LCF Turns 40; Sees Gains, Losses in 2016

As it celebrated its 40th anniversary of cityhood, La Cañada Flintridge saw some significant eras end in 2016. Sporting goods retail giant Sport Chalet closed up shop after getting its start in LCF 57 years ago, and, with membership waning, the Crescenta-Cañada Rotary Club disbanded after 76 years.
Local schools continued to be a focal point: La Cañada Unified School District students retained their impressive academic statewide standing; play got under way on a new football field; the girls’ basketball team made history and an accord was reached over teacher salaries after tense negotiations.


Residents, as usual, were engaged, signing a petition in favor of the Sagebrush territory transfer and then packing the LCUSD Governing Board meeting room for the first of the county’s meetings on the issue. They also were generous; for the sixth consecutive year the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation raised $2 million for the district.
There was also an Emmy award, a new hydrogen fuel pump and a perhaps-too-short Super Bowl appearance as LCF ended a bustling year celebrating the “Echoes of Success.”
January
Keith Hobbs took over as CEO at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital on Jan. 4. Hobbs was familiar with the area, able to see his childhood home in La Crescenta from his new office. Before returning to focus his service on the Foothill communities this year, he spent 23 years in different leadership capacities at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles: “It’s great to be back. I’m looking forward to doing some exciting things, not only for USC Verdugo Hills, but for the surrounding community,” said Hobbs, who has overseen an increased number of faculty members practicing at USC-VHH and installed the Da Vinci robot in an effort to enhance care at the hospital.


A La Cañadan since 1997, Brad Ratliff was elected 2016-17 Rose Parade president on Jan. 21. He drew on his parents — including father Dick Ratliff, also a former Rose Parade president — for inspiration in selecting this year’s theme: “Echoes of Success.”
February
A $2 million hydrogen pump was installed at the Arco Station at 550 Foothill Blvd. The pump is part of the first 19-station set being built by FirstElement in strategic locations throughout California, as part of a project funded partially by state agencies and car manufacturers.


On Feb. 7, LCF’s Marlee Matlin, an Oscar-winning actress who is deaf, signed the “Star Spangled Banner” in American Sign Language at the Super Bowl as Lady Gaga sang. The 71,088 fans in attendance saw Matlin signing, but the television broadcast showed only fleeting images, which spurred the #MarleeMatlin hashtag on social media as viewers criticized CBS for failing their hearing impaired viewership.


Neighbors and school officials came together at the Feb. 8 La Cañada Flintridge Planning Commission to report that they reached an accord in regard to increasing the enrollment cap at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy from 385 students to 425. The groups, once at odds over elements of FSHA’s campus improvement plans, announced that the school’s multi-million-dollar construction application has the support of all of its neighbors, including former opponents in the Protect La Cañada Flintridge group.
March
On March 5, nearly 700 people who attended the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation’s 25th annual Spring Gala — which featured the theme “California Dreamin’” — raised $550,000 for the LCUSD. That total equaled the previous year’s record-breaking amount, said Deborah Weirick, then LCFEF’s executive director: “That’s always exciting, because it’s hard to keep topping a number or bettering it.”


On March 12-13, a record 12,000 visitors showed up at Descanso Gardens for the Cherry Blossom Festival, the annual springtime event that features 55 flowering cherry trees. The surge in attendance eclipsed the previous record of just less than 10,000, according to Chief Operating Officer Juliann Rooke, who said Descanso also set a new high with 1,000 new memberships over the weekend to boost membership totals to 13,000.


