As La Cañada residents look to new beginnings in the year ahead, the Valley Sun staff paused to reflect on some of the biggest news items from the past 12 months.
A glance at the past 12 months of front page stories showed the year was a time for resolution as issues long pondered and debated — including a decades-long fight over closing the 710 Freeway “gap” and the city’s search for a new civic headquarters — came to successful conclusions.
This year also saw the beginning of some new initiatives.
In May, La Cañada Unified School District convened a safety, security and well-being task force to address parent concerns over nationwide school shootings, teen stress and drug arrests at the high school.
And this fall, the school district vowed to work with parents to reduce health impacts from a four-year county plan to haul away 2 million tons of sediment from Devil’s Gate Dam — a project fiercely contested for a decade that recently got the go-ahead.
From municipal newsmakers to individual ones, here’s a look at some of La Cañada’s top news stories in 2018:
The prospect of a 4.5-mile underground tunnel that would bring traffic from L.A.’s ports northward to the Foothill (210) Freeway roped La Cañada Flintridge into a six-decade transportation battle between cities and mega-agencies Metro and Caltrans.
City officials and resident activists banged the drum for safer, healthier solutions to regional congestion, and in November were rewarded when an environmental report from Metro put forth a series of traffic improvements as the recommended option.
The tunnel was dead. But the time for action has just begun, said former City Councilman Don Voss.
“So many people have learned so much about Metro and Caltrans and tunnels,” he said. “We should be able to put that to good use.”
Residents cheered when, in May, state Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) secured a $5-million state transportation grant to build sound walls along the 210 Freeway. The plan hit a bump, however, when city officials learned they’d have to cough up $5 million in matching funds to get the grant and pay $2 million in pre-construction costs before building the walls.
After much wrangling, the city put forth $3.71 in Measure R funds, while Portantino obtained an additional $3.29 million from Metro to fill the funding gap. At their Dec. 18 meeting, council members identified three segments — two on the Hampton Road overpass and one running east from Alta Canyada Road — on which to spend the $12 million.
County Public Works Department officials announced in October they would officially begin clearing trees and brush from Hahamongna Watershed Park in preparation for a controversial four-year dig to remove 1.7 million tons of sediment from Devil’s Gate Dam.
The project had survived environmentalist lawsuits, which reduced the footprint from an initial 2.4 million cubic yards. But the county’s announcement caught the attention of La Cañada parents, who raised new concerns about the health impacts of ultrafine particulate matter emitted by idling diesel trucks.
Scientific studies released after the county’s environmental review showed carcinogenic effects. Now, parents and LCUSD officials vow to monitor air quality once hauling begins in April and are working with city and county officials to ensure minimal risk.
After the La Cañada Sport Chalet shuttered in 2016, locals were abuzz over what might take its place. Reactions were mixed when, in August 2017, news broke a small-format Target store would occupy the 45,865-square-foot retail space. Some lauded the addition, while others feared increased traffic in the city’s Town Center.
On Oct. 16, officials and residents gathered for a cheery grand opening.
“It’s been a long time coming for our town, and we couldn’t be more thrilled,” La Cañada Mayor Terry Walker said. “This, with our new city hall, is going to rejuvenate the Town Center and make it a real civic center in our community.”
In preparation for an eventual move to a new city hall — in the former Sport Chalet headquarters building in the Town Center — employees spent a month of Fridays in August packing up the current civic center.
Sifting through records, boxes and maps accumulated over three decades, officials perused the city’s history and found items they hoped to display in the new site.
“It’s kind of nostalgic at the same time it’s laborious, and it’s interesting at the same time it’s mundane,” City Manager Mark Alexander described the effort. “But it’s necessary and I think there’s a sense of fulfillment in doing it.”
La Cañadans were feeling safe after crime-prevention efforts employed in response to two armed robberies last December and an uptick in home break-ins the following January seemed to be keeping burglars at bay.
But just as the holiday season ramped up earlier this month, so too did the efforts of enterprising criminals, who pulled off a record seven heists in December’s first week alone. Now, neighborhood watch groups are keeping an eye out as Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station officials report initial success in working with other agencies to nab suspects connected to La Cañada crimes.
Public safety concerns shifted to students in February, after three LCHS students were hospitalized for medication-related reasons and another two were arrested on drug charges. The incidents followed the much-publicized Feb. 14 Parkland, Fla., school shooting, which renewed debates about safety and security at the school.
As the district formed a safety, security and wellness task force to address needs and potential policy changes, and LCHS set up an anonymous Spartan Tip Line to intercept bad actors, student activists organized campus assemblies calling for national gun control legislation. Under the banner of Activism USA, they staged a March 15 walkout.
Social media reports in May of an alleged racist slur written on a customer’s cup at the Foothill Boulevard Starbucks created controversy and attracted media attention both near and far, as residents struggled to piece together what had happened.
The incident may have led to retaliatory incidents, including a subsequent act of vandalism to the store’s front window and a series of bomb threats called in two days later to Starbucks and surrounding businesses. The company’s corporate office could not confirm what happened, but said an apology had been offered to the male victim and had been accepted.
La Cañada’s brain trust expanded in October, after resident and Caltech bioengineer Frances Arnold won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her work in the directed evolution of enzymes (sharing the honor with George P. Smith and Sir Gregory Winter).
Arnold, a chemical engineering, bioengineering and biochemistry professor, is credited with pioneering a method of managing the growth and reproduction of microscopic life forms to reshape them for practical scientific purposes.
Arnold was only the fifth woman worldwide to be awarded the prize out of 177 recipients since 1901. She accepted the award in a Dec. 10 ceremony in Stockholm.
In April, city flags were flown at half-staff to honor the passing of Allen Lund, 77, a Pasadena resident who built and grew a successful transportation brokerage firm in La Cañada for more than 40 years.
Known for his business acumen and devotion to Catholic charities, Lund died April 7 after a brief battle with cancer.