Joe’s First Council Meeting as Mayor Is Busy, Contentious

Bob Joe takes the oath of office as South Pasadena’s new mayor on Wednesday night. Photo by Skye Hannah

On the night Bob Joe took the oath of office for his second stint as South Pasadena’s mayor and presided over his first meeting (a busy one), the City Council on Wednesday unanimously passed an urgency ordinance on accessory dwelling units, or ADUs.

The council also approved, by a 4-1 vote, the contentious appointment of resident Lisa Padilla to the Planning Commission.

The urgency ordinance allows for the city to come into compliance with state requirements before Jan. 1, allowing the city to maintain some local control over the development of ADUs, according to Manager of Long Range Planning and Economic Development Margaret Lin.

ADUs, also known as secondary units or granny flats, serve as secondary dwelling units on the same lot as the primary dwelling that homeowners can build and rent out. On Oct. 9, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed several bills meant to reduce barriers to the construction of ADUs and address the state’s housing crisis. They go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

The three primary bills are Assembly Bills 68 and 881 and Senate Bill 13.

AB 68 allows for homeowners of single-family homes who apply to build ADUs to also build a second, “junior” ADUs on their property. Effectively, it acts as a de facto ban statewide on single-family zoning. AB 881 prohibits owner-occupancy requirements for ADUs, such as the owner of the property being required to live in either the main home or the ADU. SB 13 is a combination of AB 68 and AB 881.

The council’s ordinance prohibits the city from imposing requirements on minimum lot size (the  existing requirement was 12,500 square feet or larger); says ADUs can be installed on properties with single- or multi-family residences within residential or mixed-use zones (the existing requirement allowed only properties with single-family residences within residential zones); and that the city will be prohibited from denying ADUs with 16-foot heights or 4-foot side and rear yard setbacks. Minor amendments were made during the meeting that included tweaking the language in regard to the floor area.

In public comments for the approval of city commission appointments, residents Stephen Rossi and Anne Bagasao shared conflict-of-interest concerns with the consideration of Padilla being appointed to the Planning Commission. Padilla serves as principal and owner of Cityworks Design, an L.A.-based firm specializing in urban design and architecture with a focus on public realm and transportation projects. In her work, Padilla has served PlaceWorks Inc., an L.A.-based urban planning department, as a client.

In April, the City Council unanimously voted to award a $128,733 contract to PlaceWorks, Inc., in order to complete the General Plan update and Downtown Specific Plan. Rangwala Associates was initially hired to update the plans in 2016.

“Through her company Cityworks Design, Ms. Padilla has had numerous interactions with PlaceWorks as her direct customer,” Rossi told the council. “As you may recall, PlaceWorks is the consulting firm that was hired under somewhat questionable circumstances to take over the work that had already been under contract for Rangwala.”

“Given Ms. Padilla’s client-customer relationship with PlaceWorks, it would be wholly inappropriate for Ms. Padilla to participate in any discussions where PlaceWorks was serving as the consultant to the city, which would force her to recuse herself from all conversations regarding the general or site specific plans,” Rossi added.

Bagasao said she echoed Rossi’s comments and said there were “plenty of qualified and committed longstanding residents who also volunteered to be on this commission” that would make for better choices. 

“Therefore I think that perhaps there would have been another choice that wouldn’t have raised as many eyebrows in the community,” said Bagasao. “At a time, if I’m being completely honest, when the City Council and the city government is under an unprecedented amount of scrutiny from the community, it’s just interesting to me that that would be the choice and you  wouldn’t think we’d be here tonight to comment on it.”

In response, Council Member Michael Cacciotti agreed with their comments.

“I think they’re legitimate concerns,” said Cacciotti. “Maybe we can rethink it and talk to the residents and see if we can resolve it.”

Cacciotti made a motion to approve all commission appointments, save for Padilla, which was seconded by Council Member Richard Schneider.

Mayor Bob Joe said that he vetted Padilla for the position and didn’t “see any cause right now for saying no” to the appointment. He said that work Padilla did with PlaceWorks was around two years ago and it was not connected to South Pasadena.

“If there is a conflict, just like any other architect that we have where’s there’s planning or … design review, they would generally recuse themselves and I would expect the same,” said Joe.

“I just don’t see why we need to have her not be considered as a commissioner because everyone has said she’s qualified and we’re trying to find some way that she’s not qualified?” said Joe. “I can’t do that to all our commissions that we look at, so why are we looking at this one and being particular, I hate to use the word, but picking on her?”

Mayor Pro Tem Diana Mahmud said that she could find no existing conflict of interest that would make Padilla ineligible and that all commissions would soon be reviewing conflict of interest documents to educate them on compliance.

Padilla’s appointment passed 4-1 with Cacciotti voting against.