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SPHS Seniors Say Goodbye

There was a sense of sadness throughout the South Pasadena High School campus last Friday as students learned about the passing of the school’s longtime English teacher James Asher. The announcement fell on the same day as the annual Farewell Assembly, when seniors gather with the student body one last time. The event inside the school’s gymnasium featured performances from the pep squad, recognition of retiring teachers, and singing of the alma mater. The assembly was dedicated in memory of Jim Asher. The South Pasadena High School graduation ceremony is scheduled to begin Friday, June 9 at 5 p.m. Above, at the conclusion of the assembly, black and orange balloons fell on the seniors. Photo by Bill Glazier

For more Farewell Assembly photos, see page 12 of the June 9 edition of the South Pasadena Review!  

Phase One of Measure SP Bond Construction Projects Set to Begin

South Pasadena Unified School District construction projects paid for by the Measure SP Bond are set to begin later this month.

The inaugural renovation project at Marengo Elementary School, slated to begin June 12, includes a complete replacement of the shingle roofing – a need identified by an assessment and exacerbated by conditions experienced during recent rainstorms – and new HVAC units for the single-story buildings. The project kicks off the first of four phases of construction to be completed over the next 10 years as part of Measure SP.

“With the start of Measure SP construction, the community will begin seeing the future of South Pasadena schools,” said SPUSD Superintendent Geoff Yantz. “Through extensive planning and research, we have identified facility projects that will meet the instructional needs of our students and will ensure that we are providing safe environments for 21st century learning and community use. We’re very excited about what’s in store for our students, their families and our staff.”

District officials say bond projects that begin during phase one should be complete by the end of 2020. In addition to the roofing and HVAC projects at Marengo, South Pasadena High School (SPHS) likely will see ground break on a new math and science building, with construction slated to begin in the winter of 2017.

The SPHS athletic and physical education complex also will be renovated during phase one with a new gymnasium floor, new gymnasium bleachers, outdoor/visitor-side bleachers, locker rooms, and new LED stadium lights. Included as part of these upgrades will be a new physical therapy/training room that will be used for the sports medicine program.

At South Pasadena Middle School (SPMS), the community will see construction of a field and hard court project starting in January of 2018. Designed for school and community use, the conceptual layout includes new tennis and basketball courts, a turf soccer field with cork infill and an asphalt running track around the perimeter, along with a new hard court play area and expanded grass field. The construction timeline is designed to move quickly so that the community at-large may begin to use the new facilities as soon as possible – likely by the summer of 2018.

Near the beginning of 2019, construction work on the SPMS old gym will begin. Community input and research drove the decision to repurpose the old gymnasium but keep the exterior intact. The interior space will be transformed into a visual and performing arts space along with a lab for the school’s robotics program. Lending planning foresight and artistic expertise, the South Pasadena District Arts Committee has been and will continue to be involved in the planning of instructional spaces within this new building. This project is expected to continue through 2019 with students beginning to use the space near the end of that year.

The planning process for all school construction projects requires approval from the Division of the State Architect (DSA) within the Department of General Services. This organization grants approvals to projects under its jurisdiction by looking at Title 24 compliance as well as requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, structural analysis, and environmental standards. DSA’s oversight for structural safety of school facilities is governed by the provisions of the Field Act contained in the California Education Code sections 17280, et. seq. for K-12. The District is working with SVA Architects on all planning and Balfour Beatty as construction manager for its bond projects.

Phases two, three and four of the Measure SP Bond construction will begin near the end of 2019, continue into 2025, and include major preservation and restoration of the historic middle school auditorium, replacement of all portable classrooms at the elementary schools and renovation of the District office. The SPHS auditorium building will be renovated with new lighting, sound equipment and air conditioning among other projects.

South Pasadena voters passed Measure SP in November 2016 by a three-to-one margin. The measure provides funds for campus improvements at all five of SPUSD’s schools.

