YMCA Plan Receives Encouragement — and Resistance

At 65,000 square feet, a proposed expansion sought by the YMCA of the Foothills for its location in La Cañada Flintridge is a big undertaking — too big to be resolved in just one city Planning Commission session.
The commission met Tuesday night to discuss a planned expansion that would have two phases, including construction of a three-story building. The main phase of discussion Tuesday concerned construction of a parking deck above the front parking lot, and commissioners approved an adjustment in the line dividing the YMCA lot from private property next door. But eventually, they voted for a continuance of the hearing because of neighborhood disgruntlement.
There were rumblings from commissioners about technical variances, from neighbors concerning traffic congestion and residential driveways, and even from Earth itself as a 4.4-magnitude earthquake shook the room at City Hall.
“I am moved by your speech,” Commissioner Jeffrey McConnell said jokingly to John Pride, landscape architect for the Y, after the earthquake was felt during Pride’s statement to the commission.
The meeting ultimately came to no major conclusions, as a number of the YMCA’s neighbors called for more information, more opportunity to give feedback and formal environmental and traffic reports.
YMCA Chief Executive Tyler Wright presented the need for the project.
“This expansion will increase accessibility both to and inside the facility, create multi-generational community space and expand the youth creative program,” he said.
Project architect Stephen Finney, president of Glendale-based firm CWA AIA Inc., emphasized the importance of safety and access throughout the project. Finney said the YMCA’s limited parking was contributing to traffic congestion on Foothill Boulevard, with Y members often parking across the street and then darting across Foothill to reach the facility. The planned parking structure, the main point of Tuesday’s meeting, is intended to alleviate overflow traffic and dangerous parking situations.
The parking garage would have two stories and 268 spaces, 67 on the new upper level. This structure would be 38 feet tall, well over the city standard of 15 feet. But given the 25-foot setback at the structure’s highest point and the scale of other buildings on the street, commissioners said they would have approved the necessary height variance. The overall project would need several variances requiring the city’s approval, and commissioners did not have major objections but did not approve them based on the need for further YMCA communication with the neighbors that may alter plans.
Phase 2 of the project includes replacing the old East building with a new three-story structure. It would not be taller than the previous building, but the addition of a basement would increase the technical height of the building, necessitating a height variance. Commissioners said it could be approved given that the building would not have an actual increase in height.
With new structures being built, the YMCA has also requested the approval of a five-foot setback from Foothill; commissioners said it could be approved because of the irregularity of the lot and necessity for that space along the hillside.
The length of the new parking spaces would need to be reduced to 2 feet below city standards in order to accommodate the parking spaces required as well as two-way traffic aisles to reduce parking congestion that flows off the site. Commissioners seemed willing to permit that as well since LCF requirements for parking stall sizes are irregularly long.
To complete Phase 1 of the project, 48 trees would need to be removed. Most of them are mature pines. Pride said such trees are particularly flammable and in a year with so many fires, are hazardous to the community; he plans to replace them with 53 new trees native to Southern California. Commissioners said they would be willing to approve this due to the fire concerns and the regeneration of green growth that 53 native trees would provide.
Additionally, YMCA would need to comply with mitigation measures such as bird nest avoidance, noise during construction, traffic management plan, and construction management plan.
These technical sticking points with the city were paired with neighbors’ passionate opinions. Neighbors and YMCA members packed the room, many with opposing views.
“I was a board member of the Pasadena Y and I witnessed its demise. Today there is no Pasadena YMCA. They are irreplaceable and if we don’t support the Y now, we will never get it back,” Tony Schwarz, a YMCA member and neighbor, said in support of the project.
Sun Choi, a senior at La Cañada High School and part of the YMCA Youth Government program, encouraged approval of the YMCA proposal.
“The Y is not just a place about working out and lifting weights. It’s a place for children to learn about respect, responsibility, healthy lifestyle and friendship,” he said.
Not all of the neighbors, however, supported the expansion. Main points of contention included congestion of the residential driveway of Rancho Cañada road, construction obstacles and lack of information about the new design that they felt should have been shared. These neighbors encouraged the commissioners to delay the decision so that the Y could either shift the main entrance east, or simply “stay within their limits” as to the scope of the project, as Anita Susan Brenner, who lives to the west of the YMCA, put it. She also voiced a long-held wish by neighbors living in that section of LCF: their own private residential driveway.
“Commissioners, come out and walk through it with me. The solution is if you remove the Y’s west entrance and redesign that entrance to the parking lot and have a signal there and at Palm [Drive], but give us our driveway on Rancho Cañada Road. It is a minimal cost to give us our private driveway.”
Neighbors on the west side of the Y share their driveway with the west entrance of the Y, which has caused many altercations and car accidents, neighbors reported. Those neighbors propose moving main entrances to the east side and adding a traffic signal there while leaving the west side to the residents along Rancho Cañada.
“I only heard about the expansion project two weeks ago. We understand the need for more parking, but there are some concerns. We share a driveway on the west exit and there have been altercations and car accidents,” said resident Vin Seong. “The parking structure will increase traffic on the west entrance. The east entrance is not shared with private residents.”
This upset neighbors to the east of the Y and, Finney said, would ultimately result in a whole new set of problems.
Several neighbors on the west side pointed to a fire that broke out in September 2016 when they said traffic congestion from the YMCA hindered neighborhood evacuation and blocked fire trucks for up to 15 minutes as firefighters tried to get to the fire.
Seong and others also voiced complaints that they felt excluded from information and called for a decision on the project to be postponed so they would have more time to ask questions, get information and receive more thorough traffic and environmental impact reports — though the city doesn’t require them for the Y’s current plan — and feel that their voices are being heard. The YMCA did hold a meeting for the public Aug. 20 at which, officials said, they tried to gather input, but some neighbors said they felt they did not have ample time to prepare or didn’t even know about it, using words such as “steamrolled” to describe their feelings.
After about three hours, the planning meeting adjourned after commissioners encouraged the facility to continue with the project, saying that it would be an improvement to the community but that better communication and collaboration with neighbors are needed. No date for another hearing on the proposal was set, but neighborhood meetings hosted by the Y seem likely to follow the debate.
“People don’t like change because change impacts someone,” said Laura Olhasso, who is leading the capital campaign for the YMCA expansion. “We are trying to provide safety and accessibility to our members.”
CEO Wright indicated that he thought the meeting was very productive.
“I appreciate all the comments and suggestions we received from the commissioners, staff and neighbors,” CEO Wright said. “I’m looking forward to having further discussion with our neighbors and working together for the well-being of our members and our community,”

