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Aldo Cervantes

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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.

Third-party food delivery vendors will be limited in how much they can charge San Marino restaurants for their service, but likely not until March.
That’s the upshot of a 3-2 vote by the San Marino City Council last week on a proposed urgency ordinance. Such an ordinance requires at least four votes for immediate implementation, so instead the policy will go into effect after the usual second reading of the ordinance and a 30-day grace period.

Photo by Mitch Lehman / TRIBUNE
A cell tower located in a maintenance yard adjoining Valentine Elementary and Huntington Middle schools has been deactivated.

For the first time since 2004, residents of San Marino are without the services of two cell towers that were the source of controversy because of their placement on school district property.
One of the monopine towers, so named because they were designed to resemble pine trees, is located in a maintenance yard adjoining Valentine Elementary and Huntington Middle schools, and the other was at San Marino High School.
The towers were deactivated in November, according to Aldo Cervantes, San Marino’s director of community development. The 70-foot tower at SMHS has been removed altogether; it was owned by American Tower. The 60-foot Verizon tower at Valentine and Huntington is still standing, but all of its hardware has been removed and power has been disconnected, rendering it useless. Coverage from the tower formerly at SMHS will be handled by a new mast located in Los Angeles County, and the other tower was replaced with a new rooftop antenna at 2290 Huntington Drive.
The San Marino Unified School District was paid $1,000 per month for each tower,
The towers elicited opposition from dozens of residents. The station at the high school was located directly atop the Raymond Fault and never received proper permits. It was also within the fall radius of the gymnasium at SMHS. In 2018, a large sinkhole developed just a few yards away from the cell tower, causing the temporary closure of an access road that runs directly behind the gym.

Residents got a crash course this week on how the city prepares its mandated housing element, a document required every eight years that proves that the municipality could, in theory, add a certain number of residences.
The virtual town hall meeting convened Monday by the city focused on the element — one of seven sections of the city’s General Plan — and what it meant for the city to be assigned an additional 399 residential units by 2029 through the Regional Housing Needs Allocation. City officials have begun preparing the new element, which unlike other parts of General Plans must be updated every eight years.

When a group of San Marino business proprietors was formed late last year to help foster economic development, women were a major presence in its ranks.
More recently, that group’s comprehensive list of businesses and their contact information further illustrated women’s significance in the community’s commercial establishment. According to the Economic Development Team, nearly half — 45% — of San Marino’s shops and eateries are owned by women, a statistic well exceeding the state and national figure. This has crystallized into the formation of the Women’s Business Club in San Marino.
“It was one of those ‘aha’ moments,” said Corina Madilian, who owns both Single Stone and Serafina on Mission Street. “We never really stopped to think about the fact that there are so many women-owned businesses in the area. It’s great to know, and we thought it would be a good idea for us to form a group to provide support to one another.”

Photo by Mitch Lehman / TRIBUNE
The City Council is exploring the feasibility of renovating the San Marino Center, which was completed in 1952 as the clubhouse for the San Marino Woman’s Club.

The city continues to invite residents to weigh in on how they might refashion the San Marino Center, amid plans to offer a first look at a rendering on Sept. 9.
Residents will get two cracks at public input on Monday, Aug. 24 — a Crowell Public Library Board of Trustees meeting at 7:30 a.m. and a 6 p.m. town hall meeting — and also will have a chance to offer opinions at the San Marino Planning Commission meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 26. Parks and Public Works Director Michael Throne, Planning and Building Director Aldo Cervantes and other city officials will be on hand to take questions and comments, alongside representatives from Crane Architectural Group, which is working on the design for the proposed remodel.

San Marino now has five residents who have confirmed COVID-19 diagnoses, according to a report from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, four more than one week ago.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in strict guidelines against public or private congregation, known as “Safer at Home,” and has shut down all schools and businesses except those considered “essential” in order to contain its spread. The disease, which is caused by a novel coronavirus that emerged in November, currently has no cure or vaccine and is responsible for 198 deaths in Los Angeles County, according to data released on Wednesday. The report also stated that there are 7,530 verified cases in the county.