SPPD Catch Vehicle Burglary Suspects In Alhmabra

South Pasadena Police Department issued a news release on Sunday, June 4 to notify the public that officers responded to a multi-unit apartment underground parking structure for two vehicle burglary investigations on the 100 block of Monterey Road on the morning of Saturday, June 3.

“The burglaries were found to have occurred during the early morning hours. Video surveillance was able to capture the suspect taking property from one of the victim’s vehicles and attempting to destroy other video cameras in the structure. Additional evidence was discovered, which led to a residence in Alhambra,” explained the news release.

Officers located the suspect vehicle, as well as the suspect, in Alhambra. Ryan Millard, 32, of Alhambra, was arrested for burglary, possession of burglary tools and vandalism. During the investigation, a third victim was also discovered.

Anyone with any additional information about this case may contact SPPD Detectives at 626-403-7280.

South Pasadena High School English Teacher James Asher Passes Away

Beloved longtime South Pasadena High School English teacher James Asher passed away Thursday night after being hospitalized earlier in the week.

The upsetting news swept across campus on a morning when emotions were already running high, as the school prepared to say goodbye to the class of 2017 at its annual Farewell Assembly.

2017-18 SPHS Commissioner of Assemblies Anders Keith and 2016-17 Commissioner Charlotte Emerson spoke to the crowd of students and teachers about Mr. Asher as the assembly was just beginning. “Mr. Asher was easily one of the kindest people on campus…He cared about teaching, but more than that he cared about his students. He cared about their intellectual journey and their personal growth. His bright smile and contagious spirit were not only influential to students, but also to teachers. The essence of Mr. Asher is uplifting,” said Keith, before asking for a moment of silence in Mr. Asher’s honor.

South Pasadena Principal Janet Anderson explained that Asher was hospitalized on Sunday, May 28. He had suffered a heart attack and was in a coma before passing away on June 1.

“It is with much sadness that we share information about the passing of our beloved teacher, faculty member, colleague, coach and friend Jim Asher,” said Anderson. “For 17 years, we have been honored to work alongside Jim in his role as high school English teacher and department chair.”

When news began to spread around campus last Friday morning about Asher’s death, Anderson met with his current students in the school’s library. Some, including senior Thomas Huff, found quiet corners of the campus, to grieve Asher’s loss. “It’s tough to hear about it because he seemed to enjoy life more than anyone. Losing someone who had such a huge influence on those at the school is terrible to see.”

Fellow senior Halie Muro said she will miss how Asher would interact with all students on campus. “He would give them words of wisdom,” she said, “and encouraged them to never give up and push on when you graduate. He always had a smile.”

Senior Sophia Lopez, who was in Asher’s AP literature class, said he had a “pure soul, so friendly, so nice. It’s a shame to see him leave, but he will be in our hearts forever. I just loved seeing him every day, and how passionate he was for teaching. He would compose his own music and share it with us. Mr. Asher is going to be deeply missed.”

The announcement of Asher’s death came as the school was preparing to present its annual Farewell Assembly, a school-wide celebration to honor the accomplishments of seniors as they look ahead to graduation day. “With the sad news, students quickly and skillfully changed their agenda for the day’s scheduled Farewell Assembly to include moving and impactful tributes to Mr. Asher,” said Anderson. “It allowed us all a time to come together as a school family to acknowledge our great loss.”

Anderson said she would be sharing more information about Asher with parents in the coming days. The principal added that counseling support is available to all students and staff at the high school.

Asher was serving as English department chair this year and taught AP Literature and English language development. His impact on SPHS, however, was felt far beyond his classroom. He coached tennis at the high school, wrote musicals that he shared with students and performed as a singer.

SPHS junior Brandon Yung didn’t know Asher personally, but heard from other students that “he was deeply involved in the community and a very dedicated teacher.”