Space Academy Launches Partnership With School in Spain

Artur Chmielewski
Artur Chmielewski

Jet Propulsion Laboratory has been running its Space Academy for five years, but starting this year the program will be coordinated with a school in La Cañada Flintridge’s sister city, SEK International School in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.
The communities are sister cities because they share similarities beyond the name. The European Space Astronomy Center is located in Villanueva de La Cañada, just as JPL is located here, prompting the two cities to coordinate on a science program.
Continue reading “Space Academy Launches Partnership With School in Spain”

YMCA Shows Big Plans to Grow, Seeks City OK

Image courtesy YMCA of the Foothills YMCA of the Foothills’ expansion proposal envisions a new central community space that will include an amphitheater, tables, benches, grassy areas and trees. It could be used for children’s concerts, performances and other events.
Image courtesy YMCA of the Foothills
YMCA of the Foothills’ expansion proposal envisions a new central community space that will include an amphitheater, tables, benches, grassy areas and trees. It could be used for children’s concerts, performances and other events.

YMCA of the Foothills is forging ahead with its $7 million expansion proposal to improve and expand its interior by more than 4,000 square feet, build a new two-deck parking lot and create more accessibility to the community.
The YMCA will present its plan to the La Cañada Flintridge Planning Commission on Tuesday, Aug. 28, detailing the parking lot increase and access easement from the lot to YMCA facilities, as well as its longer-term vision of creating more holistic health and social spaces for members of all ages. Continue reading “YMCA Shows Big Plans to Grow, Seeks City OK”

Campers With Challenges Get Skills to Handle Them

Photo by Sahale Greenwood / OUTLOOK Juliana Frias, head of the creative art department, and camper Mili happily make slime.
Photo by Sahale Greenwood / OUTLOOK
Juliana Frias, head of the creative art department, and camper Mili happily make slime.