The La Cañada High School girls’ basketball team made history March 24 by reaching the CIF-State Division IV Southern Regional final, extending its season further than any team in the program’s 41 years. The Spartans’ season ended with a 66-51 loss to Lancaster Antelope Valley, which entered the game having defeated LCHS twice before, including in the CIF-Southern Section Division 3A championship. First-year coach Sarah Beattie heralded her team’s effort: “It’s been really amazing.”
APRIL
Sport Chalet announced it was going out of business on April 16. The sporting goods retail chain began 57 years earlier in LCF, where German immigrant Norbert Olberz spent $10,000 — his life savings — to open a small ski shop that blossomed into a 55-store chain with stores throughout California as well as Arizona, Nevada and Utah. In 2014, Sport Chalet was sold to the Connecticut-based Vestis Retail Group, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. “It’s sort of like losing part of your family, you know?” City Councilman Dave Spence said.
MAY
After more than 90 hours of negotiations and impassioned testimony at LCUSD Governing Board meetings, representatives of the LCUSD and La Cañada Teachers Association reached an agreement on May 25 to boost the pay of the district’s teachers.
The long-term salary restructuring represented an approximate 5% increase in the district’s budget and improved the district’s teacher lifetime earnings to third among the five districts to which it was compared during negotiations. LCUSD said its teachers now can collect lifetime earnings of up to about $4.2 million — with those in their 24th year or more earning a maximum of $98,725 annually.
For three months prior to the agreement, teachers regularly drew attention to their demands by wearing matching LCTA T-shirts to school or wielding picket signs as they marched along Foothill Boulevard.
“While this offer adds more than $1 million in ongoing salary costs, we have surgically readdressed our budget assumptions and future expenditures to fund this increase while still maintaining funding for our seven other LCAP priorities and ensuring the district’s solvency,” Superintendent Wendy Sinnette said.
JUNE
With pride, the city marked Memorial Day weekend with its annual four-day-long Fiesta Days celebration. In addition to the annual parade down Foothill Boulevard, the weekend included a poignant ceremony at Memorial Park. About 400 people gathered to remember Army Sgt. Joseph Stifter among others who lost their lives while serving in the military. The St. Francis High School graduate, 30, was killed on Jan. 28 in Iraq when his armored vehicle rolled over at Al Asal Airbase in Al Anbar Province.
JULY
The Los Angeles County Registrar’s Office certified a petition on July 26 submitted by the UniteLCF citizens’ group requesting a territory transfer of the 385 acres in westernmost La Cañada Flintridge from Glendale Unified School District to LCUSD. After the signature drive started in February, the group on June 29 submitted 724 signatures — nearly 50% of the registered voters in the Sagebrush area, well more than the 402 signatures required.
“It just demonstrates the level of support that people in the Sagebrush area have for this,” said Tom Smith, chair of UniteLCF. “If we could get people to open their door, they supported the petition and signed it.”
Following certification, the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization had 60 days to conduct a pair of public meetings in each school district’s area, followed by 120 days to complete their evaluation.
AUGUST
The annual California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress system again placed La Cañada Unified School District’s students among the best-scoring in the state.
The online testing results showed LCUSD’s 5th-, 6th- and 8th-graders ranking top in the state in English language arts/literacy, while its 6th-graders also rated first in math, according to mean scale score performance data reported on Aug. 25 by Lindi Dreibelbis, chief director of assessment.
“This is just the second year of testing and it’s still relatively new for all of us, so to have confirmation that we’re still one of the top performing school districts in the state of California was just wonderful,” she said.
SEPTEMBER
The LCHS football team played a game for the first time on its renovated field Sept. 9, hosting Glendale High School in its home opener. The Spartans also sported new helmets, uniforms, shoulder pads and mouth guards.
The district spent $1.3 million to replace the field and resurface the track. The heavily trafficked old field, installed in 2003, needed to be replaced, district officials said, because its surface and the padding underneath were worn and potentially unsafe. A Field Replacement Committee decided on AstroTurf GameDay Grass, with an infill of ZeoFill and Silica Sand over a 1-inch Brock PowerBase pad. An organic mineral substance similar to sand or extremely fine decomposed granite, the ZeoFill will be cooler, easier to maintain and will hold water like real grass, according Mark Evans, the district’s Chief Business Officer.


On Sept. 18, LCF’s Courtney B. Vance won an Emmy for Best Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for his riveting portrayal of defense attorney Johnnie Cochran in FX’s “The People v. O.J. Simpson.” During his acceptance speech, Vance hoisted his statuette and thanked his fellow actors and nominees, the show’s crew members and directors, his agent and assistant, his mother and children, and then his wife, actress Angela Bassett: “To the woman who rocks my chain, Angela Evelyn Bassett, this one is for you, girl!”
OCTOBER
The City Council decided on Oct. 11 that LCF will pay $11.7 million to purchase the former Sport Chalet headquarters building at One Sport Chalet Drive for use as a future City Hall, if all checks out following a 90-day due diligence period that’s set to expire early next year.
The offices, with 24,000 square feet of open floor space, would allow staff to more efficiently and effectively serve the community, according to City Manager Mark Alexander. He described city operations as having outgrown the current 7,160 square-foot building at 1327 Foothill Blvd., where staff has grown from 10 members to 48 in his 28 years working for LCF.
“I have to confess that when we first got an offer to look at this, I said, ‘Boy, this is something that worries me, it’s an awful lot of money and I’m not sure we can really make this work,’” Councilman Spence said. “But after the due diligence and the work of the staff and our city attorney and everyone who’s been really looking at everything to go over this project with a fine-tooth comb, I became more convinced that this is the way we should move.”


