Community

Proposed TV Show, Mixed-Use Building Are Topics For City Council

The City Council delayed judgment of an appeal to a future date, in part to push the applicants to actually get input from a number of neighbors regarding a reality television series the applicants hope to film at a home.
In its meeting last week, the council also punted on an appeal for a mixed-use building proposed to be built along Mission Street, instead opting to schedule a de novo hearing at a later date. The city is expected to argue that the project should be denied because it could not pass a plan check in the event it was approved, at least as currently designed.
The four applicants for the denied filming permit — Rosemary Lay, Julie Chan Lin, Alice Shyu and Weni Wilson — are in the meantime tasked with revisiting a number of homes within a 500-foot radius of their own houses they deemed to be unoccupied in their initial surveys. Additionally, the city staff report indicated that they overlooked some required homes entirely in their initial surveying.
In asking that the applicants tie up the loose ends, Councilman Steve Talt also requested that they receive the green-light from the San Marino Unified School District, since the residents have children in the schools they will likely drop off and pick up during the course of filming. (Lin is a member of the SMUSD Board of Education.)
“I would think that having the consent of your immediate neighbors and the consent of the school is critical. Without that, I could not uphold the appeal,” Talt said. “But, not to just throw away the project and the effort that you’ve made, I’m willing to continue it to give you a further chance to fill in those” unanswered neighbors.
The appeal is actually regarding the denial of a second application for the filming, which is slated to formulate a pilot for a reality series chronicling some facets of the Asian-American experience in Southern California. The first application was denied by City Manager Marcella Marlowe’s office on Jan. 8, while the second attempt was again denied after being submitted on Feb. 22.
City policy dictates generally that 100% consent from neighbors within 500 feet of the locations is needed for approval, but Marlowe has the authority to waive the requirement. However, she said that historically has only happened at the Huntington Library, which is more than 500 feet from the nearest home, and otherwise she has not granted exceptions when there is “active neighborhood opposition” to the film shoot.
“This decision took into account the known active opposition from a neighbor, the fact that no proposed filming location even reached a 2/3 consent threshold (with two locations not even receiving 50% consent), and the fact that the applicants inexplicably simply ignored approximately 1/3 of the neighbors required by the City to be included,” the staff report read.
Carol Huang, a prospective cast member of the show, claimed that a number of homes in the radii were “empty” and suggested that they were either vacant or that their owners were moving out. However, Talt and others pushed back and suggested they try harder to get input from some of those homes they knew were certainly being lived in. The applicants’ homes are at 1725 Virginia Road, 1445 Cambridge Road, 912 Winston Avenue and 2103 Melville Drive.
One Cambridge Road neighbor, Alfonso Nava, urged the city reject the permit in a letter and claimed to have not been consulted about this “disruptive money making venture.” The content of his letter also provoked an emotional response from Huang and outrage from additional people for his writing “These people need to move to Beverly Hills where it” — the filming — “will be welcomed.”
“I can’t even express how deeply offensive and hurtful that was to read,” Huang said as she fought back tears. “It was implied that we are less-than, that we are not wanted in San Marino.”
Huang additionally took issue with a number of other letters against the filming permit, which were otherwise written by city residents outside of the applicable zones. She explained that a motivation for creating the series was to help showcase to younger Asian-Americans that their community had long held a role in the nation.
“Faces like mine and faces like the applicants’ need to be seen. We are not ‘these people,’” Huang said, making references to phrases used in the letters. “We are not ‘renters with different values that are not civil, hospitable or well-managed.’ We are not ‘selfish, driven by money.’ All of these were offensive labels and assumptions about us in the public comments that are on the city website.”
For their part, council members were sympathetic to the applicants in that the referenced comments were unnecessary and hurtful.
“It’s embarrassing, quite frankly,” Talt said.
“I know it is a public comment — free speech of course contains us — but I wanted to also offer my apology,” Councilwoman Gretchen Shepherd Romey said. “I don’t think those were appropriate comments to make.”
In other business, an appeal for a denied project to construct a new building at 2404 Mission Street, which would include two residential units and a commercial storefront, will return before the council for a de novo hearing. This will effectively restart debate on the project, which was at the time of its first Planning Commission hearing decried as too massive to fit into Mission Street, a dedicated commercial sector.
Rather than hearing the appeal, a de novo hearing will allow the city to introduce an evaluation by Fire Chief Mario Rueda that the project would not meet requirements for fire department access.
“We dove into that code section to determine that, due to the distance from the curb to the landlocked property that there could be fire code violations if this project were to carry forward,” Community Development Director Aldo Cervantes said. “As a result of this new discovery, staff is requesting a de novo to essentially make [this new information] part of the record.”
Normally, this would be determined during the plan check period, which starts once a project is approved. However, if this evaluation is brought into the record beforehand, it could give the council grounds to uphold the denial without having to dive into the subjective evaluation.
“The current proposed driveway, at least what I saw in the plans, would not be adequate,” Rueda said.

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