Another busy year has come and gone in La Cañada Flintridge. The city celebrated some prized achievements among its distinguished residents, and paved the way for historic urban construction with the demise of the 710 Freeway Corridor tunnel project, funding for sound walls along the 210 Freeway and the arrival of one of the nation’s largest retailers at the Town Center.
Local schools continued to excel on a national level, sports milestones were achieved and deputies at the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station worked hard to keep the town safe and sound.
Here is a compilation of the 18 most important local stories of 2018:
1 ARNOLD WINS CHEMISTRY PRIZE
La Cañada Flintridge resident Frances Arnold, a professor of chemical engineering at Caltech, won the Nobel Prize in chemistry on Oct. 3. Arnold, who shared the prize with two other researchers, was Caltech’s first female Nobel Prize winner in chemistry and earned the honor for “the directed evolution of enzymes,” according to a Caltech statement. She received her award on Dec. 9 at a ceremony in Stockholm.
Caltech Provost David Tirrell said shortly after the victory that directed evolution has taken over the field of protein chemistry. “She’s taught enzymes to do things that no self-respecting natural enzyme would do,” Tirrell said.
Arnold, only the fifth woman ever to receive a chemistry Nobel, said her Twitter following increased from 3,000 to nearly 11,000 in a single day. “I am quite certain my life has changed,” she said in an interview after winning. “My phone won’t stop ringing.”
2 BAFFERT WINS TRIPLE CROWN AGAIN
Trainer Bob Baffert of LCF made history when his horse Justify became the Triple Crown champion on June 9. Justify was the 13th horse in the sport’s history to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and the Belmont Stakes.
The chestnut colt was the second horse he had trained to win the Triple Crown after American Pharoah in 2015. American Pharoah’s achievement ended a 37-year Triple Crown drought. Baffert was only the second trainer to claim the Triple Crown twice.
“I’ve had some really great horses,” Baffert said after the second victory. “One thing this horse has that American Pharoah has is not only are they brilliant, they’re fast [and] they’re durable.”
3 SOUND WALL FUNDING APPROVED
Funding for proposed sound walls on the 210 Freeway was approved, but the LCF City Council recently revised its list from four segments to three after municipal staff discovered the cost for the original number exceeded the city’s financial allocation.
On May 16, LCF was granted $5 million in California Senate Bill 1 funds from the state Transportation Commission for the project. About five months later, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority approved the advance of $3.712 million in county Measure M funds and an additional $3.288 million from its Call for Projects reserve fund for construction of the sound walls.
After conversations with a consultant in November, staff updated the cost of the sound walls, finding that the four segments for which preliminary approval was granted would exceed the $12 million available by about $1.2 million, said Division Manager Ann Wilson. LCF is now seeking state and county permission to reduce the number of walls and change the location of one of the them. Wilson said the city has hopes that the project will be underway this summer but is continuing to work with Metro and the Transportation Commission on the modifications.
4 THE DEATH OF THE 710 CORRIDOR PROJECT
State Sen. Anthony Portantino and California Secretary of Transportation Brian Annis effectively ended the 710 Freeway Corridor project after they presented its final environmental impact report in a news conference on Nov. 28.
The corridor was to extend the 710 Freeway from Valley Boulevard in Alhambra to the 210 Freeway in Pasadena; the effort to realize it had spanned 60 years. The signed and adopted EIR provides a local alternative to the multibillion dollar tunnel proposed 15 years ago.
“I’m ecstatic that the EIR was finally signed, bringing closure to this six-decade 710 fight,” Portantino said. “Generations of neighbors on both sides of this issue passionately pushed their perspectives, and now we can all turn our attentions to collaboratively solving local transportation needs.”
5 NASA’S INSIGHT LANDS ON MARS
Insight, NASA’s robotic spacecraft, landed Nov. 26 on Mars and was able to open its solar panels and collect sunlight. “The InSight team can rest a little easier now that we know the spacecraft solar arrays are deployed and recharging the batteries,” said Tom Hoffman, InSight’s project manager at Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “This begins an exciting new chapter for InSight: surface operations and the beginning of the instrument deployment phase.”
The mission aims to study the inner space of the planet, which includes the crust, the mantle and the core.
6 BIG DIG PROJECT RAISES CONCERNS
The Devil’s Gate Dam sediment removal project, nicknamed the Big Dig, and its potential pollution and negative health impacts were on the minds of parents, school and city officials, among others. The project, which began its first phase in late November, is expected to involve 425 daily diesel truck round trips through the intersection at Berkshire Place and Oak Grove Avenue and onto 210 Freeway entrances in both directions.
