Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy

Top stories of 2013: Tragedies led off the year in La Cañada

Top stories of 2013: Tragedies led off the year in La Cañada
Students and community members came together during a memorial Campbell Taylor, who jumped to his death on Friday at La Cañada High School on Friday, March 1, 2013 in La Cañada Flintridge.
(Photo by Libby Cline)

La Cañada Flintridge had a difficult first quarter in 2013 as residents coped with two tragic events. But the city also experienced positive changes throughout the year, such as a surge in the number of businesses in the downtown area and a change of hands at the Plaza de La Cañada.

New members were elected to both the City Council and La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board, and they will shape decisions in the year to come.

We take a look back at some of the top La Cañada stories of the year:

The close-knit community was rocked by two tragedies on the same day. At around 10 a.m. on Friday, March 1, a gas explosion near the pool at the Sport Chalet store seriously injured two employees.

Lauren Polzin, 27, who led the store’s scuba department and Victor Gonzalez, 25, a store supervisor, were hospitalized with severe burns.

The incident occurred next door to the sporting goods chain’s headquarters. In a statement, the company said that it was “the first time in the company’s 54-year history that such a tragic event has occurred.”

The incident caused nearly $10,000 in damage to the store, but there was minimal damage to the building.

In May, Polzin filed a lawsuit with her husband. The lawsuit alleged that the gas-supply system in the store was unsafe and that Sport Chalet and other defendants were negligent.

Sport Chalet helped to raise thousands of dollars for the victims in a fundraiser following the incident.


After authorities cleared the scene at Sport Chalet, another incident occurred less than 2 miles away at La Cañada High School.

At 3:55 p.m., 17-year-old Campbell Forrest Taylor jumped to his death from the third-floor walkway of the junior high building on campus.

Wendy Sinnette, superintendent of schools, held a press conference that night inside the school’s gym and students mourned their classmate’s death during a candlelight vigil on campus the following day. A somber mood fell over the city as residents grappled with the death of a local student who was active in theatre productions and on the campus newspaper.

Current and former students asked district officials for permission to create a space on campus where they could pay their respects to Campbell and write on a chalkboard about what they wanted to accomplish in their lives, but the project was never approved.

The district, however, held a forum on suicide for families to gain information and ask experts anonymous questions.


The University of Southern California upped their presence in the foothills this year.

The school purchased Verdugo Hills Hospital in July, investing $30 million into the hospital with a plan to expand and upgrade the ER and other departments.

Traveler, USC’s mascot, trotted down Foothill Boulevard during the city’s annual Fiesta Days celebration in May.

A Valley Sun feature story highlighted the many connections between the university and La Cañada. Many multigeneration Trojan families live in the city, and the high school’s logo bears a striking resemblance to USC’s logo.

“It’s like a home away from home,” 19-year-old Will Orr said of USC. “I’ve wanted to come here my whole life because it’s been such a family institution for us.”


A shopping center that opened in 1968 faced some changes this year and may see more changes in the future.

A real estate company bought Plaza de La Cañada from Vons Companies Inc. in December. The change of ownership came after Vons closed their store in the plaza. Gelson’s plans to move into the space vacated by the supermarket early in 2014.

A spokeswoman for Gelson’s said the company decided to move into the neighborhood after they realized that many of La Cañada residents shopped at the Pasadena location, which closed in July.

The 100,408-square-foot retail center gained some new tenants recently, including Goodie Girls Cupcakes. And the city gained new stores in other areas, such as upscale restaurant Flintridge Proper, which opened across the street from McDonald’s in April.

The new developments knocked the city’s commercial vacancy rate down to 4%, a vast improvement within the past few years.


Residents voted to elect new members to the City Council and La Cañada Unified school board this year.

Incumbent Dave Spence and former Planning Commissioner Jon Curtis joined the five-person City Council in March.

The race to elect three new members to the school board was crowded and competitive. Eight candidates, including three under the age of 30, sought to become a member of the board.

Some residents in the community pushed for experienced candidates rather than young candidates who had a more recent experience at the high school.

David Sagal, an executive and attorney for Warner Bros., Kaitzer Puglia, a professor at Pasadena Community College, and Dan Jeffries, a prosecutor with the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office, won the three open seats, pushing out longtime incumbent Joel Peterson.


Residents in the westernmost part of the city reignited a decades-long effort to link the school district with the city.

The group, named Unite LCF, pushed La Cañada Unified school board members and City Council members to create resolutions in support of allowing all of the city’s students into the school district.

Hundreds of students who live in an area of the city known as “Sagebrush” currently attend Glendale Unified schools.

Glendale and La Cañada school officials entered into negotiations this year over a possible territory transfer after the La Cañada school board and city council both adopted resolutions supporting the transfer.

As the two school districts continue to negotiate, the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization also waits for an outcome.

Should the school districts fail to meet an agreement, Sagebrush residents could file a petition with the committee, according to Keith Crafton, an official with the committee.

In November, Sagebrush resident Tom Smith pressed Glendale school officials to allow children in the La Cañada area to attend that city’s schools.

“I just wanted to say that in the event the negotiations — the discussions — don’t go anywhere, then we are certainly prepared to proceed to the county committee,” Smith said.


Tree-loving residents saved the deodar tree from being wiped off the city’s protected trees list in June.

The Cedrus deodara is not a native tree; it grows in the Himalayas. But residents became partial to the tree which can stand more than 100 feet tall. Edwin T. Earl first brought the tree to La Cañada in 1913 and it grew into an icon.

“I think many people are attracted to the [Alta Canyada] neighborhood because of the big trees,” resident Robert Craven said.

The city’s new tree ordinance protects the deodar in certain areas of the city. Officials also said that the new ordinance would make it easier for residents to understand how to care for or trim protected trees on their properties.

But activists lost another battle with the city.

The City Council voted against studying a plastic bag ban, even though nearby cities like Glendale and Pasadena recently decided to ban the use of plastic bags.

Mayor Laura Olhasso was in favor of studying the issue, but the other four members of the City Council were not. City officials did, however, expressed interest in initiating an educational outreach program that included the distribution of reusable bags.


Scientists and engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory celebrated their own victory.

In May, a judge ruled in favor of a group of current and former JPL employees who sought to inform fellow scientists about background checks.

JPL disciplined the employees for sending emails about the background checks, which were required under a Homeland Security directive, through company email accounts.

But National Labor Relations Board judge William Kocol said that the employees’ actions were protected.

In his decision, he noted that the agency allowed emailed communication about other non-work-related topics, such as Girl Scout cookie sales.


La Canada’s Stratford Manor sets record price

La Cañada Crime: Ocean View Boulevard home burglarized

Presenting the 2013 Les Fleurettes