LCUSD, Big Dig, City Hall Have Role in Top Stories of 2019

YEAR IN REVIEW

The state of local schools, quality of life, public safety and efficient government have long been among the top concerns of La Cañada Flintridge residents. So there’s little surprise that those topics figure prominently in The Outlook’s listing of the top 19 LCF stories of 2019.

1 LCUSD Settles With Castillo, McFeat

Ian McFeat, former La Cañada High School principal, and Christine Castillo, an ex-principal at La Cañada Elementary School, agreed in December to separate six-figure settlements from LCUSD.
OUTLOOK photo
Ian McFeat, former La Cañada High School principal, and Christine Castillo, an ex-principal at La Cañada Elementary School, agreed in December to separate six-figure settlements from LCUSD.

The La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board in early January ratified settlements worth nearly $500,000 involving former La Cañada Elementary School Principal Christine Castillo and former La Cañada High School Principal Ian McFeat.
Castillo, whose lawsuit against the district alleged sexual discrimination and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional stress, was to receive $385,000 in a lump-sum payment, according to an agreement she signed late in 2018. Her husband, McFeat, who had been LCHS’ principal before being named district executive director of student services on Dec. 10, was to receive a sum equal to $133,192, according to an agreement he signed days earlier.
He had expressed workplace complaints against the district including “alleged retaliation, discrimination and harassment,” the settlement document said.
Castillo alleged that Superintendent Wendy Sinnette reacted negatively to the news of her pregnancy and said she eventually was demoted. Sinnette was told of her pregnancy in August 2012, just a month after Castillo had moved from Seattle to Los Angeles to accept the position, according to court documents.

2 Big Dig Truck Saga Rolls On

Photo courtesy Los Angeles County Public Works
Sediment removal began on May 21 at the controversial Devil’s Gate Dam project and ended for the year on Nov. 15. Haul trucks will rev up again in the spring.

Sediment removal in the controversial Devil’s Gate Dam project, also known as the Big Dig, began on May 21 and hauling stopped for the year on Nov. 15. Hauling will resume next May, said Los Angeles County Public Works official Steve Burger. Local residents and school officials have voiced concerns about the project’s effect on air quality; the South Coast Air Quality Management District said there were four violations related to dust since the hauling project began. Officials have said the project, whose first phase began in late November last year, was expected to include 425 daily round trips by diesel trucks.
The project’s goal has been to remove 1.7 million cubic yards of sediment behind the dam at Hahamongna Watershed Park to increase flood protection and restore habitat within the Arroyo Seco Watershed; so far, about 445,000 cubic yards have been hauled away. The implementation of tailpipe emission standards, pushed by LCF for Healthy Air co-founder Elizabeth Krider and others, was delayed this year but Burger said he was confident it would happen when hauling restarts.

 

3 Huge Pool Party Spurs Deputies’ Response,

Officials’ Regret

Photo by Wes Woods II/ OUTLOOK
This home was the site of a controversial pool party held on June 15. Authorities and a broker for the house told City Council that the owner, who had not moved in, was not aware the party was going on.

A massive pool party on Gould Avenue on June 15 resulted in hundreds of negative comments on social media alleging unruly conduct, drunkenness, public urination and littering near the residence, and prompted city officials and Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station Capt. Todd Deeds to be vigilant regarding any future gatherings.
An estimated 300 partygoers attended the event billed as the “Aquaholic Summer Mansion Pool Party,” with photos and videos on Facebook showing young adults in revealing swimwear, including thongs and short shorts, standing near TJ Maxx at 663 Foothill Blvd. or the home’s large pool. The recent buyer of the property was not the person who sponsored the party, said Realtor Arthur Ambarachyan, who represented the buyer. A possible party on July 6 was later canceled.

 

4 City Hall moves to New Site,

Gains Prominent Tenants

Photo by Wes Woods II / OUTLOOK
Miss La Cañada Flintridge Royal Court member Kat Hightower, Miss LCF Francesca Christensen, City Councilmen Michael Davitt, Jonathan Curtis, Gregory Brown and Leonard Pieroni, and then-Mayor Terry Walker help cut the ribbon at the official opening of the new City Hall at One Civic Center Drive.

