We’ve Found Mars, but Where Is JPL? : Pasadena’s in the News, but the Place Is in La Canada Flintridge


They’ve pinpointed their location on Mars to within 100 yards--and they’ve done it from 119 million miles away.

It’s too bad that scientists at the Jet Propulsion Lab can’t seem to nail down their earthly location.

JPL officials say their address is Pasadena. But the control center that the whole world is watching as the Sojourner goes through its paces is really in La Canada Flintridge.


And as the “Pasadena” dateline pops up in newspapers and on television screens around the world, many La Canada Flintridge residents are grumbling that their little city is being denied its moment in the sun--or at least in the warm Martian glow.

“The people of La Canada Flintridge have been cheated, quite frankly,” said Chris Valente, a former La Canada Flintridge City Council member and Chamber of Commerce president. “It’s so wrong.”

Said sales clerk Kristie Warren, who has lived in La Canada Flintridge for 12 years: “Pasadena’s stealing something from us. Our glory, if not our name.”

Pasadena actually tried to steal JPL itself 21 years ago.

When La Canada Flintridge residents moved to incorporate in 1976, officials in Pasadena frantically tried to annex the 146-acre space research complex after they learned that the proposed city’s boundary lines included all but a tiny portion of JPL’s parking lot.

“We’re engaged in mortal battle over JPL. It’s as simple as that,” Donald F. Yokaitis, a Pasadena city director, said at the time.

But Los Angeles County’s Local Agency Formation Commission, which oversees all annexations and incorporation efforts in the county, rejected Pasadena’s JPL annexation application on a 4-1 vote. Pasadena territory was allowed to extend only to the Arroyo Seco, at JPL’s property line.

JPL kept using a Pasadena mailing address, however, guaranteeing Pasadena its space in space history and creating continuing confusion.

On Thursday, even current Local Agency Formation Commission head Larry Calemine was surprised when told JPL’s location.


“It’s not in Pasadena? I’ll be doggone. I didn’t know that,” he said, reaching for a map. After a quick inspection, he added with a laugh: “You can say that Larry J. Calemine, executive officer of LAFCO, confirms that JPL is, in fact, in La Canada Flintridge.”

In La Canada Flintridge, City Manager Gabrielle Pryor was wishing she could chisel that kind of proclamation in stone--earthly or Martian.

Her city is popular with JPL workers, she said: 450 employees live in La Canada Flintrigde and the facility’s cafeterias and vending machines kick “a five-digit figure” into the city’s sales tax revenues each year.

But “it was very disappointing to look at CNN and the national networks and see that Pasadena had scored again,” Pryor said of the current Mars landing coverage. “I’ll be writing to CNN about it when all of this dies down.”

Across town at JPL, CNN correspondent John Zarrella was sitting outside his broadcast trailer, puffing on a cigar while he waited his turn to go on the air with a fresh Mars report. He said “Pasadena” suits him fine.

“I don’t even know how to pronounced ‘La Canada.’ ‘This is John Zarrella, reporting live from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge, Calif.’ That would be a long tag at the end of a story. It would be tough to do every show.”

Most of the 685 accredited members of the news media covering the Martian exploration seem equally comfortable with using a Pasadena dateline. If nothing else, it fits more easily into a newspaper column than the more wordy real thing.

“I’m from New York, so it doesn’t make any difference to me,” said Associated Press science editor Matt Crenson.

One of Crenson’s reports bearing a Pasadena dateline shared space on the front page of Thursday’s Pasadena Star-News with a story by Star-News staff writer Robin Lloyd. Her story was datelined La Canada Flintridge. The two sit 30 feet apart in the JPL pressroom.

Star-News Editor Larry Wilson said copy editors forgot to change Crenson’s dateline. He said some Pasadena residents don’t like seeing a La Canada Flintridge dateline on JPL stories, however.

A reader called to grumble that “the whole world is focused on Pasadena and you guys have to go undercut the city,” Wilson said Thursday.

JPL spokesman Frank O'Donnell indicated that JPL doesn’t care which city reporters use, as long as they get the JPL part right. “We want to be good neighbors with Pasadena and with La Canada Flintridge,” he said.

He speculated that JPL continues to use a Pasadena mailing address because La Canada Flintridge’s post office may be too small to handle the volume of mail JPL gets every day.

But Postal Service spokeswoman Terri Bouffiou suggested that JPL picked the Pasadena post office in order to receive its mail earlier in the day.

Another JPL spokeswoman, Betty Shultz, said Mars has had an effect on JPL--wherever it is.

“This has really put JPL on the map,” she said.