A crowd of more than 250 people at the La Cañada High School auditorium listened to the concerns from a group of La Cañada Unified School District parents, including the LCHS PTSA president, who put the most recent meeting together on Dec. 5. The project includes an initial process of removing sediment behind the dam at Hahamongna Watershed Park to increase flood protection and restore habitat within the Arroyo Seco Watershed. Phase 1 work to clear out trees and vegetation began in late November, and the portion of the project that will include truck traffic is set for April 2019.
The county Board of Supervisors approved a scaled-down project to remove 1.7 million cubic yards of sediment in November 2017. The project began after a nine-year process that included feedback from local residents, environmental groups, the cities of La Cañada Flintridge and Pasadena and the community of Altadena.
7 ‘JEWEL’ MANSION SELLS FOR $11 MILLLION
The highest-value real estate transaction ever in LCF was recorded on May 10 when a 100-year-old mansion sold for $11 million.
The home, at 700 Berkshire Ave., is believed to have been designed by architect Myron Hunt for U.S. Sen. Frank Putnam Flint. Mike Kobeissi of Kobeissi Properties represented the sellers, and Julie Milbrodt of Keller Williams Realty represented the buyers. The sale ended the reign of a $10.5 million purchase. That property, an Irish country manor on Woodleigh Lane, was purchased in 2007.
“This is a very famous home, it’s the mansion of La Cañada Flintridge,” said Kobeissi at the time. “Once you see it, you can tell why.” The home was used in the 1976 film “W.C. Fields and Me” and was originally called the Dryborough Estate.
8 JPL HOSTS VICE PRESIDENT PENCE
Vice President Mike Pence toured Jet Propulsion Laboratory on April 28. The private tour stop included an update on the Mars 2020 mission and a spacecraft descent stage from inside the Spacecraft Assembly Facility.
After his visit, the vice president tweeted: “Inspiring visit to Jet Propulsion Laboratory! Thanks to the team at @NASAJPL for your leadership in unmanned space exploration since 1957! Under @POTUS Trump. America is leading in space again!”
Michael Watkins, JPL director, served as guide for Pence, Second Lady Karen Pence and their daughter, Charlotte. The Pences also drove a rover nicknamed “Scarecrow,” which is used to test the mobility of other rovers.
9 TARGET OPENS TO FANFARE
Target opened in style on Oct. 16 on Town Center Drive with dignitaries, red balloons and the cutting of a red ribbon. The “small format” store covers 45,000 square feet, compared to the average Target of about 150,000 square feet. Dignitaries included Portantino and city leaders.
“I live a block away, so I love the Town Center,” Portantino told a cheering crowd on Oct. 16. “I was part of it when it was created, and I’m really excited as a Target shopper to welcome you.”
City Manager Mark Alexander said at the time the store — occupying a building that had been vacant since Sport Chalet closed in 2016 — would increase property tax, generate sales tax and provide jobs for local residents. Officials are monitoring parking and pedestrian issues.
10 CASTILLO, LCUSD REACH SETTLEMENT
The La Cañada Unified School District reached a settlement worth nearly $500,000 with a former La Cañada Elementary School principal who filed a lawsuit against the district, and with her husband, who was recently named executive director of student services.
Christine Castillo will receive $385,000 in a lump-sum payment, according to a settlement agreement signed by Castillo on Dec. 4. Her lawsuit against the district alleged sexual discrimination and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional stress.
Ian McFeat, who had been LCHS’ principal before being named executive director on Dec. 10, will receive a sum equal to $133,192, according to an agreement he signed, also on Dec. 4. According to the settlement, McFeat will “immediately” submit a letter of resignation, with the end date of June 30. He had expressed workplace complaints against the district including “alleged retaliation, discrimination and harassment,” according to the settlement document.
Castillo’s initial pleading was filed about two years ago; she alleged that Superintendent Wendy Sinnette reacted negatively to the news of her pregnancy. According to court documents, Sinnette was told in August 2012, just a month after Castillo had moved from Seattle to Los Angeles to accept the position.
11 DAVE ROBERTS LEADS DODGERS
TO FALL CLASSIC, GETS EXTENSION
Los Angeles Dodgers manager and LCF resident Dave Roberts led his team to a second straight World Series and was rewarded with a contract extension through 2022. Roberts took over as manager in 2016 and has three National League West titles to go along with the two Series appearances.
The Dodgers picked up Roberts’ one-year option and included an additional three years to the contract. Dodgers President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman said, “Keeping Doc as our leader on the field was a top priority this offseason and now that we’ve accomplished that we are excited to collectively shift all of our focus to doing all we can to bring a World Championship to our passionate fans.”
