LCF Mayor Reflects on Event-Filled Year

Michael Davitt

Michael Davitt said he’ll remember his second go-round as La Cañada Flintridge mayor for the city’s purchase of a new City Hall building, for the traffic jams spurred by the 210 Freeway resurfacing project, for the long-sought approval of Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy’s Master Plan — but, most of all, for the loss of fellow councilman and friend Dave Spence, who suffered a fatal heart attack in May.
Over scrambled egg whites recently at Magpie’s Grill, Davitt discussed some of the key events in 2017 and previewed some of what he’s excited about in 2018.
Highlights of that conversation follow:

City Hall is moving to the Town Center soon, congrats on that. Is everything on track?
We think it’s relatively on track; we’re going to have some fuller conversations in January to talk budgeting and things like that. The process has been that the subcommittee works on it and it comes back to the council in study session and then we put in our preferences. The rubber is going to hit the road here. It’s a once-in-a lifetime deal, so I think the Council is sensitive to the fact that we don’t want to mess it up. The best-case scenario is [that it opens at] the end of 2018, which is what our timeline was.
I’ve heard a few things negative, but very much the minority. It’s been very positive from the rest: ‘What a great thing to do, it’s a great location, a great building.’ We should have a nice City Hall that’s functional and, most important, that’s welcoming and inviting to the community and right now that’s not the case.

And then you guys will have a neighbor, Target, coming in — what are your thoughts? And how’s that process going?
They’re in the stage of applying for their conditional use permit, so they’re preparing all the necessary documents. They’re conducting a traffic study. They are going to great lengths to have people park on the roof. There are a lot of spaces up there, I think it’s north of 150 spaces and they’re hardly ever used. In February, they’re trying to get in front of the Planning Commission, so that’ll be interesting.
I think it’s positive. We can’t leave the building vacant. Friends of mine who aren’t really involved in the city, they say, ‘Oh, Target, what are you doing? There’s going to be so much traffic!’ But, I think they’ve gotta get out of the traditional Target mindset, and know that this is a new Target, it’s a much smaller Target, and it’s going to be tailored to the local community’s needs.
There was an article basically rating tenants nationally, who are the best tenants? It was Nordstrom Rack and Target, No. 1 and 2. They’re good tenants, they’re responsible, they drive product and they benefit communities.

Public safety and burglaries are always a hot topic. You guys instituted the rebate program this year, were you pleased with how successful that was?
I think people were appreciative of the city taking some action to say, ‘Here’s what you can do right away.’ And we continue to work with the county and the state in terms of early release programs, and we continue to be dilligent. The Sheriff’s Department increases patrols and things like that.
The county has also set up a Blue Ribbon Commission on Public Safety. The California Contract Cities — which I’m the president of — got a seat on that [commission], and so we’re getting lots of help from the probation department, the Sheriff’s Department is there, there are judges involved, and there are a lot of other people involved in the process, so that’s really helpful in terms of trying to stay up to date on things related to those issues. It’s just for a year, at the end of 2018 it’s supposed to be done and we’ll make final recommendations about what we learned.

You were just in Washington, D.C., to discuss sober living facilities. That’s a topic that came up this past year. What did you learn?
It’s something that affects a lot of cities. It’s affected our city a little bit, not much, but we want to try to get ahead of it. For the trip, we partnered with California Contract Cities in conjunction with the Association of Cities for Orange County. San Juan Capistrano was there, Rancho Santa Fe, Costa Mesa, where they have 40 of them, or even more than that — some huge number.
One of the main points is that there are bad people out there trying to take advantage of insurance money and that they’re not helping people for the large part. If somebody in Massachusetts needs to do some alcohol rehab they’ll say, ‘I want to do it in Florida,’ so they look up a place in Florida, and even though 10 company websites will pop up, they all belong to the same clearing house. And what that does, is it hurts the legitimate operators.
So you’re trying to eliminate cluster, because if there are five of them next to each other, what they’ll do then is share resources, so that’s what they’re trying to counter.

Flintridge Sacred Heart and Flintridge Prep had their modernization plans go through, which felt like a big deal because we’ve been hearing about that for such a long time, right?
It was a very big deal.
Prep tried to meet all the needs of its neighbors, and I think they did for the most part. And then Sacred Heart went through a much different process, in excess of five years. It’s kind of funny because now it’s over and it’s kind of hard to believe it’s over because it just went on for so long.
And it’s a long-term project, and the Prep one is too. So nothing’s going to happen overnight, but it does position two good educational institutions in town with long histories for the future, and I think that’s important.

So the 710 Freeway tunnel, that’s another thing that was discussed for years and years — tell me about being there the day it was finally voted down by the county supervisors.
It’s one of those long, long battles and that went on; [former council members] Don Voss and Steve del Guercio and Laura Olhasso and Anthony Portantino, you go that far back, and currently Jon [Curtis] was very involved with it and Terry [Walker] got involved, so it was really a combination of just years of keeping a position of defiance and trying to find alternative solutions to it.
We do have traffic issues, there’s no doubt, but you can’t just dump it in one city to solve somebody else’s problem. And, in the reverse, we can’t just say, ‘We don’t want it, so you deal with it.’ We have to take a more holistic approach, but I think Metro realized that this will never get off the ground. It was just crazy. So let’s try to find alternative solutions.

I bet people complained to you this year about the work on the 210.
Yes — including myself. I think initially it was such a shock to the traffic patterns, I don’t think they’d calculated what the effects would be on the local streets. And that became a challenge, so they did make some improvements, and so that’s helped. But the freeway is tough to navigate. If you talk to the Highway Patrol, they say there’s normally more accidents that occur in construction zones, which makes sense. Our understanding is it’s supposed to be [done in] June or July.

When you look back on the past year, or look ahead, what else do you want folks in La Cañada to know?
The other thing I want to mention is that the YMCA project is coming down the line. We’ll try to get in front of planning in February, that’s going to be their master planning process in terms of improving some of their buildings and adding some space and putting some parking in — we think that’s important.

Because this town uses that YMCA.
It’s very popular and they do a great job. And that’s where the street improvements are going to go up Foothill Boulevard on the city’s side. So we’re trying right now to regulate that so the projects don’t occur at the same time. I think that’ll be great, and the city is being as supportive as we can.

Another big project on the horizon — the Devil’s Gate Sediment Removal project. The city asked the county to make arrangements as far as truck hauling routes, but some people might’ve liked for the city to say, “no, or take out way less sediment.”
Noise, traffic, conjestion of roads, those were the biggest issues for us. I’m not an engineer but it seems like the science is saying that you need to get it cleared, there’s too much sediment there. We need to be responsible for taking some action on that, and I think there was a compromise made. So it’ll be like any kind of big construction project; it’s uncomfortable.
They’re re-doing the street I live on because it was part of the street repaving program, which is good, but it was supposed to be 10 days and it has turned into almost a month. But there were windstorms and all that stuff, so they couldn’t do the work. Sometimes you can’t get out your driveway, but OK, you just say, “This is the problem of the day, I can deal with it.” People have a lot bigger problems than this.

What I’m going to remember this year most about covering La Cañada Flintridge is losing Dave. That had to be hard on you and your colleagues.
It was, and it was hard on the community, too. Sometimes, unfortunately, you don’t realize what you have until you lose it, right? There’s always that adage. It was a curveball in terms of the city operations and things like that, but it’s definitely been tough. I feel for Dave’s family. That’s obviously the first and foremost.
You’re mayor for a year, and you think “what happened over the year?” There’s been a lot that happened, but that always is kind of right there. It’s just tough.

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