For children deemed on the autism spectrum, with learning disabilities, developmental and behavioral difficulties or other vexing challenges, traditional summer camps may often not be an option.
But Professional Child Development Associates’ summer camp provides a fun and supportive environment for these children by ensuring that they have professional supervision and surroundings in which they can start building relationships and personal coping habits for some of the hurdles they face. PCDA, a nonprofit organization based in Pasadena, is a comprehensive group of child development specialists providing year-round services for children and families. Continue reading “Campers With Challenges Get Skills to Handle Them”

Cancer Society Honoree Can Tell Tale of Survival

Liz Rusnak Arizmendi (right), who has battled Stage 4 ovarian cancer, will be honored at the American Cancer Society’s San Gabriel Valley Hope Gala on Aug. 25. She is pictured with event chair Sindee Riboli.
Liz Rusnak Arizmendi (right), who has battled Stage 4 ovarian cancer, will be honored at the American Cancer Society’s San Gabriel Valley Hope Gala on Aug. 25. She is pictured with event chair Sindee Riboli.

Liz Rusnak Arizmendi is a force that not even cancer could overpower.
During her battle against Stage 4 ovarian cancer, Rusnak Arizmendi recalled, trying to trudge 100 feet to the dunes outside her family’s beach house in Ventura County “took everything out of me … to the point where I would have to collapse and sit there crying because I could barely walk.” Now, just 18 months later, she has recovered energetically, regularly jogging five miles along those dunes and working full time again as vice president of public relations at the family business, Rusnak Auto Group.
“I love having a smile on my face. I don’t know how to frown, I really don’t,” Rusnak Arizmendi said. Her positive attitude was a key factor in her vigorous fight against cancer and is now spurring her return to a healthy, cancer-free life. Continue reading “Cancer Society Honoree Can Tell Tale of Survival”

La Cañada Valley Beautiful Busy With Re-Landscaping

Image courtesy La Cañada Valley Beautiful This sketch shows La Cañada Valley Beautiful landscaping plans around the deodar tree at the headquarters of LCUSD.
Image courtesy La Cañada Valley Beautiful
This sketch shows La Cañada Valley Beautiful landscaping plans around the deodar tree at the headquarters of LCUSD.

La Cañada Valley Beautiful has taken on the project of re-landscaping the grounds of Lanterman Auditorium and the La Cañada Unified School District’s headquarters using a low-water, low-maintenance approach.
“We are not using any new water, just amending the current irrigation system,” said Carolyn Hanna, project manager for La Cañada Valley Beautiful, the nonprofit organization that has been encouraging a beautiful, clean community since 1964. Continue reading “La Cañada Valley Beautiful Busy With Re-Landscaping”

Work Reveals Lanterman House’s Original Look

The strikingly well-preserved Lanterman House provides a vivid snapshot of life in La Cañada Flintridge in 1915.
With help from investments by the city of La Cañada Flintridge, the staff has kept the house in pristine condition, maintaining the integrity of the structure and decor of one of the few surviving pre-1920 residences in LCF.
Now Executive Director Laura Verlaque has turned her attention to updating the inventory of all the original artifacts inside the house for the first time since 1993, when the onetime home opened as a public museum.
About 95% of the artifacts inside belonged to the Lanterman family and “you cannot replace the authenticity of that,” said Verlaque, who took over as executive director in April. Continue reading “Work Reveals Lanterman House’s Original Look”

LCHS Students Seek to Inspire at Science Camp

Members of La Cañada High School’s Science National Honors Society are serving as mentors at a summer camp this week, teaching 4th-, 5th- and 6th-graders through activities such as slime-making, tower-building and aluminum-foil boat racing for 1½ hours each afternoon.
LCHS students began planning the camp about three weeks ago, brainstorming a “whiteboard full of ideas,” said society member Jon Potter, a senior. The mentors were excited about working with youngsters because they had all been inspired by outreach programs in elementary school and wanted to provide that same spark for the younger students. Continue reading “LCHS Students Seek to Inspire at Science Camp”