Aldo Cervantes, director of the Planning and Building Department, presents the city’s plans for economic development at a monthly Town Hall meeting which was held at the Crowell Public Library on Nov. 4. Photo by Skye Hannah

San Marino is looking to attract more “small mom and pop type businesses” to the city’s commercial landscape in its economic development plan, according to officials at Monday’s Town Hall meeting at the Crowell Public Library.

This month’s meeting focus was economic development, led by Planning and Building Director Aldo Cervantes and Administrative Analyst Stephanie Britt. Economic development is one of the council-approved priority initiatives for this fiscal year. In the presentation to around 10 residents, Cervantes quoted Jeff Finkle, president and CEO of the International Economic Development Council, that “economic development is about creating places where people want to invest, work and live. It’s about making connections between people, companies, institutions and communities.”

Cervantes noted that helping craft the commercial districts along Mission Street and Huntington Drive into more walkable and welcoming districts is a focus of the plan, along with locating businesses in a strategic manner.

“The goal here with our program and process is really to capture a lot of the small mom and pop type businesses, a lot of the up-and-coming business that want to expand and open up a second location,” said Cervantes. “Along the way, we’re looking to introduce a lot of anchor stores which will help the small businesses flourish in our community.”

Britt shared that the city utilized a third party to research analytics of the city in order to provide insight to interested businesses. The three “key indicators” of San Marino noted for business owners was the city’s average age of 44.2, average household income of $227,011 and 57.1 percent having a college degree. Los Angeles County was noted as an average age of 38.5, average household income of $94,095 with 34 percent of its residents having earned a college degree.

Cervantes also touched on incentive programs being considered for commercial districts, including façade improvement programs, streamlining the paperwork process for new businesses and waving fees for conditional use permits and variance applications. He noted a growing trend in “mess-hall market type places” where multiple unrelated businesses are gathered, such as a market, boutique clothing store and coffee shop under one roof.

“Retail is not dead, but boring retail is,” said Cervantes. “The brick-and-mortar business solution to e-commerce is really reinventing the whole sense of place, as well as creating a sense of experience for the consumer.”

The city will be working with business and property owners to aid in the formation of “healthy relationships,” according to Britt.

“The role of City Hall is going to be mediation, helping them to start a dialogue, making sure they understand each other, what their needs are in order to serve the community in the best way possible,” said Britt.

City staff also has made it easier for residents and businesses to learn more about active businesses, current vacancies and incentive programs through the city’s website cityofsanmarino.org. Under the Planning and Building Department section, there is a link under “Related Pages” to “Economic Development.”

The next step in the process will be to determine the best way to market San Marino, according to Britt. A focus mentioned at the meeting was a “high-end destination with a neighborhood feel” with safe and walkable streets that encourage pedestrian traffic.

City Manager Marcella Marlowe shared that many people love to visit San Marino for the quiet, peace, sense of neighborhood and the community, rather than the economic vibrancy. The city will be mindful of that point as the process evolves.

“It’s a matter of finding those things that are complimentary but still give our city some vibrancy,” said Marlowe.

The San Marino City Council unanimously tabled a proposed ordinance, which, according to Planning and Building Director Aldo Cervantes, is intended “to ensure the protection of our public health with respect to lead hazards.”

“The ordinance will mandate compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Federal Code 40, [or the Lead-Based Paint Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule], which requires anyone performing a renovation or paint project to be certified to abate lead hazards on the property if found,” he stated.

Despite the intention of the ordinance, the council felt the proposed addition to the city’s municipal code lacked a stringent enforcement mechanism and penalty.

“This is a good start, in my opinion. The problem is it has no teeth,” said Council Member Steve Talt. “It should state in our ordinance, ‘If you don’t comply with [the EPA code], you’re in trouble.’”

City Attorney Steven Flower recognized that the ordinance, which also aims to educate contractors about the need to comply with Federal code, was “an initial first step.”

“Our concern was, if we were to try to directly enforce the EPA’s Federal Rule, whether or not we’d be preempted,” Flower explained.

Talt acknowledged the validity of the preemption concern, and continued to characterize potential problematic scenarios in San Marino.

“This happens probably daily in the city of San Marino, we have building codes [and] we have construction codes that are violated left and right,” Talt said, noting as an example that some contractors place portable bathrooms in the front yard during a construction despite local code that prohibits it.

He continued, “This is serious enough where we should put some teeth into the ordinance if we’re going to adopt it. Let’s not go halfway. Let’s make sure that we’ve got a hammer to hit over somebody’s head if they’re going to violate these rules.”

