As the wait staff at Hill Street Cafe dutifully refilled coffee cups during a recent breakfast, La Cañada Flintridge Mayor Jonathan Curtis discussed the value of quality customer service.
To him, it’s a priority. That’s why he’s helping to usher in more modern efforts to streamline planning-related activities. He’s also a proponent of moving City Hall — if all checks out in the ongoing 90-day due diligence process — from its current cramped facility to the former Sport Chalet headquarters, where he’s confident staff will be able to operate more efficiently.
“It’s about taking our city to the next level as far as customer service,” Curtis said.
He discussed those initiatives and much more about what’s brewing in LCF in 2017 during an interview with the Outlook’s Mirjam Swanson. Highlights of the conversation are below.
Outlook: Having spent some time on goals and objectives this year as a City Council, what did you learn?
Answer: Everyone is going to want to be fiscally responsible and have healthy reserves; there’s not a lot of discussion there. The real question is, what is the city going to do to take it to the next level with respect to both transparency and open government. [That includes] having an effective website, having the social media, the Facebook, the Twitter, all that stuff and even something as simple as the newsletter.
The other area was really the planning, the permitting and online record management. Right now, for the most part, people have to come into City Hall to get records and do all the planning submission. And if you talk to the architects and contractors, the biggest challenge is getting through the system, especially when you have to go to so many different departments. So if everything’s online, it will frankly free up staff much more for contractors, architects and owners.
Q: Where do we stand with the City Hall move [to the former Sport Chalet headquarters]?
A: Due diligence is up in January, and assuming that everything pans out, presumably it’ll close 30 days thereafter.
And when you say due diligence, you’re looking at the physical aspects of the building: Is it suitable for a City Hall type of configuration? Would you actually have it as a potential emergency center? If we did have a major earthquake, would this structure survive?
There’s also the excess space, somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000 square feet — what do you do with that? Do you lease it out? Use it for another common purpose? At the end of the day, you’re going to want to monetize it.
Q: I bet the staff over there is excited about this prospect — do you get that sense?
A: They would love to have the facilities to properly serve citizens — that’s what it comes down to. It’s not about expanding, it’s not about bigger government at all.
Q: How about next door, the vacant Sports Chalet store? Any thoughts on that, or what the city can do about it?
A: We’re in contact with IDS, the property owner, and it’s really up to them and being consistent with zoning. With all the work they’ve done to make that Town Center successful, they’re going to focus on having the right type of user in there that’s going to complement the other users, as opposed to a [big discount store] or something.
But it’s a big space, you’re talking 45,000 square feet, so the way retail is changing, that makes it difficult and also challenging. I’ve heard some interesting ideas, including a skating rink. They’re going to want something that’s going to be a match.
Q: There was a survey that went out a while ago about the number of waste hauler companies residents wanted in the city — what’s going on with that feedback?
A: The survey said people wanted a choice and they liked having multiple trash haulers. But there was also a very strong, vocal group that thinks we should have one waste hauler because of the [negative effects from multiple haulers] and the safety issues they present.
There’s actually a subcommittee comprised of people from public works as well as the City Council who will have that issue coming back to the city on a formal basis in the first quarter.
It’s nice to have the survey as input, but ultimately, this is why people elected the City Council, to make responsible decisions. And, given how trash is collected now, is there really a need for [three haulers]? By the way, the three companies, frankly, are very responsible and do a nice job.
Q: It seems like most cities have a single hauler, right?
A: We’re the only city in Los Angeles County that has multiple haulers.
Q: I’m sure you hear from people regarding safety issues in town?
A: People are always concerned about the public safety, and we’re constantly battling the residential burglaries. That’s probably the most disturbing, if you’ve been the victim of a residential burglary, you’ve been violated in some fashion.
So a lot of what has occurred there is to appropriate extra funds to have a special officer on it. It’s not overtime, but an officer allocated to our city — and not just on patrols, but on investigations to stop and try to minimize that. That has actually helped quite a bit.
When people reach out, you can make them aware of the facts: the sheriff staffing, Neighborhood Watch, leave some lights on when you leave, lock your doors, lock up the mail, tell your neighbors you’re going and maybe leave a car outside of the garage so it looks like someone is home.
And coming back to the Neighborhood Watch, one of the concerns is, of course, public safety. But not just with respect to crime, but also with respect to major disasters. We’ve had the fire, the floods, the truck that decided to come barreling down Angeles Crest [Highway] … and you address those. But the earthquake is coming. It’s just a question of when, and the fact that these community groups are now organized around that is really a positive.
Q: In the past year, we’ve also talked about the power outages, and the city’s desire to see improved service from Southern California Edison — where do you guys stand with making sure refrigerators and lights stay on?
A: It’s obviously been a very big concern in the city, as far as reliable power. And after we made it quite an issue at City Council, considering various action, including going to the [Public Utilities Commission] and hiring consultants, Edison has come up with a preliminary plan that will at least address it, we hope.
On the Flintridge side, we’ve already been replacing 9,000 feet of underground lines that were very outdated, so the next thing that will happen in the first two quarters of 2017 is to improve both the equipment as well as the reliability on the entire circuit of that area of Flintridge.
I probably get more calls and emails on that than anything else, that and burglaries.
Q: [Former Mayor] Don Voss had a story that he went out to get his morning paper one day and a woman was driving by and stopped to talk to him about an issue she cared about in the city. Have you had any of those?
A: Oh yeah, absolutely. That’s really part of being on the City Council — being open to listening. That’s where you find out where are the areas of concern. You go to the supermarket, you go wherever, and you’re going to run into people and they’ll let you know what’s going on. Sometimes, until you actually talk to people, you may not see that other side.
Before the voters passed it, we did a moratorium on marijuana dispensaries in La Cañada, and there were a number of calls, actually, that I got from people who use it on a medical basis. And even though we thought you could have a caregiver go pick it up someplace and bring it to them, that didn’t necessarily turn out to be true; it’s very difficult to do something like that. So we address things like that. You try to be responsive.