• Planning Commission Approves Majority of Huntington Expansion

    by Mitch Lehman

    Perhaps the first million dollars or so of the Huntington Library’s proposed  $60 million education and visitor’s center project would be best spent funding improvements to their namesake middle school auditorium. That thought couldn’t have been far from the minds of two hundred or so of the project’s stakeholders who shivered in the cold of the Kenneth F. White Auditorium on Tuesday night while the merits and shortcomings of the project were volleyed back and forth like a tennis match on the school’s well-lit courts.

    And following three hours and nineteen minutes of debate – roughly the amount of time it takes to watch a college football game – the San Marino Planning Commission green-lighted the vast majority of the ambitious expansion, that will increase the institution’s above-ground footprint by 43,000 sq. ft. (and miles underneath it).

    As approved by the Planning Commission, the matter must still pass through the San Marino City Council – possibly at a meeting in January, according to Senior Planner Aldo Cervantes, who facilitated the meeting – for code amendments and certification of the two environmental impact reports. If the Planning Commission’s decision is appealed, the council will hear the entire matter.

    Planning Commissioner Howard Brody, one of the five members of the citizen panel, requested clarification of an ordinance which would change the manner in which attendance is taken at The Huntington. Currently, the institution is capped at 4,200 visitors for any given day. The Huntington wanted that method changed to a total of 2,950 vehicles per day which are allowed to enter the grounds. Brody said ‘not so fast, my friend.’

    Brody said the ordinance should either limit the count to [2,950] passenger vehicles or maintain the current visitor limit of 4,200, claiming that a large number of busses could  greatly surpass the figure. The Planning Commission unanimously approved the project, but elected to set aside the ordinance that would change the attendance-taking procedures.

    Randy Schulman, a member of The Huntington’s staff informed the assemblage that between three and seven busses per day shuttle patrons to and fro, then amended that number to “up to fifteen.”

    The favorable decision didn’t come without a substantial sampling of dissent. Eleven individuals pulled a public appearance card and stated their dismay at the project, including Terry Tornek, Pasadena District 7 City Council member, who called the EIR “deficient” and said that traffic studies were “fundamentally flawed.”

    “And unlimited filming [at The Huntington]? No! The Huntington does not need to become the backlot for some studio. I compel the world-class Huntington to become a world-class neighbor.”

    San Marino resident Moses Yu provided plenty of fireworks to the proceedings as he consistently reminded the commission with a raised wristwatch when he felt proponents of the project had exceeded their time limit for public comments. He called one speaker “brainwashed” and claimed another was “paid by The Huntington”

    When it was his turn to speak, Yu decried the “diapers beer cans and people [urinating]” on his yard, which adjoins The Huntington. Yu 9presumably) accidentally knocked over a large sketch that was perched on a tripod in front of the White Auditorium stage, pulled apart his jacket to display a bright red t-shirt that was (presumably) emblazoned with an anti-expansion slogan, then burst into song as he exited, stage left, encouraging San Marino residents to mount a “Boston Tea Party” campaign against The Huntington.

    “Come on! We can do it,” he cried.

    Yu’s antics at least provided three minutes for one’s mind to stray from  the inevitable onset of frostbite.

    Attorney Fred Gaines, representing a citizen group called Concerned Residents, challenged the mathematics involved in quantifying the attendance standards.

    “Why do you want to change it?” Gaines thundered of using the vehicle cap in lieu of straight attendance figures. “Why not have both? You say there is an average of two per vehicle and you will allow 2,950 vehicles? That’s almost 6,000 people. That’s why they want the vehicle cap and not the attendance cap.”

    Other factors include requiring a conditional use permit for larger film shoots;  increasing public hours from 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. to 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.; increasing hours for private events to 7:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.; allowing private events to end at 12:00 midnight four times a year and allowing The Huntington to exceed the time and attendance  restrictions twelve times a year.

    “We have been very anxious to make sure the process is the proper process and the city and Huntington have worked very hard to see that everyone who wants a voice has  a voice,” Steve Koblik, President of The Huntington, told The Tribune yesterday morning. “The Planning Commission hearings have advanced in this manner and we will continue to see that the process works democratically and appropriately. We are following the leadership of the city all the way. My understanding is the Planning Commission is looking at an ordinance and that will go to the city council for approval. We are following the city’s lead in this.”

    Cervantes said the city had not yet received an appeal “and of course, it has only been a few hours since the meeting,” he added. “The next step  is to go back to the Planning Commission and study a resolution of findings for the variances.

    Cervantes said a meeting date is “still up in the air,” but predicted a “special meeting in December just to deal with those resolutions.”

    The project had many supporters in the audience, fifteen of whom by unofficial count stated their assent.

    “I have never heard The Huntington blames for so many things,” said a bemused Victoria Williamson. “This is a beautiful addition. Most of the traffic that goes down Allen is taking a shortcut to Huntington Drive, not going into the Huntington Library.”

    “When you live near a culturally relevant center, you should know that things will be busy,” said Susan Chandler. “We are all neighbors.”

    Judith Carter told the audience she lived near the San Marino High School  rebuilding and “it was worth a little inconveniencing.”

    Obviously, it’s a project many like her could warm up to.

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