Mayor Richard Sun shared Talt’s response.

“It seems like there’s not enough tools we could use to enforce this particular ordinance,” Sun commented.

“Why don’t we get it done completely in one shot instead of coming back to amend it?” he added. “I think we should have some teeth in there—some kinds of penalties—because this is a health hazard issue.”

Council Member Allan Yung echoed his colleagues’ statements, after which Flower clarified the city’s ability to enforce the proposed lead ordinance.

Flower first stated that staff “will come back with more inspection enforcement” and review enforcement mechanisms in other cities with stringent lead ordinances.

Then he explained, “This ordinance can be enforced. What this ordinance does, however, is not directly enforce the EPA rule. That’s a Federal Rule. We can’t directly enforce Federal law. What this does is require the contractor to come in on an annual basis—which will probably tie administratively to business license renewal—and certify that if they’re going to do this work as subject to the rule, they’re certified to do it.”

Cervantes confirmed in an interview with The Tribune that the business license renewal process would capture a majority of contractors, adding that his department is working with EPA to add to the ordinance.

“If they provide the certification, or if they’re going to go and do work without a building permit, we can enforce that. That’s a misdemeanor. That is a criminal offense,” Flower added. “We have enforcement for what this ordinance does. What I’m hearing is you want to go further than what this ordinance does.”

Cervantes added that the city could fine and/or issue a stop-work notice in accordance with local building codes if the city discovered somebody to be in violation of the proposed ordinance.

Claiming the last word, Talt reiterated the council’s direction to staff.

“It’s just that if they get caught, they have to pay for it,” he concluded.

City of San Marino staff presented a balanced city budget for fiscal year 2017-2018 to the San Marino City Council last Friday during a special meeting of the council at Crowell Public Library.

City revenue is projected to increase to $29.4 million, a $1.6 million increase since last year, which can be attributed to a projected six percent increase in property tax revenue. Property tax is 62 percent of total revenue.

The proposed $29.3 million of expenses include a $24.4 million operating budget, $3.9 million capital improvement projects budget and $1 million capital equipment purchases budget.

As a result of the balanced budget, the city expects to contribute a total of $80,937 to its fund balances, or reserves, which is nearly 100 percent of the city’s operating budget, according to Interim City Manager Cindy Collins.

Collins explained that staff implemented a zero-based budget approach—consistent with one of Mayor Richard Sun’s mayoral goals—to prepare next year’s budget.

The new citywide approach, which has previously been used by the recreation department, saved the city $268,711 in the area of services and supplies.

Services and supplies savings could have been greater, Collins noted, but the city expects to experience some one-time one-year costs next year—such as a new phone system that could cost up to $95,000.

In the area of personnel, she said, the city took a conceptual zero-based budget approach.

“Because the city, by policy, delivers services, the personnel budgets were prepared using the concept of zero based budgeting, which included the evaluation of services, activities and delivery methods,” Collins said.

The conceptual approach will decrease contractual services by internalizing the operation of certain services.

Personnel will also better accommodate demands for service across city departments.

As a few examples, Collins noted that a work order system at public works might improve efficiencies in that department.

The dissolution of the tri-city shared fire command agreement and elimination of the deputy fire chief position will cut costs at the fire department.

A restructured administration department may help control workers compensation costs along with a variety of other efficiencies gained with the hiring of an administrative services director.

Collins emphasized that the city’s $22.5 million unfunded pension liability and aging infrastructure would continue to pose a challenge to the city’s finances.

“You have to address those two areas. You can’t let those just be the secondary aside priorities, because they end up costing more money,” she stated, noting that the city will spend $1.4 million in the upcoming year to pay down the liability.

“A lot has been done this year to get a foundation for the city to work off of,” Collins added, noting that the city received an actuarial study of its liability, prepared a infrastructure investment plan, and commissioned the establishment of an long range financial strategic planning ad hoc committee to address these issues.

Contract Finance Director Misty Cheng presented revenues and expenses in a variety of different ways.

In addition to the 62 percent of revenue received from property tax, the city earns 10 percent of its revenue from charges for service, another 10 percent from other governments, 5 percent from the Utility User Tax, two percent from donation and 12 percent from other sources.

