The Year in Review

The final demise in the 710 Freeway extension topped the list as the most important story for South Pasadena in 2018. The city had battled against the extension since 1947 until this year when it was finally defeated on all fronts. Photo by Kevork Kerdoghlian

As we approach the end of the year and look back on the stories that moved us as a community, the No. 1 event for South Pasadena has to be the final defeat of the 710 Freeway extension.

Former Mayor Richard D. Schneider said it was the largest development not only for 2018, but over the past 70 years.

“It is a tremendous victory for the city,” Schneider has said. “The city’s been fighting that since 1947. That’s 70 years and that’s a long time.”

In his final state-of-the-city address that he gave at a City Council meeting and during a ShopTalk speech in front of community leaders, Schneider estimated the city has spent more than $2 million just in legal fees alone fighting the 710 Freeway extension.

City officials say the fight to beat back the huge project was difficult beyond belief because a city of 25,000 residents was taking on a state of nearly 40 million people. A true “David vs. Goliath” battle, Schneider said. An exaggeration, perhaps, but city officials say the community came together as one to protect South Pasadena and eventually prevailed.

There were different iterations of the extension including the one that would have cut right through the center of town and eliminated a large portion of So Pas as it is known today. In fact, there are those who say that if the extension had gone through, So Pas would have been eliminated as a city.

There was a proposal of extending the freeway underground by way of a tunnel but again the city was in jeopardy.

The city stood up and fought back the proposals, saying traffic mitigation efforts could be accomplished by improving existing streets, on- and off-ramps and other local projects. The final state Environmental Impact Report agreed. And now there is legislation that will remove the 710 Freeway extension project all together from the state’s Streets and Highways Code, where it has been for the past 60 years. By doing that, lawmakers will be forced to reintroduce the extension by way of legislation, which everyone considers extremely unlikely.

It was the final nail in the coffin for one of the most controversial freeway projects ever proposed in the history of Los Angeles County.

“Most of the people in the city grew up with it or lived through it,” Schneider said. “It shows the spirit of activism in democracy can actually work when a small city stands up to the state and to the larger cities around it and eventually perseveres. As you know, they said, ‘oh well, these activists will get tired and go away. They’ll do other things and we’ll put the freeway through eventually.’ You have to hand it to our activists, and there are several generations of activists in certain families. We were able to persevere through that. So, that’s a big thing.”

A local group of citizens tried to repeal the city’s utility users tax at the ballot box but it was soundly defeated. Photo by Henk Friezer

After the 710 Freeway extension, the second most important story of 2018 is probably the defeat of a citizens’ group attempt to repeal the city’s utility users tax (UUT) at the ballot box this past November. The UUT translates to about $3.4 million of the city’s budget, about 12 percent, and pays for such services as police, fire, library, crossing guards, street and sidewalk repairs, to name just a few.

Those seeking the repeal said the city was spending money excessively and those fighting against the repeal said the money was required to keep So Pas stocked full of needed services. In any event, nearly 80 percent, 79.91 percent to be exact, voted the repeal down. If the repeal had been successful, city officials were predicting draconian cuts that would have severely undermined the quality of life in South Pasadena.

The city faces a renewal vote again of the UUT in 2020.

Right behind the UUT has to be the tragic officer-involved shooting that took the life of So Pas resident Vanessa Marquez over the summer, an extremely rare occurrence in this city.

Marquez was having mental challenges and police were called to provide a welfare check that turned confrontational after hours of interaction. Marquez apparently threatened the officers with a replica hand gun that turned out to be a BB gun and an OIS occurred.

An officer-involved-shooting occurred during summer. Photo by Steve Whitmore

The OIS is being investigated with the help of the local police by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Homicide Bureau, which is standard procedure. Investigations such as this one can take up to a year to complete. The Justice System Integrity Division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office also is conducting a separate investigation into the OIS. The Los Angeles County Coroner’s office also has a role in the probe because investigators there determine the cause of death, how many rounds struck the body and where. A final report will be prepared and the District Attorney’s Office will present its findings that will include whether the OIS was justified, among other things.

Of course, we can’t overlook the City Council and School Board elections, the former of which was held by districts instead of citywide for the first time in South Pasadena’s history. The council vote reinstated both incumbents, Michael Cacciotti and Diana Mahmud, while the School Board race had two newcomers elected, Dr. Ruby Kalra and Zahir Robb. Incumbent Michele Kipke was re-elected but incumbent Julie Giulioni lost. Robb and Dr. Kalra garnered more votes than anybody in the race.

Also, speaking of schools, the South Pasadena Unified School District (SPUSD) placed in the top five of K-12 school districts statewide in excellence based on the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) results.

Furthermore, 2018 saw the overwhelming passage of the seven-year extension of Measure S, the school bond measure that can only be used to protect the quality of education in the SPUSD, including preventing layoffs, class size increases and cuts to libraries, arts, music and classroom academics.

And we can’t forget the sports programs at the high school that witnessed the So Pas High School girls varsity soccer winning league and going deep into the CIF postseason, the new sport badminton finding its way into the champions circle with the high school team being crowned as CIF champions, among other notable victories.

There was, of course, the controversy over the water discoloration and they city’s reaction to the issue, the no-smoking ban that, in essence, makes it illegal to smoke anywhere in South Pasadena. And there is much more for sure.

Which brings us to this issue where we take stock of the year’s big events and stories.

What we’ve done here at The Review is that we’ve broken down the events over the past year that we believe are important by each month. We’ve taken each of the 12 months and highlighted those events that occurred during that month. We hope you agree with our take on the year-in-review and we wish everyone a Happy New Year.

Read more on this story in the print edition of The South Pasadena Review, 12.28.18 edition.