Terry Walker, who was selected as La Cañada Flintridge’s mayor in April 2018 by her City Council colleagues, has had an eventful year. Long-awaited funding for a 210 Freeway sound wall project was approved, Target became a reality and the issue of the Devil’s Gate Dam sediment removal project reheated since Walker became mayor.
Walker was elected to the council in March 2015. She previously served eight years on the YMCA of the Foothills Board of Directors and spent three terms as president of the LCF Chamber of Commerce. Her journey to the council began when she was appointed in 2008 to the Public Works and Traffic Commission, where she served for four years, including one term as chair. She also served as a planning commissioner for three years before she vacated the position to join the City Council. The mayor recently took time out from her schedule to reflect, at an LCF restaurant, on the past year and look toward this year’s challenges. This interview has been edited for space.
What’s the latest with the new City Hall?
I think it’s going to be really nice for our staff. They’ve worked under some very difficult situations, and I’ve read some of the articles in the paper that say, “What do we need a new place for?” One of them said, “It’s so big you can bowl down the alleys.” And I’m thinking, clearly, you haven’t been in our [cramped] City Hall lately. I think it’s really kind of dangerous, honestly.
I think our staff put a lot of thought into it as far as the counter space. Now you go over here to Planning, over here to Public Works, over here to Building and Safety. Now it’s one large counter. One-stop shopping. So you come in and you have one large counter. It’s all open.
You see the staff and the staff, more importantly, sees people at the front desk. So I think it’s going to be much more efficient workflow. And then that in addition to our new computerized permitting, so I’m excited.
How closely will you be monitoring the Big Dig [Devil’s Gate project]? Is this a huge issue on your radar? Is that more of a school district concern?
It’s really neither school district or city. Neither one of us have jurisdiction over it, but we’re all concerned about it. The health and welfare of our citizens, public safety, is our No. 1 priority, and I think we share that right along with the schools. We have been talking with L.A. County Supervisor [Kathryn] Barger’s office. We wanted to get through the holidays. We plan to sit down with them and see what they can do. I think they’re reasonable and I think that they have some reasonable requests, safety requests, and I think that the county will be responsive.
What do you think about the Target opening in 2018, and do you have any concerns going forward? Obviously, there was a bit of talk about the crosswalk’s safety and the availability of parking.
I don’t have any concerns. Actually, I’ve been very pleased. I monitor that parking lot. I make a point of parking on the roof to see — I don’t think I’ve seen it ever more than three-quarters full, and mainly half or less. There’s plenty of parking up there. … The trick is training people to get up there and having them realize how convenient it is. There are two elevators that take you right down to the store. If you’ve got your cart, the cart goes right up the elevator with you and you are right there. But I still don’t think people are aware of it. … We need to work with Target to get better signage and train people.
My concern is … once the city’s in its [new City Hall in the former Sport Chalet] building, that lot between Target and the corporate office, that is the city’s lot. And that is our parking for our customers that come in for the city. Well, if you drive by that, it’s full all the time. I’ve been guilty of [using the lot while shopping at Target]. They designed their carts, which is smart, so they can’t leave the premises. But if you run up for something quick … which is something I do a lot of times … then you pull in the first convenient spot because I’m not carrying a bunch of groceries, right? I’m carrying one or two things. I pull up to the first convenient spot and get what I need. So like I say, especially for the opening we wanted it to be convenient for everybody. … I’m not really concerned there’s not enough parking because I’ve seen how many spaces are up there at any given time.
What do you think about the sound wall progress in 2018? What do you see for them in ’19?
I’m very excited. First of all, we’re very thankful for [current state Sen. and former LCF Mayor Anthony] Portantino for securing that $5 million dollar grant though SB 1 funds [California Senate Bill 1 funds from the state Transportation Commission]. Because we were able to really capitalize on that. And then with our Measure R funds [the 2008 ballot measure proposed a half-cent sales tax increase for transportation improvements and projects], which was $3.712 million, then Metro [the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority] … gave us the grant for return for the Call to Projects out of their funds, $3.38 million, we were able to leverage that $5 million into $12 million. And those walls are expensive. Any segment. What we had, we didn’t even have enough to do a segment with our Measure R monies.
