So the idea is that there is a lot of unhappiness amongst Pasadena residents these days because of the apparently unchecked development that has gone on for the last decade or so. Development that has turned entire neighborhoods of this quaint old city into something closely resembling Anaheim. To the horror of many residents.
So how best to re-channel all that energy and anger to the city's benefit? For Pasadena's City Council, that answer would be to invite the public out to share some opinions on the new General Plan they're working on. After all, wasn't it the previous General Plan that led to this mess in the first place?
Here is how City Councilmember Terry Tornek wiffled it out there for a Pasadena Star News op-ed piece:
"How could the city approve all these new projects?" "What were they thinking?" ... I heard these questions repeatedly during my campaign for Pasadena City Council last spring. I heard complaints about traffic, new developments and poor design ... The short answer is new development was largely consistent with the General Plan as last modified in 1994. During that process, thousands of citizens said that they wanted new development concentrated in downtown areas and near Gold Line stations.
I'm not certain how "thousands of citizens" back in 1994 could have demanded "new development concentrated" near Metro light rail stations since, according to Wikipedia, the Gold Line didn't open until 2003, nine years later. Maybe those thousands of eager citizens were just thinking ahead? Way ahead? How could they really have known?
But Terry does have a solution. And that would be citizen input at the Pasadena General Plan meetings.
Now the General Plan is being updated again and we need to hear from a broad cross-section of the community. If your voice is not heard, your opinions cannot help guide the update. If you don't like what you see in Pasadena, get involved and let us know what you think. It is time to put up or shut up.
In other words, unless a whole lot of people show up at these meetings to express their anger at what has become of their town, the City Council could very well end up approving a General Plan that would enable the city's current Anaheim motif to begin accommodating density similar to, say, Hong Kong? Put up or shut up indeed.
Now apparently General Plan meetings with the public have been held since Terry aired his concerns, and the prognosis for the big development crowd has not been all that positive. Pasadena Star News reporter Dan Abendschein, in an article he calls Pasadena residents give two cents on general plan, let this slip:
Pasadena has been holding public meetings over the last few months to gauge residents' concerns. Topping the list were overdevelopment, overpopulation, a shortage of parks and accessible open space, high density and traffic ... The next step is for a city council-appointed committee to take those concerns and integrate them into an updated draft, which will happen sometime in spring 2010. Forming a plan than can help address all the concerns expressed by residents can be challenging. For example, concentrating housing in an area that also has shops and restaurants - such as central Pasadena - can help reduce car use because it encourages people to walk ... But based on how people are responding to the idea of high-density zones, trying to reduce traffic that way might be a tough sell, said Julianna Delgado, a professor of urban planning at Cal Poly Pomona who is serving on the general plan committee ... "It's up to the people, and the current climate would seem to be against increasing density," said Delgado.
Now what Dan is alluding to here is the redevelopment formula put out by Sacramento through SB 375, and which is why we'll be seeing vastly increased RHNA numbers once all this filters down through various government agencies like the ARB and SCAG. The assumption being that if you build high-density development the people moving in will somehow voluntarily give up their greenhouse gas producing automobiles and start taking public transportation, bicycles, or even walking. A theory many critics are calling magical thinking that has more to do with the business agendas of developers and realtors than actually saving the world.
And to his credit, Dan Abendschein does supply some insight - albeit cautiously - that helps us to further question this magical thinking.
Reducing traffic has been a challenge for the city over the years. A city surveyed (sic) showed that despite increases in walking and biking to work from 1990 to 2008, the overall number of people driving to work in cars by themselves has increased.
In other words, it ain't working so good. Just because somebody moves into a downtown apartment complex does not mean he's going to voluntarily surrender his car and start taking the bus. Which shouldn't be a surprise to anyone beyond the planner elite and the big development corporations that employ them. And apparently what the good people of Pasadena are now telling their City Council is the madness must stop.
Larry Wilson also chimed in here. He's got a column to write three times a week, so chances are good there are few topics of interest that won't be blessed by his opinions. And it seems that he is not all that enamored of the great unwashed getting in the way of a shiny new layer of General Plan sanctioned redevelopment in Pasadena. Can it be he has some important friends in the construction field?
And Larry's defense of even higher density downtown areas? It's good for the waistline. I kid you not.
Pasadena architect and urbanist Lisa Padilla of Cityworks set our minds to rest about the health benefits of doing that, at least. The densest places - Manhattan, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland - have the least obesity. All that walking's good for you.
You know, I'm not certain the really densest places aren't wherever Larry happens to be writing his column at the time.
There is a Pasadena blog that I link to called East Of Allen. And its publisher, Michael Coppess, has some solid insights into how this next wave of development might roll out.
Development Near the Sierra Madre Villa Metro Station - This is a big big issue. If or when building resumes, there is likely to be a lot of development within 1/2 mile (generally walking distance) of Sierra Madre Villa Station ... Building, particularly of the scale possible near the Metro station, impacts traffic, which is already tight along Foothill and Rosemead. I'd also like to revisit just how much new development is planned and where it will all go ... I'll admit to some disappointment over the lone "transit oriented" project we've seen so far. As originally planned, the corner of Foothill and Sierra Madre Villa and the old Stuart building was to include a mix of uses, including office, bio-tech uses, and some housing. Somewhere along the way, that plan got jettisoned and the entire area is now primarily devoted to housing.
I'm afraid I'm going to have to get real with you here. Remember the dog and pony shows we here in Sierra Madre were treated to by RBF Consulting and the DIC when the Downtown Specific Plan was first being rolled out? Or that rigamarole with the "Ad Hoc Finance Committee" during the User Utility Tax increase and expansion process? It has been my opinion for a while now that whenever a city government is about to do something it fears is going to be howlingly unpopular, it starts inviting the public out for hearings. With the purpose of getting at least some citizen sanction for what they want to do. It is much more of a public relations exercise than anything else, with the final results having been already determined.
Does anybody here actually think the City of Pasadena is going to chop Gold Line "transit oriented development" out of their General Plan if the citizens who show up at these meetings ask them to? I doubt it. After all, Sacramento already promised that one to their best boys when they passed SB 375. Or that more condo monstrosities will be prevented upon citizen request? C'mon. No way is that kind of money going to be left on the table. The concerned parties just aren't going to let that happen.
Pasadena's new General Plan, when it is finished, will enable redevelopment beyond anything that city has seen already. These General Plan gatherings are designed for one purpose only, and that is to prep and position the voters for that eventuality. The only real mystery left is the identity of the PR consultant that lined up all those dogs and ponies.