Michael Gonzales, a graduate of South Pasadena High who now coaches water polo and is an interim teacher at the school, called Asher “one of the most generous, kind-hearted, warmest faculty members that I had. I always looked forward to walking into his classroom, not so much because of the class, but because of who Mr. Asher was. He was one of the most approachable people I ever met, both as a student and as a colleague. He was one of the first people who greeted me when I came back to South Pasadena High, both as a coach and substitute teacher.”

‘Booster Club’ Grabs Spotlight for City’s Entry in Rose Parade

Zooming down the roadway, a car full of animals is off to a tailgate party as depicted in South Pasadena’s entry in the 2018 Tournament of Roses Parade.

Officials from the organization unveiled the new artwork this week as volunteers begin constructing what they hope will be another masterpiece in the long line of floats.

The theme of the New Year’s Day spectacle down Colorado Boulevard’s 5-1/2 mile route is “Making a Difference,” said Janet Benjamin, president of the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association.

Fittingly, “Booster Club,” the name of the city’s float, “fits the overall theme well,” she said.

“Who makes more of a difference in a kid’s life than the Booster Club?” Benjamin asked.

Inside the classic vehicle are a lion, tiger, ostrich and a giraffe. A trailer, containing all the ingredients for a tailgate party, is hitched to the car. “Of course, we had to put a tiger in there because we are the home of the tigers,” said a smiling Benjamin.

Always colorfully decorated, the body of the vehicle on the city’s newest float is going to be covered in roses, with kidney beans used on the fenders. Melaleuca bark, and eucalyptus, silver leaf and a variety of other flowers and natural products will be use to complete the task.

Not hiding her enthusiasm, Benjamin said, “The roses on the car are going to be spectacular!”

“Buddy Bench” Introduced at Monterey Hills Elementary

South Pasadena High School junior Ashton Carless unveiled his Eagle Scout project, a “Buddy Bench” on which students can sit when they are feeling lonely, during an assembly at Monterey Hills on Friday, May 19. Introduced by fifth grade teacher Ron Millar, Carless described the bench to the audience of kids and teachers as “the place on your playground where you can find a friend and be a friend, an opportunity to be kind to others and receive kindness from others.”

If a kid is sitting on the “Buddy Bench,” other students know to include that kid, or to join on the bench. Carless included the Monterey Hills students in the project by constructing the bench according to a design that the students voted on. The bench has Monterey Hills printed on it in alternating letters of green and yellow, the school colors.

Carless was assisted in the process of building the bench by half a dozen friends and community members.

New Head Coach Preparing for 2017 Football Season

New head coach of the South Pasadena High School Football Team, Jeff Chi, knows what it will take for his Tigers to improve on the past two seasons. “There are a few things we haven’t overcome,” Chi said this week, “beating San Marino and Monrovia and getting out of the first round of playoffs.”

South Pasadena accumulated an impressive 15-5 record over the past two seasons under C.B. Richards, but during that time they also suffered big losses to Monrovia and San Marino, the two most dominant teams in the Rio Hondo League. After a 7-1 start to the 2016 season, the Tigers dropped their final three games, falling to the Wildcats and the Titans before ending the season with a 35-10 loss to Aquinas High School in San Bernardino in the CIF playoffs.

Entering his first summer as head coach, Chi has made increasing his players’ athleticism his number one priority. “My main focus right now is to improve our skill level, strength and conditioning. We want to make these guys complete athletes,” he said.

Chi, who also teaches math at the high school, played for the Tigers in the mid 80’s as a linebacker, running back and receiver. He has worked with the South Pasadena athletic program for around twenty-five years, helping the football program as a defensive coach and last season as an offensive coordinator.

The Tigers have pressing needs at their skill positions, where they have lost playmaking seniors at quarterback and running back. Jalen Ross, offensive and defensive threat, and quarterback Adam Arellano graduated, and their replacements are still competing for their positions. This, says Athletic Director Gregorio Luna, will be the biggest challenge for the team. “We’re very young at the skill positions, and no matter who it is, we will have a first year varsity quarterback starting,” said Luna, “that being said, we’re confident we can win every game on our schedule.”