On the expense side, 61 percent, or $17.8 million, is earmarked for personnel, 23 percent for services and supplies, 13 percent for equipment, and 3 percent for capital equipment purchases.

The San Marino Police Department takes the largest slice of the city $24.4 million operating budget at 28 percent, or $6.86 million, followed by Fire and Emergencies services at 26 percent, Parks and Public Works at 14 percent, Administrative Services at 12 percent, Recreation Department at 9 percent, and the Library Department at 6 percent, or $1.58 million.

Capital Improvement Plan

Parks and Public Works Director Dan Wall presented the $3.94 million capital improvement plan budget. Wall stated that 51 percent, or $2 million, of that budget will be spent on streets.

The proposed streets budget is an $800,000 increase from last year. A recent assessment of the city’s pavement found that a $1.2 million annual streets budget would result in an overall decrease in pavement quality.

A $2 million annual budget over 10 years would maintain the current quality of San Marino’s streets at a pavement condition index of 64, but still result in a $13 million increase in deferred maintenance.

Wall hopes to achieve a pavement condition index of 80 and eliminate the existing $13.65 million maintenance backlog.

In the 2017-18 fiscal year, Wall said, segments of California Boulevard, San Marino Avenue, Canterbury Road, Euston Road, Oakwood Drive, Palmas Drive, and Somerset Place will be repaved.

Nearly $1 million will be spent at Lacy Park. The Lacy Park Rose Arbor will be completely reconstructed—a project funded by a sizeable donation by former Mayor Matthew Lin and wife, Joy.

A Lacy Park irrigation system will provide automated irrigation to all of Lacy Park. Wall said this would eliminate the cost of hand watering 25 percent of the park.

Lacy Park storage yard fencing will also be added.

Wall reported that the city’s sewer and storm drain system is nearing the end of its useful life. The project cost of replacement is $18 million. Next year, $265,000 will be budgeted to fund on-going replacement projects and develop a sewer master plan.

A quarter of a million dollars has been proposed to fund sidewalk replacement. A total of $463,000 will fund renovations of the Lacy Park restrooms, exterior painting of Crowell Library, refurbishment of the fire department restroom and pedestrian lights at the Old Mill.

Park and Public Works

Director Dan Wall also presented the parks and public works department budget.

Expenses are projected to decrease by approximately $60,000 for a total of $3,405,470.

In the 2016-17 fiscal year, the department completed conversion of its streetlights to be more energy and cost efficient, and pavement management plan that will place the city on a cost efficient path to maintain its streets.

“We have started using our own resources whenever possible to reduce overall costs such as in the repair of the outer loop, in advance of the current slurry seal project, and in using our resources in the demolition of the Rose Arbor, “ Wall noted.

He added, that a sewer master plan, improvements at Lacy Park, and implementation of the first year of the pavement management system would be the department’s 2017-18 objectives.

“If I have the concurrence of the city council, I am prepared to begin the implementation of an alternative service delivery model, which would result in a very significant cost savings,” Wall added. “Because of the labor implications, it would probably be better discussed in closed session.”

A line-by-line version of the budget can be found here.

Administrative Services

The city manager’s office will include the newly created administrative services department in next year’s budget, said Collins.

Administrative services will centralize the city’s finance, human resources, and information technology functions, and result in additional personnel costs, but a decrease in contract costs.

“If [our workers compensation claims] were managed more aggressively, those costs could come down. And I think you will see a savings just off of that alone with a human resources manager,” Collins shared as an example, explaining one of the potential long-term savings achieved by the new structure.

For the next fiscal year, the department will experience an overall operating cost increase of $240,000, which will result in a total department expenditure of $2.75 million.

During Collins’ presentation of the department’s budget, the council inquired about a variety of issues, including the city’s investments, fee schedule, and banking practices.

Mayor Sun requested the staff inquire about a new bank with which the city could bank, and consider postponing a fee schedule survey for the city’s fees and fines.

Planning and Building

Planning and Building Director Aldo Cervantes introduced his department’s $1,172,786 budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year. The proposed budget noted that 75 percent of the department’s costs are recovered. However, Cervantes stated, the department typically recovers 80 percent of its costs by the end of the fiscal year.

