Rose Arbor Project Approved, August Completion Envisioned

If all else goes well, San Marino residents will have the rose arbor back in Lacy Park by August.
The City Council voted unanimously to award a $625,090 contract to Glendora-based Courts Construction Co. at last week’s meeting, and work is expected to begin in February and wrap in August after an estimated 120 workdays. In a divided vote, the panel decided against path lighting for the arbor, which would have added $23,280 to the contract.
The resurrection of the beloved landmark is a relief to much of the City Council, especially as Mayor Gretchen Shepherd Romey has lambasted its removal from the beginning and made its revival a signature goal when she was elected in 2017.
“I am so thrilled to get this built,” she said at the councilmeeting on Jan. 8.
The unexpectedly high price of the arbor — about $315,000 more than previously estimated — did not deter officials from moving forward with the contract. The bulk of that price increase is tied to 2019 California Building Code requirements regarding seismic reinforcement that added nearly $200,000 to the bottom line, according to the Parks and Public Works Department’s agenda report.
“I do think that there is a great deal of sticker shock, but I appreciate that it will be something that will stand, so the community can stand under the rose arbor and be safe,” Shepherd Romey said. “I think if we are building something — whether it’s a playground or anything else at Lacy Park — that we should be respecting present codes, because that is our responsibility as a city. I think somehow that got lost in the translation when those numbers got released [to the public].”
The city’s use of a contractor prequalification process also likely drove up costs. The agenda report referenced a general shortage of available contractors for the moment, and Public Works Director Michael Throne explained that of the five firms that reached out, only three had met prequalification requirements and one of those was ultimately disqualified because it did not send a representative to a mandatory pre-bid meeting with the city.
Prequalification uses a state-developed evaluation to demonstrate to public agencies that a firm has an objective track record of both completing high-quality projects and completing them on schedule. By its nature, it artificially reduces supply and is thus expected to yield more expensive proposals.
“It does winnow out a lot of contractors,” Throne said. “A lot of contractors are not interested in sharing with the government any of their financial information. Many of them do not want to be registered with the Department of Industrial Relations, which is a requirement. They don’t want to go there. If they’re going to compete in general with everyone else that might have a pickup truck, they’re more comfortable doing that. Once you start to make it a very select group, you then wind up with less eligible bachelors.”
The aesthetic design of this new arbor will match the original one that was constructed in 1930 and designed by then-City Councilman William Hertrich, who also managed the Huntington Library’s botanical gardens. Having been renovated several times since then, the arbor was ultimately demolished in late 2016 after substantial rot reportedly rendered the structure unsafe. That decision struck a nerve among residents who felt the city had acted without consulting the public.
Throne added that the seismic reinforcement requirements would likely result in a more durable structure, one that will “certainly last more than 20 years,” he said in response to a query.
“The reason why I say that is the very stout connections that we have designed are much more substantial than what was there,” Throne explained. “What was there originally was basically beams and planks sittings on top of other beams and planks, and so there were many instances where just because of its original design, water and vegetation would get caught in the nooks of things and start to rot out the wood, which would start to age it prematurely.”
The city already had apportioned $215,800 from its capital improvement fund for the project, and has planned to coordinate a public fundraising campaign during the construction. The city also has received a private $200,000 donation for the arbor, and Rotary Club of San Marino is expected to contribute a total of $50,000 in donations as well.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, a San Marino resident, had extended an offer of $250,000 from the county in the form of a Proposition A grant, but the City Council rejected that in light of the strings attached. Proposition A funding requires that the project remain open to the public “in perpetuity,” Throne said, a condition that conflicts with the city’s practice of charging weekend admission to Lacy Park for non-residents.
The city has generated about $60,000 annually in park admissions, Throne added.
“I would love to take Kathryn Barger’s $250,000, but not at the risk of anything in perpetuity,” Vice Mayor Ken Ude said. “The $250,000 versus the $60,000 is a four-year payback, so that’s just not a number to worry about.”
Ude added that the city should consider earmarking that $60,000 for Lacy Park maintenance, as it currently is deposited into the city’s general fund.
Councilman Steve Talt pointed out that Lacy Park currently receives some Proposition A funding, but Throne explained that that money is “very discreetly used” for maintenance at the Thurnher House, which is positioned outside the admission gate at the entrance to the park. The city could theoretically keep its paid-admission practice if it relocated the gate beyond the arbor or instead legally separated the parcel, but officials ultimately decided against further delaying the project.
“It was a jewel of our city and I’m anxious to see it back, so I’d hate to see a further delay,” Shepherd Romey said.

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