To date, community feedback has been clear: Pasadena's strong community character - its diversity, neighborhoods and small town feel - should be maintained; its history and heritage preserved; new development projects well-designed; traffic reduced; alternative modes of transportation encouraged; and economic vitality in commercial areas to be supported.
Now if you read between the lines of that happy talk you will discover that there is a lot more going on there than might first meet the eye. Pasadena is in the planning stages for their new General Plan, and the residents of the Rose City were invited to public meetings to share their perspectives and cares on the topic. However, what they told their solicitous City officials was apparently not really what they wanted to hear. Quite the contrary, those attending were quite unhappy over what has become of their City, and didn't want to see anymore of the kind of change they'd experienced since the now lamented previous General Plan came into being.
This from a November 27, 2009 Pasadena Star News article:
Planning process reveals Pasadena resident's distaste for high-density building - In the midst of a city planning process that will determine what Pasadena's future growth will look like, one thing certain has emerged: Residents are decidedly against high-density construction ... For the past 15 years, since the 1994 General Plan update, the city's development policies have focused on encouraging new growth in central Pasadena, along Colorado Boulevard, while keeping it away from neighborhoods ... But at recent community meetings on the General Plan update, some concerns have surfaced over density in Central Pasadena ... "It was a good idea to develop that area, but the way it has turned out has been overkill," said Berlinda Brown, a member of the city's General Plan Update Advisory Committee ...
It seems that what many people living in Pasadena are suffering from is a case of buyer's remorse. When the previous General Plan went down much of the development proposed was met with some enthusiasm. Particularly that involving the newly conceived "Transit Oriented Development" model. The Gold Line to Pasadena was nearing completion, and many saw this kind of accompanying development as being a progressive way to grasp this bold future. But now, 15 years later, and with the afflicted neighborhoods the home to large new structures and accompanying traffic congestion, the thrill was most definitely gone. And the prospect of even more of the same was bringing folks out to these public General Plan meetings and straight up to the speakers' podium where they spoke of their displeasure in unmistakable terms.
The West Pasadena Residents' Association News, which is not exactly what you would call a radical publication, recently published an editorial on the topic of building design. And in a very genteel kind of way the author of this opinion piece, Mic Hansen, shared her views on the matter. We're going to post some of them here to give you an idea of just how deeply this unhappiness with large scale development has permeated Pasadena's culture.
In some of the developments that we have seen since the mid-nineties, there has been a tendency to allow isolated rectilinear stone/stucco/glass boxes to rise, devoid of sensitivity to their surroundings, to quality, to style, and the aesthetics of their neighboring buildings, thus ignoring the importance of knitting the building into its context. We have repeated this gaffe over and over (to wit, Trio apartments between Colorado and Union at El Molino, Westgate at Del Mar and De Lacey, mixed use building on the southeast corner of Los Robles and Orange Grove, etc.). Understandably cost is a valid and constant consideration, but eschewing Pasadena's illustrious architectural history and sense of place, as well as denying context and neighborhood coherence cannot help but ill serve all involved interests.
The more of these (in the words of HRH Prince Charles) "carbuncles" get built, the more they erode the ineffable place that is Pasadena. Quality. Beauty. Beauty. Timelessness. These attributes seem often lost in our current practices. The intent is NOT to keep Pasadena in the past, but build for the present and the future in a manner that respects what has come before: genuine beauty, high quality materials and decoration, harmony with its environment, respectful of the culture and fabric of the community, visual and mass compatibility with the neighborhood, an effort to continue a "sense of place" and durability that are all hallmarks of excellent projects ...
Carbuncles indeed. So back to the public General Plan meetings. Certainly after hearing how the public felt about what had become of their community, and what was expected from those creating the new documents, the obvious remedy would be to incorporate their concerns. After all, public opinion had been solicited, and what was said seems to have been fairly loud and clear. But apparently that is not to be the case. This from the same Pasadena Star News article we quoted from above:
While some residents want tougher rules to check the city's population growth by discouraging new housing development, state laws make such restrictions very difficult to implement, said Stephanie DeWolf, deputy director of planning and development ... The state requires cities to plan ahead for certain amount of population growth per year. Each city receives a state-recommended number of new homes and apartments it must build in the future in order to accommodate that growth, De Wolf said ... As a result, De Wold added, Pasadena's General Plan update likely will not be a document that mandates slow-growth policies.
In other words the fix is in, and what DeWolf is telling us here is a bit of a very familiar cop out. Blaming state law for a lack of desire to contest RHNA numbers being pretty much the oldest trick in that book. We heard similar arguments put out here in Sierra Madre during the run up to the DSP/Measure V election, and somehow the world didn't end when it passed. Plus we have successfully contested RHNA numbers since, and quite successfully. And as far as I know nobody has sent in the National Guard.
Just because something is the legislated will of Sacramento doesn't mean abject surrender is the only recourse. Such things can be fought and, as we have seen in our town, with success.
Which is what City governments that represent those paying their salaries should be expected to do.