In the current fiscal year, planning and building implemented the 2016 California Building Codes, performed an internal audit of all active business licenses, issued 726 building permits, processed 80 design review applications and 27 planning commission applications, clarified the zoning designations of several properties, adopted several new ordinances, and created a dedicated reception area and customer service line.

In the upcoming year, Cervantes hopes to process a new historic preservation ordinance and wireless telecommunications ordinance, to continue to support planning commissioners and design review committee members, and hire a code compliance coordinator.

Cervantes informed the council that an upgrade to the business license software, known as HDL Prime, will allow businesses to renew licenses and pay online and allow more efficient communication between the city and businesses.

A line-by-line version of the budget can be found here.

Police

SMPD is projected to spend an additional $115,000 compared to the current year for a total budget of $6,857,898.

Police Chief John Incontro attributed the increased expense to an increase in uniform costs, contract services for maintenance of equipment, non-capital equipment purchases and a decrease in reimbursements from the state.

In the current fiscal year, the men and women in blue increase traffic enforcement activities by 34 percent, which, Incontro said, is correlated to a 43 percent reduction in injury traffic collisions.

The department also fully implemented its NIXLE communication program and Coffee With A Cop outreach program.

The department maintained a two-minute and 28 second response time for priority 1 calls, such as burglary, larceny and package theft.

In 2017-18, the police department has set goals of filling the remaining four police officer vacancies, reducing part 1 crimes by five percent, increasing community meetings by 10 percent, and developing and implementing a volunteer program.

Fire/ Emergency Management

Fire Chief Mario Rueda began his presentation of the San Marino Fire Department budget with a reminder that 90 percent of the department’s work is emergency medical services.

The department budget is expected to increase by $96,000 compared to the current year’s budget. The proposed total budget for the department is projected to be $6,222,669.

The new budget includes a $710,000 for a new fire engine, which would take approximately six to nine months to build. “It really does ensure the readiness of our equipment,” said Chief Rueda, noting that the department’s reserve engine is nearing the end of its useful life.

SMFD’s frontline engine was out of service for 150 days in the 2016-17 year, Rueda added. Out of those 150 days, the department was without its frontline or reserve engines for two weeks and relied on South Pasadena Fire Department for coverage.

“Without their equipment, they really are dead in the water,” he said of his crew.

Chief Rueda also expressed concern about the department’s current vendor for truck maintenance.

SMFD also requested a new defibrillator for its frontline engine. The department’s frontline ambulance currently has a new defibrillator.

Rueda said moving forward he would like the cost of equipment worked into the department’s fee schedule to allow to department to save for large capital expenses over time.

SMFD experienced several accomplishments in the 2016-17 fiscal year including certification of engine 91 as a paramedic engine, a formal revenue agreement with LA County for ambulance response, upgrades to the station by fire personnel, training of fire-line paramedics and providing command officer training.

In the new fiscal year, the department will strive to track fire department overtime by account, improve disaster preparedness, complete the transition to a new two-city shared command structure, and conduct CPR training at San Marino public schools.

A line-by-line version of the budget can be found here.

Recreation

The Recreation Department budget is projected to decrease by $36,000 compared to fiscal year 2016-17 for a total budget of $2,223,898.

Recreation Manager Rose Pinuelas said the department is expected to recover 77 percent of its general fund costs.

To better evaluate the cost recovery and fee structures of specific programs, Pinuelas noted, the department has started to reallocate personnel costs to the program area supported by personnel.

In the current fiscal year, the Recreation Department expanded its private swimming lessons and increased its senior citizen course offerings.

In the 2017-18 fiscal year, the department aims to continue to expand senior citizen programming, increase the number of Recreation Commission meetings, and continue to analyze special events for cost recovery and sponsorship opportunities and age diversification.

Library

The Crowell Public Library budget is projected at $1,583,100—a $65,000 decreased compared to this year’s budget.

The Library was ranked in the top 6.5 percent of libraries in the nation in its class. City Librarian Irene McDermott also noted that the library has grossed over $150,000 in passport acceptance fees—a significant increase from the project amount of $30,000 the year prior.

In the upcoming fiscal year, the department plans to install a radio frequency identification inventory tracking system with funds from the Library Foundation. There are also plans to hold a large celebration on Jan. 26, 2018 in honor of the Library’s 10-year anniversary.