• Survey Says: Huntington Dr., Community Center Top San Marino Needs

    by Mitch Lehman

    After six months, thousands of electronic communications, two community open houses and a special meeting of the San Marino City Council, three long-term goals have finally emerged; Explore the feasibility of a community center and a plan for Stoneman School, improve the look and business climate on Huntington Drive and keep an eye on those storm drains.

    Such is the message residents delivered to community leaders following an online and print survey that was overseen by Cindy Collins, former assistant city manager, who acted as a consultant, and discussed by the city council and staff members present at a meeting late last month in the multi-purpose room of Stoneman School.

    When all is said and done, however, the directive to community leaders was strikingly similar to the contents of an exhaustive General Plan that was filed by a community panel with the city council on October 8, 2003 only to be – apparently – ignored. Collins told The Tribune that similar treatment won’t happen this time.

    “This is a strategic plan for the city,” said Collins. “In other cities where I have worked, these have gone on the shelf and nobody pays attention. This is built-in to being addressed every month here in San Marino. The strategic plan has both short-term and long-term goals. At the council’s study session on the last Friday of every month, these items will be consistently discussed. This will help keep the document alive and keep the city council focused.”

    Among the data cultivated from nine hundred responses and almost eight hundred remarks – “a huge ratio,” according to Collins;

    *Of the city’s eight departments, five – Recreation, Library, Police, Fire and Parks & Public Works – were graded as “meeting expectations.”

    Three did not, as City Administration, City Council and Planning & Building all received marks of unsatisfactory.

    “From the comments we received, there appears to be a little bit of confusion between what residents feel  falls under the city’s responsibility and what falls under the school district’s responsibility,” said Collins. “As far as Planning & Building is concerned, there seems to be a feeling that there is inconsistency within the department.”

    *Responses about Huntington Drive were “overwhelming,” Collins said. “The community wants something done with Huntington Drive,” she told The Tribune.

    In separate conversations, city council members Richard Sun and Allan Yung have expressed a desire to study the possibility of bringing mixed-use developments into San Marino, which would feature commercial properties at street level with housing located on subsequent floors. Sun said this arrangement would help the community on two fronts; better business space and increased housing to assist the school district in meeting enrollment numbers, while Yung stressed that city leaders should explore such options with a keen eye on city values.

    *San Marino is being demographically pulled from two different directions. Almost 44% of our households have children under the age of 18 (compared with a state average of 30%) while 16% of residents are above the age of 65 – compared against 10% statewide.

    “The city needs to prepare for the future,” said Collins. “We have a larger than normal aging population and a larger than usual younger population. This brings to the fore an increased need for recreation facilities and programs to meet these two specific age groups.”

    The council briefly acknowledged a desire to study possibilities at two different locations; the site of the San Marino Center, near the Crowell Public Library and Huntington Middle School; or Stoneman, which the city purchased from the school district in 2011 for $6 million. Over the past decade, both the school district and city have commissioned studies to explore the cost and feasibility of gymnasiums, swimming pools, workout rooms and banquet facilities at both locations though nothing has made it past the drawing board.

    *Collins said that the storm drain issue had been addressed in a committee and should be studied by city staff in a collegial manner with other cities and councils of governments who use the chain of tunnels.

    The meeting almost suffered launch failure as the city council spent the first half hour or so debating the definition of long-term goals versus short-term goals. City Councilman Dennis Kneier brought his own two-page addendum to the gathering that highlighted city improvements. He also downplayed the community survey model.

    “We would never have a Rotary clock, a mural or a war memorial in this city if people didn’t have visions,” said Kneier. “That is what a city council is for – to see things that aren’t there. You could do a survey for a hundred years and nobody would do anything.”

    Richard Sun held up a copy of the survey summary and said “this is what the council should be focusing on. The community input.”

    Collins hosted two open houses earlier in the year to discuss the survey. “About a hundred” residents showed up for the community meeting while twenty materialized for the seminar held with members of the business community.

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