More than 100 people watched as the new City Hall, taking the former Sport Chalet site, was officially opened on March 19 with speeches, guided tours and a ribbon cutting, followed by the first City Council meeting there. “I’m nervous,” said then-Mayor Terry Walker during her speech. “It’s kind of like when you remodel your home and you think it’s really cool and you want everybody to like it and you’re nervous if they don’t.”
City officials moved less than a mile from their old location at 1327 Foothill Blvd., which had been home for more than 40 years. LCF Chamber of Commerce CEO Pat Anderson attended the ribbon cutting and had one of her own in September after the chamber moved into its new headquarters in the municipal building. Also moving to this site was Citizens Business Bank, which was on Foothill Boulevard for more than two decades.

 

5 County Panel Approves Sagebrush Transfer,

Public Vote to Follow

Photo by Wes Woods II / OUTLOOK
A smiling Tom Smith (third from left), chair of UniteLCF, stands with fellow Sagebrush supporters after the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization voted on Oct. 2 to transfer the Sagebrush area from the Glendale Unified School District to the La Cañada Unified School District.

The Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization voted 6-3 on Oct. 2 to transfer the Sagebrush area in western LCF from the Glendale Unified School District to the LCUSD.
The agenda item took two hours of discussion, but a decision regarding the potential voting area for the issue has been pushed back to a future meeting.
“We’re still a ways away,” said Scott Tracy, a former LCUSD Governing Board member who supports the transfer and spoke on behalf of petitioners at the meeting. “Even if there were an election, we were told [by an aide to the committee] it wouldn’t be in March.”
LCUSD officials have said efforts seeking a territory transfer began in 1961 and were revived in 1978 and 1991, before the current effort was mounted in July 2013.
GUSD is appealing the county committee’s decision, and filed a statement of reasons and factual evidence for its appeal with the State Board of Education. Additionally, the district also filed a lawsuit over the California Environmental Quality Act study used as evidence in support of the Sagebrush transfer, GUSD officials said.

 

6 LCUSD Hires Equity and Inclusion consultant

Photo by Wes Woods II / OUTLOOK
Newly hired diversity, equity and inclusion consultant Christina Hale-Elliott (right) is congratulated by La Cañada Unified School District Superintendent Wendy Sinnette.

LCUSD Governing Board members installed Christina Hale-Elliott as the district’s first diversity, equity and inclusion consultant on Sept. 10. Her contract is for $95,000, with funds coming from the district’s 2019-20 general fund.
“Her skills, strengths and talents appear to be an optimal match for our district,” Superintendent Wendy Sinnette said before the board approved the appointment. Sinnette and Hale-Elliott hosted two “Cultivating Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” workshops in November.
Hale-Elliott is the founder of and principal consultant for Elliott Educational Services, a role in which she provides technical assistance and professional development to groups such as school districts and teacher education and parent advocacy groups, according to her biography. The Pasadena native has been in the field of social justice education for more than 20 years.
The workshops and consultancy were planned after alleged offensive and discriminatory language was overheard at a series of basketball games during the 2018-19 season. In late March, the LCHS administration concluded an investigation into the alleged behavior and determined that a “slur” and repeated profanity were used at a CIF championship game. Officials have said discipline was issued.

 

7 A Rash of Residential Burglaries

Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station Capt. Todd Deeds noted at a City Council meeting that home burglaries were committed on Aug. 25, Sept. 2 and Sept. 4 as residents were present.
“This is very, very shocking that this type of stuff is happening, but we’re convinced it’s the same people” responsible in each burglary, Deeds said at the meeting on Sept. 17.
The sheriff’s Major Crimes Bureau “is working all three of those cases and we’re very hopeful we’ll be able to identify all of those people and get them into custody,” Deeds said.
Since then, Deeds has said there have been arrests of burglary crews with ties to LCF. His latest public safety report showed there had been 91 residential burglaries in LCF from January through November compared with 51 in that period last year — a 78% increase. However, incidents have declined in recent months: There were four residential burglaries in November, fewer than seven in October and 11 in September.

 

8 Plan for Four More 210 Sound Walls

Photo by Wes Woods II / OUTLOOK
State Sen. Anthony Portantino discusses various types of sound walls at the La Cañada Flintridge City Council at an Aug. 6 meeting.