The football season kicks off on August 8 at home against Rosemead. The Tigers beat the Panthers in an away game to kick off last season, 35-20.

710 Freeway Fighters Celebrate Metro Board’s Tunnel Decision

Interim City Manager Elaine Aguilar called it an “historic day” for South Pasadena, trumpeting the efforts of many residents and lawmakers who have been at the forefront of the decades-old fight against the 710 Freeway extension.

One of those, state Assemblyman Chris Holden, once called it “a misguided and obsolete solution” to a regional transportation issue. He believes the region will benefit more by making use of mass transit options over closing the 4.5-mile gap, just outside the Alhambra border at Valley Blvd. to the 210/134 interchange in Pasadena, with a freeway tunnel.

Locally, a unanimous vote by the Metro Board last week finally “puts an end to the tunnel,” said South Pasadena City Manager Elaine Aguilar, new on the scene since taking over just two weeks ago for the departing Sergio Gonzalez, who now holds the same position in the City of Hermosa Beach. “The tunnel would have had a devastating impact on our community.”

Instead of a tunnel, Metro officials want to allocate funds set aside for a freeway to construct multi-model projects that will “enhance mobility for the region,” she said. “It’s a combination of more bike lanes, light rail, making cities more walkable instead of a tunnel or freeway.”

Here’s what others had to say:

“I love seeing the reactions of my constituents when I tell them the 710 freeway is dead for good – shock, disbelief, then relief and joy as the news sinks in! I’m ecstatic that we can now feel safe to free up all that time and money to focus on our General Plan Update and invest in making our city safer, healthier, more sustainable for the upcoming future. It’s been a true privilege and honor for me to lead this effort, work closely with so many wonderful allies and leaders in our County, and to see the resoundingly successful outcome of our team effort. I believe that with this vote to move forward with a safer, healthier, feasible, community enhancing alternative, everyone in LA County wins! And that’s what this doctor ordered!

South Pasadena City Councilperson Marina Khubesrian

•••

“Finally, the decision makers have come to their senses. I would have liked it better if they had all realized that the extension was not a feasible transportation alternative, but at least they had the wherewithal to figure out the money.”

Former South Pas Mayor Harry Knapp

•••

“The Lord gave South Pasadena the strength and tenacity to conquer 710 Freeway. The first South Pasadena City Resolution was in 1947. It died in 2017. It took a while. We got a win. Thanks everybody.”

Waynna Kato

•••

“As a School Board member, I am thrilled about the LA Metro Board’s vote that puts the health of our community and our students first. I am glad that we can finally move #BeyondThe710 and pursue more environmentally sustainable transportation solutions for our community thanks to the efforts of many including the C3 Coalition, Beyond The 710 and the No 710 Action Committee. I want to give special thanks to our city council and particularly Councilmember Dr. Marina Khubesrian whose leadership was instrumental in bringing this to pass.”

School Board Member Suzie Abajian

•••

“Metro’s vote to drop the 710 tunnel alternative was a historic moment for the western San Gabriel Valley. With this action, all stakeholders in the region will be able to move forward in developing plans that will relieve traffic, connect communities, protect neighborhoods, promote smart growth, reduce air pollution and GHG emissions, and truly help people get to their jobs, schools, shopping and recreation.”

Former Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard  

•••

The first South Pasadena City Resolution opposing the 710 was passed in 1947 and so many have not stopped their efforts since that day. For those who are no longer with us–their efforts have ‘paved the way’ for this victory. We applaud your efforts!

Mary Urquhart

Search for the Missing Boy Returns to Arroyo Seco Park

Authorities, as of late Wednesday, have come up empty in the search for a 5-year-old South Pasadena boy who has been missing for more than a month.