But when we put them all together, then it gave us an opportunity to put in two, possibly three, depending on how it works out. And the walls Metro identified as being first priority seemed to be the ones people in town — of course, everyone in town wants a wall — but they do seem to be the ones that the council agreed would be the first, most beneficial, biggest bang for the buck, I guess you say, initially. We were just up in Sacramento and met with people up there talking about grants going forward, spoke with Sen. Portantino about sources, and he feels confident that we can find an ongoing source so that this won’t be the end.
This is a great start, but initially, when they gave us the figures, and you know, costs go up, it was about $40 million to complete all the sound walls in town. We’ve done six … we’re not even halfway there yet. But I think that we have the ear of the senator and also other people that we work with up there looking for other grants. I feel confident that we’ve got a little momentum going there. But I wanted to emphasize that it’s a process. These walls aren’t going to be in tomorrow. … We have identified the segments that we want, but now Metro’s got to come in and take a look at them, make sure. A lot of them are on an overpass. So, structurally, what will that involve? Will that make the cost higher than we’ve anticipated? So we’ve got the ball rolling and we’re going in the right direction, but I just don’t want people to become frustrated when they don’t see the walls going up tomorrow. … But the first step was securing the money, and there we go.
What was the biggest success of 2018?
Probably the No. 1 success in town, which is amazing to me on how quickly people forget, and that is the defeat of the 710 [Freeway] tunnel. I mean, that was huge. That’s been fought by our community for 50 to 60 years [because of fears of increased traffic, especially involving trucks, through the area]. Many, many city councils before me have done a lot of work trying to defeat that, and had that gone through, we believe that would have had a very detrimental effect on our community. We worked with neighboring communities, as most people know. It was a long process, and so that was probably the No. 1, I would say, highlight of the year.
What will be the biggest challenge of 2019?
I think moving into the new City Hall is going to be a challenge. It’s like anything else. It’s a lot of change. So there’s going to be some adjustments that need to be made. I think that by this time next year, it will all be running smoothly like a well-oiled machine, but it’s taken a lot of extra work on the staff’s part to pack up, to go through mounds of paperwork, and to get settled in the new place. So I think that will be a challenge, to work out the bugs. It’s really a lot of the continuation of what’s going on. Of course, the sound walls are high priority. … The council will always say, sincerely, our two top priorities are public safety and fiscal responsibility. And I feel very comfortable in both those areas.
I know some people were concerned about the investment we made in our new building, but I think it is fiscally sound. [A city estimate has placed the project’s overall cost at about $18.3 million.] I’m excited to have, on that front, to have Target there, because for two years we struggled without any sales income with the loss of Sport Chalet, which was significant. And we hope with Target that we will make up that and then some. It’s an interesting concept. Since we are such a lovely bedroom community, residential area, and higher-income area, as far as the residences go, people assume the city is just loaded with money. But the city really has very few sources of income.
What do you think is working well in the city?
I think that we’ve made a real effort in the city toward transparency and educating the public with our newsletter, and I think we can improve on that with our social media presence. So I think that’s been nice. We’ve had a lot of community input, which is what we need and what we want.
We’re very fortunate. I think we have a council that doesn’t always agree 100% on everything — you’ve seen the votes — but there’s never any animosity, and after the vote, we work as a team. And I don’t question the motives of one person on the council or, quite honestly, on our city staff. They all have the community’s best interests at heart. People ask, what makes our town what it is? I think that’s it. And little things that get done that I forget about, that we do to keep the nature and the culture of La Cañada Flintridge what it is.
For example, we work real hard on sign ordinances, so that we don’t have a cluttered-up boulevard with a bunch of billboards and things like that, even with our storefronts. We’re very particular about the signage and the look so that we keep the character of the town.
One hard thing about this year personally, but I think from our community standpoint, too, this year we lost a lot of community leaders. One I knew personally very, very well: Bob Wallace. He was in [the La Cañada Flintridge Tournament of] Roses committee, Kiwanis, wonderful man, worked in JPL and his wife died three weeks before him. So I feel very bad for that family and she was involved in the community. … A lot of people that worked real hard to make this community what it was. It’s been a little sad. We’re kind of losing that generation. It’s tough. That was a challenge this year. Of course, starting off on the heels of losing Dave [Spence, a former LCF mayor]. That was very difficult for all of us.