A plan to build four more sound walls along the north side of the 210 Freeway was approved on Aug. 6 by the LCF City Council and was to be submitted for approval by the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
State Sen. Anthony Portantino was credited with arranging for $5.5 million in California’s current budget for the walls’ construction. An additional $5.5 million would come from the California Transportation Commission, via Metro, through the use of state Senate Bill 1 Local Partnership Program funds. SB1 helps finance transportation projects.
The proposed walls would extend from Waltonia Drive to Glenhaven Drive, La Granada Way to Vista Place, La Cañada Boulevard to Angeles Crest Highway, and Commonwealth Avenue to Oakwood Avenue.

 

9 Educational Foundation Celebrates Four Decades

The La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation celebrated its 40th anniversary, prompting dedicated volunteers and founding members to take a nostalgic look back. With the tagline “Because a great public school education isn’t free,” LCFEF has consistently raised nearly $2 million annually in recent years to help fund LCUSD programs across its five schools. That has helped keep class sizes small and support the arts and humanities, languages, counselor salaries, technology and yearly endeavors that change to keep fresh, new ideas in curriculum and education.
“LCFEF is a phenomenal support. It allows our funding levels to match comparable districts, and it just really shows the depth and breadth of our community’s superlative commitment to our schools,” said LCUSD Superintendent Wendy Sinnette.

 

10 Ex-Resident Named National Security Adviser

Photo courtesy U.S. State Department
Former longtime LCF resident Robert O’Brien was appointed as President Donald Trump’s new national security adviser on Sept. 18.

Former La Cañada Flintridge resident Robert C. O’Brien drew attention on Sept. 18 as he became the U.S. national security adviser, taking over for John Bolton.
The news coincided with a California visit by President Donald Trump, who tweeted the announcement and held an informal press conference with O’Brien on the Los Angeles International Airport tarmac.
O’Brien had been serving as special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, a post to which he was appointed by Trump in 2018. In that position, he led U.S. efforts to negotiate the return of citizens held by foreign governments, and also was tasked with maintaining a dialogue with the families of hostages in coordination with the Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell.
“I have worked long & hard with Robert. He will do a great job!” Trump tweeted.

 

11 Spartans Play for Championship at Dodger Stadium

The LCHS varsity baseball team made a historic postseason run in reaching the CIF Southern Section Division 3 championship game for the first time in the school’s 56-year history. The Spartans were denied their first CIF-SS baseball title by Great Oak of Temecula, which held La Cañada’s offense at bay in a 7-0 win. In his third year, LCHS head coach Matt Whisenant guided the Spartans to a Rio Hondo League title and a 22-8 record.

 

12 12: LCHS Vies for CIF-SS Basketball Crown

Legendary head coach Tom Hofman guided the LCHS varsity boys’ basketball team to the CIF-SS Division 2A championship game. The Spartans stood toe to toe with Ontario Colony but ultimately fell, 50-47. Standout Ryan Graves was an All-CIF first-team selection, and Zach Feehan made the second team.

 

13 High School Swimming-Diving Team Captures Title

The LCHS boys’ swimming and diving team won its first CIF-SS Division 2 championship since 1999 behind the stellar performance of Danny Syrkin. The Spartan won the 50-yard freestyle with a time of 20.38 seconds and took home gold in the 100 butterfly with a time of 47.25. He also teamed up with Eddie Cosic, Thomas Hoffman and Chris O’Grady to win the 200-yard medley relay with a time of 1:31.68, a Division 2 meet record. The quartet also competed in the 400 free relay and placed second (3:05.26).

 

14 Mazin Wins Emmy Acclaim for ‘Chernobyl’

Photo courtesy FilmMagic for HBO
Melissa Mazin joins her husband, Craig, in displaying two trophies he picked up at the Emmys, including one for “Chernobyl’s” win for outstanding limited series or movie.

“Chernobyl” creator Craig Mazin, a La Cañada Flintridge resident, had a big night at the Emmy Awards in September: He picked up two trophies for the HBO drama that altogether collected 10 statuettes.
The total includes seven Creative Arts Emmys the show received the previous weekend.
Mazin took home the award for outstanding writing for a limited series or movie, and as executive director was recognized again as “Chernobyl” triumphed for outstanding limited series or movie.
“We’re all thrilled that the [Television] Academy honored us this way,” Mazin said in a statement provided to The Outlook. “It was a terrific night, and I’m so proud of our entire team.”

