Year in Review: Several of La Cañada’s top news stories in 2017 will be with us in 2018 and beyond

As La Cañada residents spend the remainder of the calendar year reflecting on the recent past and wondering what lies ahead in 2018, Valley Sun staff have been poring through the stacks of the past 12 months to determine the biggest newsmakers of 2017. What struck us was the momentousness of many of the top items — some of what’s happened this year is sure to have far-reaching impacts in the years and decades ahead.

“It was a busy year, but it was mostly positive,” said Mayor Mike Davitt, contemplating several city and regional projects that were approved, amended or scrapped in 2017 and how those decisions will shape the future. “Now we want to build upon the progress we’ve made, not just this year, but the year before and the year before that.”

Here’s a look at some of the highlights in La Cañada in 2017, in order of prominence:

Community remembers Councilman Dave Spence. News of the sudden death on May 16 of the sitting councilman and six-time mayor sent shock waves through the community, as city officials grappled with the loss of a local legend. In a May 31 service that packed La Cañada Presbyterian Church, La Cañada Flintridge City Council members and church leaders joined longtime friends and family members to pay homage to Spence and a life well-lived. Adult sons Steve and Andy Spence — who both have special needs — shared warm memories of their father with the audience.

“My dad really loved the city,” Andy Spence said. “And a lot of people knew him very, very well.”

Target is coming to town. After much waiting and speculation, residents learned in August the former site of the Sport Chalet retail store in the Town Center would be home to a 45,865-square-foot “small-format” Target store as soon as July 2018. Mark Schindele, Target’s senior vice president of properties, said the site would meet the “quick-shopping” needs of the local neighborhood by offering family apparel and accessories, beauty products, home décor, back-to-school items and a grocery selection. An on-site CVS pharmacy, with pick-up service, and a Starbucks coffee shop will also be included.

Officials finalize purchase of new City Hall. Ending years of shopping for a new location to ease congestion at the current 7,160-square-foot City Hall, officials announced in January they’d closed escrow on the 24,000-square-foot former Sport Chalet corporate office building, at a total cost of $11.23 million. The City Council approved taking $5.65 million from the city’s reserve fund, and discussed ideas for paying off a $6.05 million interest-free, two-year promissory note offered by previous owner La Cañada Properties, Inc.

“It was a very long process, and it’s a big step, but I think we all agree it’s a right step,” said Davitt, who was mayor pro-tem at the time the purchase was announced.

Plans for 710 tunnel taken off the table. A controversial plan to connect the terminal end points of the I-710 Freeway with a multibillion-dollar 4.5-mile underground tunnel was put to relative rest on May 25, when Metro’s board of directors voted to direct more than $700 million of Measure R tax revenue away from a tunnel option and toward systematic San Gabriel Valley traffic improvements.

“This is a huge day for La Cañada and for the region,” state Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) said after the vote. “The three generations of activists who worked first to kill the freeway and now to kill the tunnel, and those who drafted us into this fight, need to be commended.”

‘Big Dig’ at Devil’s Gate gets scaled back. In a partial victory, environmental groups learned in November the county Public Works Department’s plan to remove 2.4 million cubic yards of sediment from behind Devil’s Gate Dam at Hahamongna Watershed Park would be capped at 1.7 million cubic yards. County supervisors were ordered by a judge to reconsider the plan they’d approved in 2014, after the project’s environmental review was contested in a lawsuit filed by nonprofits Arroyo Seco Foundation and the Pasadena Audubon Society. Plaintiffs called the scaling back “a step in the right direction” but said they hoped to negotiate for further protections.

La Cañada High School lets students sleep in. Middle and high school families breathed a sigh of relief in June when they learned La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board had voted to shift the campus’ start time from 7:45 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. starting in the 2017-18 school year. Parent Belinda Dong broached the subject in 2014, citing studies that showed teens’ brains worked better with more sleep. This February, state Sen. Portantino introduced legislation mandating middle and high schools begin no later than 8:30 a.m. The bill ultimately failed, but not before LCUSD decided to make the switch.

Measure LCF school bond passed by district voters. In November, La Cañada Unified voters gave school campuses a $149-million shot in the arm when they passed a general obligation bond to fund districtwide site improvements. In an election night school board meeting, Supt. Wendy Sinnette recounted the history of Measure LCF, from its inception in 2015 to campaigning by the Citizens for Modernizing LCUSD Schools committee.

“This group has worked tirelessly,” Sinnette said, before ballot counts revealed Measure LCF had passed with 71.33% support. “It is a testament to their extreme dedication to our district and, no matter the outcome of tonight’s election, they’ve got all of our eternal gratitude.”

Castillo lawsuit comes to light. Just back from winter break, school officials learned of a Dec. 28, 2016, lawsuit against LCUSD filed by former La Cañada Elementary School Principal Christine Castillo, who claimed she became subject to unfavorable treatment, including negative evaluations, demotion and reassignment, when she told officials shortly after her 2012 hiring she was pregnant. Supt. Sinnette claimed Castillo’s reassignment to a teaching position at another campus had nothing to do with her maternity leave, but Castillo’s attorneys pushed for a jury trial, which could begin in 2018.

Paco’s Barber Shop closes. On Nov. 18, longtime La Cañada barber Frank “Paco” Ruiz coiffed one last head before closing the door on a business he started 57 years earlier. The 84-year-old Highland Park resident announced his plans to retire in 2015, expressing hope another barber would assume his Plaza de La Cañada lease and keep his employees and clientele, but plans failed to materialize. He was joined on his last day by friends and well-wishers, who clamored for one last cut.

“It’s been really very rewarding,” he said of the support he’s gotten over the years. “I’m looking forward to still running into these beautiful people somewhere along the line.”

Twitter: @SaraCardine

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