In what’s become an annual tradition, the LCFEF brought a big check to its city’s school district, delivering a donation of $2 million to the Governing Board on Oct. 18. It was the sixth consecutive year that the foundation raised $2 million or more to help the district pay for teachers and counselors.


In the first of two community forums dedicated to discussion of the proposed Sagebrush territory transfer, the Los Angeles County Office of Education Committee on School District Organization on Oct. 26 heard three-plus hours of arguments for and against the move. The transfer — as requested by members of the UniteLCF citizens’ group, which petitioned the county — would redraw school boundaries in westernmost LCF.
GUSD Superintendent Winfred Roberson Jr. told the committee the transfer would affect programs and could lead to employee layoffs in his district: “Just as a limb could not be severed from the body without significant impacts on the body as a whole, so it is true with this transfer if it were to go forward.”
Smith, the UniteLCF chair, described the nearly half-century-long push to shift the boundaries as David-and-Goliath battle: “Sagebrush represents a tiny fraction of the GUSD relative to its overall size.”
NOVEMBER
Like the majority of voters in California, on Nov. 8, LCF residents overwhelmingly cast their presidential ballot for Hillary Clinton in the general election, recording 4,259 votes for Clinton and 2,855 for President-elect Donald Trump, according to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk. Clinton received more than 4.2 million more votes than Trump in the state.
LCF residents had their say on a wide range of other issues, including voting in favor of Kamala Harris (64%) and Congressman Adam Schiff in the 28th District (62%).
Former LCF Mayor and state Assemblyman Anthony Portantino punched his ticket back to Sacramento as the state Senator for the 25th District, with LCF residents supporting him in his race against L.A. County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, 3,963-3,471.
Among the 17 propositions on the ballot, LCF voters were in agreement with their fellow Californians on 13, including the ban of single-use plastic bags. LCF voters also joined the rest of the county in approving Measure M, the ordinance calling for a half-cent sales tax to raise money for transportation projects.
LCF residents differed, however, on whether to legalize marijuana. They voted against it 3,952 to 3,558, while about 56% of voters statewide approved the proposition to pass it.


LCF celebrated 40 years of cityhood with a high-class event at the LCF Country Club on Nov. 17, where former city leaders mingled with members of the community as they commemorated the vote, four decades earlier, to combine two unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County — La Cañada and Flintridge — into one municipality.
“It all came back to local control,” said Pat Anderson, who was among the precinct workers who helped make LCF a reality. Anderson now is the president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, which helped host the anniversary event along with the city.
“We were going to be overrun by state government agencies and with the country being so big and us being so small by comparison, they don’t have time for us. It just made a lot of sense to become our own city.”


The Crescenta-Cañada Rotary Club celebrated its final Christmas Party on Nov. 29 after announcing its plans to disband after 76 years of service to the community. The service club raised funds for the Boy Scouts, ball clubs, scholarships, parades and much more.
“It’s a shame,” said Joe Kroening, who joined in 1963 and was the longest-active member of the group. “I tell you, we were beating a dead horse the last few years. We weren’t getting members and those we have, they were getting older, so when we had a project to work on that was physical, it was hard to get people to do it.”
The chapter folded with about 22 members on its roster, with only a dozen or so actually active.
DECEMBER
Portantino was sworn into office on Dec. 5 at a member of the California Senate. The LCF resident got right to work, proposing a trio of bills, including Senate Bill 23, which seeks to expand California’s Umbilical Blood Collection Program funding for a decade; SB 24, which would require more accurate financial disclosure from elected representatives; and SB 25, which could create an education model that includes community college in a comprehensive K-14 model.

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