 

15 School District Parcel Tax Vote SCHEDULED

The LCUSD Governing Board voted 4-0 in December to place a parcel tax measure on the March 3 ballot in hopes of continuing what district leaders say is a vital source of revenue.
Measure LC would need two-thirds voter approval to pass and would pay for district programs, including teacher positions. The tax would be a $450-per-parcel assessment that would generate approximately $2,686,500 per year, according to a district report. A property’s assessed value would be adjusted annually by the Consumer Price Index, not to exceed 3% a year.
Sinnette said the measure is needed because the current parcel tax expires in 2021. It has been bringing in about $2.5 million annually for district programs, she said.
“It’s such an integral part of our budget,” said Sinnette, adding that more than 20 positions — certificated teacher and counselor posts and classified staff jobs — would be eliminated from the district if the tax isn’t renewed.

 

16 Lawsuit Against LCUSD Alleges Discrimination

A civil lawsuit accusing LCUSD staff members and a teacher of unfairly targeting Korean-American students — a claim that was made after four high school pupils were disciplined for allegedly cheating on an AP European history exam in 2018 — was filed on Sept. 11 in L.A. Superior Court.
The lawsuit, which also alleges discriminatory behavior by certain La Cañada High School administrators, was filed by attorney Andrea M. Tytell.
Four students and their guardians have accused LCHS’ principal and a history teacher of helping enact a “covert and systemic policy of discrimination against Korean students,” according to the civil complaint.
After it was claimed that the students cheated on the test, they received zeros as discipline and were essentially required to drop the class. The lawsuit alleges that the Korean American students received different punishment and treatment than that received by white students and athletes for their actions regarding the same AP unit exam.

 

17 Wellness Center Opens at High School

Photo courtesy Wendy Sinnette
LCUSD Governing Board then-President Brent Kuszyk, Spartan Booster President Jeremy Milbrodt, LCF Educational Foundation President Rodney Swan and LCUSD Superintendent Wendy Sinnette participate in the La Cañada High School Spartan Wellness Center ribbon-cutting.

LCHS students gained a resource with the opening of the Wellness Center, which provides drop-in and crisis support and a self-care break area open from 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
It also features a “bubble wall,” three counseling rooms and a multipurpose meeting room. A ribbon-cutting was held on Nov. 6 with members of the Governing Board and school and district administration. The LCF Educational Foundation, LCHS Spartan Boosters and LCHS PTSA, as well as Maria Videla-Juniel, were all recognized for their support.
“The Wellness Center at LCHS was designed as a student-centered space on campus where social-emotional services and supports will be provided,” said Sinnette. “In our mission to ensure that our rigorous academic programs meet the needs of every student, the Wellness Center’s offerings are designed to ensure that we are equipping each learner with the tools necessary to successfully navigate the complexities and demands of student life in a high-performing high school.”

 

18 Sheriff’s Station Gets New Captain

Photo by Wes Woods II / OUTLOOK
Sheriff’s Capt. Todd Deeds speaks with Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse owner Peter Wannier during a “Coffee With the Captain” event.

Capt. Todd Deeds began his duties as the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station’s leader in May after the previous captain, Chris Blasnek, received a promotion and moved to an office in downtown Los Angeles.
Lt. Mark Slater, interim captain at Crescenta Valley when Blasnek was promoted, retired earlier this year after 33½ years in law enforcement.
Deeds began his career with the Sheriff’s Department in the early 1990s and worked at the Crescenta Valley Station in the middle of that decade, he has said.
Earlier in his career, he was assigned to the Special Victims Bureau as a team lieutenant in the East Los Angeles Station. The bureau investigates the sexual and physical abuse of children and sexual assaults that are felonies involving adult victims, the department said.

 

19 Bookstore Is on the Move

OUTLOOK photo
Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse’s owners plan to move it to a new location on Foothill Boulevard in 2020, and its current building will be occupied by mortgage banking company HouseAmerica.

Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse, an iconic presence on Foothill Boulevard, will move to a new location in February now that its current home has been sold for $4.9 million, said Peter Wannier, who owns the business with his wife, Lenora.
The building housing the bookstore was sold to Alan Pezeshkian, president of Glendale-based mortgage banking company HouseAmerica, on Nov. 15. He said the bookstore will be repurposed as business offices.

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