Angeles County-owned botanic garden has seen a surge in membership as visitors took advantage of a series of new attractions. He oversaw the restoration of the historic Boddy House, the addition of the Sturt Haaga Gallery, the addition of new gardens and displays such as the Oak Woodland and Ancient Forest.
Photos by Mirjam Swanson, Charlie Plowman and courtesy Geoffrey Yale or the USGA.