Members of the LA County Sheriff’s Dept. were aided by a drone, canine and horseback units in conducting another massive search of Arroyo Seco Park in the city on May 18, a day after the mother of the boy pleaded for his safe return during an emotional press conference at the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles.

Sherriff’s Dept. officials are looking for Aramazd Andressian Jr., last seen on April 20 when he was with his father at Disneyland. During last week’s search they combed through brush, and uncovered metal plates in the Arroyo Seco wash, trying to find any signs of the youth after receiving what detectives described as a “credible tip.”

Aramazd Andressian Sr., the father of the boy, was found unconscious outside his BMW in the park during the early morning hours of April 22. A widespread search of the park was conducted that day as detectives looked for initial clues in the case.

Following the exhaustive 8-hour search in the local park last week, Sheriff’s Lead Investigator Lt. Joe Mendoza said it was “somewhat of a relief” the boy was not found, presuming he likely would have not been discovered alive after so much time has passed.

“It creates relief in our investigation,” said Mendoza, giving hope the boy is still alive and will be located.

More than 80 deputies and officers conducted a massive search of Arroyo Seco Park in South Pasadena late last week for a missing 5-year-old boy. Officials have been looking for the boy for longer than a month and used canines, horseback units, a drone and members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and local police to scour the area as they continue to look for Aramazd Andressian Jr., not seen since April 20 when he was picked up on cameras with his father in Disneyland. Authorities began the search in Arroyo Seco Park just before daylight on May 18, looking through tall brush and under metal plates. There is a $20,000 reward for information leading to finding the boy. Bill Glazier Photo

Sheriff’s officials aren’t even sure the boy was with his father on the day he was discovered in Arroyo Seco park laying next to his car. It was disclosed by police last week that the interior of the vehicle had been doused with gasoline and a rag was pushed into the car’s fuel tank when the father was found. Detectives also said the man had taken prescription drugs not belonging to him when he was found passed out.

At one point in the investigation, Andressian Sr. was arrested on suspicion of child endangerment and held on $10 million bail. However, he was released due to lack of evidence, according to court documents.

The mother of the boy has been going to different communities to hand out fliers containing information about her missing son, hoping someone will recognize him.

There are fears from the mother that Andressian Jr. has been taken out of the state and, perhaps, even the country. Andressian Sr. reportedly has relatives in Iran, Canada and Europe.

The couple, said to be going through a divorce, was scheduled to make a custody exchange on April 22. When that didn’t take place, the mother called police.

Authorities say they questioned Andressian Sr. at length after the boy was reported missing. Detectives say the man continued to change his story.

Meanwhile, the mother of the boy remains hopeful her son is alive and will return home. During Thursday’s press conference she sent a message to him through the news media. “Be brave honey. Know that mama and a lot of people are working very hard to bring you home.”

She calls her son’s disappearance “my worst nightmare. There are no words to describe how devastated and heartbroken I am. Although I don’t know of his whereabouts, I do believe he is alive, misses his family and desperately wants to come home.”

The case has taken investigators not only to South Pasadena, but to Disneyland and to Cachuma Lake in Santa Barbara Country, where divers went into water with hopes of finding the boy.

“I know the Sheriff’s Department along with South Pasadena detectives have been working very hard on this case,” said South Pasadena Police Chief Art Miller. “What’s frustrating is the father has not come forward with any information, and the mother has. She has been very diligent with staying in touch with the Sheriff’s Department. The father has basically gone underground and not provided us with any information. That’s concerning. He needs to be out helping us find his boy if he doesn’t know where he’s at.”

Watching the mother make a plea for her son’s safe recovery last week left “a lump in my throat,” said Miller. “It is heart wrenching. I can’t even imagine what she’s going through.”

There was an initial $10,000 reward for information leading to the discovery of the youth, but last week it was increased to $20,000. Family members of the youth have launched a GoFundMe account as a means to increase the reward for the missing boy.