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In Spite of Mayor’s Concerns, Mall Apartment Project Passes PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mike Terry, Sun Contributing Writer   
Thursday, 17 July 2014 01:26

M. Terry / SFVS

A proposed four-story building to be built in the downtown San Fernando Mall, for both commercial and residential use, passed a second reading at the July 7 San Fernando City Council meeting, granting final approval.

But that doesn’t mean everyone was happy.

“I don’t want San Fernando to become the ‘low-income city’ in the Valley,” said Mayor Sylvia Ballin. “I’m very, very concerned, and I think we have to become strategic in how we move forward with any more low-income projects.”

The estimated $20 million project is to be developed by Aszkenazy Development, Inc. Aszkenazy (which owns and publishes the San Fernando Sun/El Sol) seeks to build a structure where three floors contain 101 residential onebedroom units designated to low-income households. The apartment rent would be an estimated $900 a month.

The JC Penney front facade would remain as a historic resource. The rest of the building would be demolished and rebuilt. The developer would reduce the commercial space from 75,000 square feet to 18,640 square feet and it would be the first floor. There would be 113 parking spaces, 82 of them built in a subterranean garage structure.

Ballin pointed out the short time given the City staff, residents, and the council to review and analyze the project. Ballin didn’t attend the first reading at a special council meeting on June 25 because of family plans she could not change.

The other council members — Mayor Pro Tem Robert Gonzales, Antonio Lopez, Jesse Avila and Joel Fajardo — were in attendance on June 25 and approved the first reading.

“I wasn’t here at the special meeting and many residents were upset with me for not being at an important meeting. However, it was scheduled at the very last minute, and I had plans; and changing those plans would have personally cost me a lot of money,” Ballin said. “And I really struggled with it because it was important; and I wanted to give it the importance that it certainly deserved.”

She then told City Community Developmental Director Fred Ramirez, “when we have ‘hot button’ issues, when we have very important issues to be placed on the agenda, in fairness to the city council you need to give us more lead time. That was a really bad week to hold that particular meeting. It’s far too important.”

Other concerns were voiced during the time alloted for public statements.

“I feel it was too fast — less than a month — to approve this project, especially when it is going to affect our mall,” Patty Lopez said. “I spoke with several people around the area, and no one knows about it. Yes you posted in the city and other areas, but you have to realize a lot of people have busy lives and to us and…we trust you’re gonna make the best decisions for our residents, not just one special person in the city.”

“I went down to the mall and questioned four merchants there,” said Robert Ortega. “They said nobody talked to them about it. Why is it we can destroy the building, and the dust is going to fly into their places and things like that, and nobody talks to them about it what’s going on in their neighborhood…. They live here, too. And these people should be told what’s happening here. And no one did.”

Ballin fired another volley at Ramirez and City Manager Brian Saeki.

So, I don’t know why it is a priority for us to continually have low-income housing, and from the spread sheet you showed me Fred, it looks like going forward we’re…going to expect more low-income housing. Why couldn’t this project be a moderate income project? Why did it have to be a lowincome project? I’m waiting for an answer.”

Saeki spoke to the speed at which the project was brought to the City Planning Commission and council for analysis and approval.

“Your question about timing and sort of the accelerated schedule — I would concur with you that we moved very quickly on the project,” Saeki said. “…. There was a notice of funding availability that came out and gave a very short window to have the project entitled. And I think that is more common than not when you talk about tax credit financing, and some of the federal and state funding.

“So basically we were faced with, could we get the project done and through the pipeline of planning commission and council, and a thorough staff review in a very short period of time. And unfortunately, the way that worked out, meetings had to happen back to back.”

Saeki said city officials “attempted to give the City Council and the Planning Commission the bulk of the information well in advance. And I think we gave probably 350 pages of the 400 pages 20-plus days ahead of the planning commission meeting, which was about 2-3 days ahead of the first city council meeting.” He conceded the amount of information “ was voluminous. And we will attempt to not put the City Council and Planning Commission in positions like that.”

Ramirez said city officials posted notices about the project and upcoming meetings within the legal time frame.

“We published the notice of intent in the Daily News. We also posted it on the buildings that make up the project site. We also sent out public notices to all property owners that were within 500 feet, both for the planning commission separately and the city council separately. The notice of intent, along with environmental document, was also recorded with the county 20 days prior as required by law,” Ramirez said.

Ballin would recuse herself when it came to a vote.

“I really feel, since I was not at the hearing, and I’m not happy at not being at the hearing and hope that doesn’t happen again in the future, that I will have to abstain from voting on this,” the mayor said. “I don’t think it would be fair to the developer and his company, and I don’t think it would be fair to the residents or the city council. So I’m just gonna abstain from this.”

The other council members approved the second reading.

The ordinance putting the project site under one specific zoning classification takes effect on Aug. 7. Once in place, Aszkenazy Development, Inc., can seek tax credit funding.

The conditions on the project requires developers to submit building permits within 24 months.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 17 July 2014 19:39