12 LCHS ACHIEVES STANDOUT
RANKINGS IN STATE, NATION
La Cañada High School placed No. 39 statewide and No. 249 nationally in a U.S. News & World Report ranking of America’s “Best High Schools.” The ranking measures performance on state-required tests and how well schools prepare pupils for college.
“I am so totally impressed, but not surprised at all,” then-LCUSD Governing Board President Kaitzer Puglia said. “Our teachers work so hard, in terms of methodology and in terms of bringing material to life in class in a way that really connects with students, which ultimately helps them do better on all the tests.”
U.S. News & World Report evaluated 20,548 schools across the country with 15 or more 12th-graders.
13 LCHS GIRLS’ TENNIS WINS
FIRST CIF TITLE SINCE ’77
The LCHS varsity girls’ tennis team took the CIF Southern Section Division 2 championship on Nov. 9. The Spartans, who won their first tennis crown in 1977, defeated Aliso Niguel of Aliso Viejo, 13-5, at the Claremont Club. In an interview before the victory, coach Will Moravec said his wish had been granted.
“The last couple of years, I’ve been hoping we’d be in Division 2,” Moravec said. “A lot of times, CIF puts us in Division 1 and that’s super tough for us. The timing was right, and we’re in Division 2 with two hotshot freshman girls who really gave us depth this year.” In 1977, the team won the Division 3A crown by defeating San Marino. Moravec said his team had little margin for error if it wanted to win. “There’s no time for a bad day,” Moravec said. “Hopefully our girls will be ready and play great.” Clearly, they did.
14 SAGEBRUSH SAGA CONTINUES
The Sagebrush territory transfer effort continues as the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization has not made a decision about switching the territory in LCF from the Glendale Unified School District to the LCUSD. Sagebrush, approximately 380 acres, is the western-most area of La Cañada Flintridge.
In the latest development, on Oct. 3, the committee took into account a new environmental study completed under the California Environmental Quality Act. Based on the initial study, it was determined the proposed transfer would not have significant adverse impacts on the environment with the implementation of mitigation measures. The committee’s next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 9, and it is set to conduct another review of the petition and accompanying materials.
15 SIX CHARGED IN HOME INVASION ROBBERIES
Six alleged gang members were arrested and charged with 60 felony counts in connection with multiple home invasion robberies — including two in LCF — in which the victims were tied up and the suspects escaped with more than $1 million in cash and property.
The suspects were alleged to have worn masks and gloves as they forced their way into homes last December and restrained victims and threatened them at gunpoint.
Capt. Chris Blasnek of the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station said at the time he was relieved the suspects have been identified and charged.
“The arrests were the result of a lot of hard work and hundreds of hours of investigation by several law enforcement agencies,” Blasnek said in a statement. “Please be assured that the Crescenta Valley Station personnel and the entire Sheriff’s Department work diligently to solve all crimes within our jurisdiction.” The robberies in LCF occurred last December in the 800 block of Inverness Drive and the 800 block of Flintridge Avenue, Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Lt. Mark Slater said in an email.
16 LCHS’ HOFMAN REACHES 700 VICTORIES
Varsity boys’ basketball coach Tom Hofman earned win No. 700 on Jan. 19 after he led the Spartans to a Rio Hondo League victory over visiting South Pasadena. Hofman’s victory, according to Cal-Hi Sports, placed him among the 17 winningest coaches in California. After the 82-55 win, he placed eighth on the list of active boys’ basketball coaches in the state.
“It’s a great honor to be [on the list],” said Hofman. “If you look at the coaches up there, they’re the best in California. To be in the same list as them is a great honor.”
17 LCUSD RECEIVES A TOP RANKING
The California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress System mean scale score results showed that LCUSD scored first in English and second in math, according to test scores released by the California Department of Education earlier this year.
The district was ranked No. 1 in California in the combined percentage of students who met or exceeded state standards in English and had the second-highest percentage in math. “LCUSD should be proud of these excellent scores that tell the tale of hard work, academic rigor and high performance of our students,” said Jim Cartnal, then the district’s executive director of student services. A review website, Niche.com, ranked the district’s elementary schools among the best public schools in the county: Palm Crest Elementary School ranked No. 2, La Cañada Elementary School was No. 3 and Paradise Canyon Elementary landed at No. 4.
18 LCF’S PRICEY REAL ESTATE
The city ranked as one of the most expensive areas in the U.S. as measured by the median price for residential property sales in 2018, according to real estate database PropertyShark.
The 91011 ZIP code placed 57th in an end-of-year ranking of the nation’s priciest locales and improved upon its ranking last year, according to the website.
The median home sale price of $1,770,000 in ZIP code 91011 was enough to move it seven spots ahead of its No. 64 ranking in 2017.