Two days after a vocal challenger got more than twice the votes of the incumbent mayor, residents weighed in on the controversial redevelopment plan that took center stage in the run-up to Tuesday’s election.
Past meetings dealing with the plan were standing-room-only, with dozens of residents expressing their outrage over its potential drawbacks. Thursday, about 50 showed up, and though a smaller crowd, residents were just as vocal.
Mayor-elect Dan Calabria had spent his campaign decrying a proposal to transform congested South Pasadena Avenue into a mixed-use corridor. Even though the most controversial measure – a lane reduction – was removed before Thursday’s meeting, Calabria said he was still against the plan.
“I don’t remember the overwhelming demand among the residents that this be done at all,” he said.
The lane reduction, which would have needed state Department of Transportation approval, would have cut lanes from six to four on a mile-long stretch of that road. The leftover road space would have been separated from car traffic and served as pedestrian lanes.
Supporters had said the plan would enhance walkability and that the new Bayway Bridge, once finished, would ease traffic. But residents came out in full force against the idea, commonly known as “lane dieting.”
“From the response that we got from the residents, it was apparent that any thought of going down from six lanes to four was a major issue,” said city commissioner Arthur Penny before the meeting.
To some residents, that change wasn’t enough. Tense arguments broke out several times during the meeting, where more than a dozen people spoke against the revised plan.
“I don’t think too many people have a lot of confidence in this since it started out with a lane reduction,” said resident Charles Scott.
Incumbent Mayor Larry Crowley chaired the meeting, which was held to get public input on building height limits. Arguments flared up several times, and contention was at its most tense when Calabria and other opponents of the plan suggested members of the commission had ties to developers.
“Money always trumps people,” said resident Terry McNally.
The rest of the commissioners, each of whom will stay on after Calabria is sworn into office next week, took exception to accusations of ties with developers.
“I have absolutely no agenda, whatsoever,” said Max Elson, visibly offended by the suggestion.
The panel tried to calm the tone of the meeting several times by saying there were no specifics addressed in the concept.
“We were talking about hypothetical situations,” Crowley said.
Crowley lost his bid for mayor to Calabria by a large margin, about 67 to 33 percent. His campaign was significantly less aggressive than Calabria’s, but he attributed his loss largely to the controversial redevelopment concept he and a majority on the council appear to support.
While commissioners did not take any votes, they got an earful they said they would factor into the final draft of the plan, which the commission is supposed to approve on April 9. If not, state law would require them to start the process from scratch.
The city of South Pasadena does not have a strong mayor form of government. As mayor, Calabria will have just one vote out of five on the commission, with no veto power. Penny said he hopes that despite the rough start, he hopes an environment of compromise will prevail.
“In our form of government, for anyone to try to get something going their way, it’s all about personality and how they interact with the people around them,” he said.