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City Takes Steps to Determine Fate of Caltrans Properties

First published in the Dec. 10 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.

The City Council last week moved forward with five decisions recommended by city officials as next steps to repatriate the Caltrans-owned properties to South Pasadena hands.
Though SB 381 — a bill outlining the mechanism through which Caltrans will offload the properties it acquired while planning for the now-shelved 710 Freeway extension — was signed into law in September, “we are still in the early stages of implementation,” Margaret Lin, interim director of planning and community development, said last week.

Starting things off, the council voted on Wednesday, Dec. 1, to issue two different requests for proposals — one to identify Housing Related Entities or consultants to aid in development of a Community Land Trust, and another to hire an inspection company to examine unoccupied properties or properties tenants choose not to purchase.
“This (request for proposal) would really solicit to see which HREs are there, what their qualifications are and who wants to work with us and what experience they have,” City Manager Arminé Chaparyan explained. “I think that’s something we can do at a staff level and working in conjunction with the ad hoc.”
Chaparyan was referring to an ad hoc committee that was established at the meeting, composed of councilmen Jon Primuth and Jack Donovan, to work on the next phase of Senate Bill 381 implementation.
The city is planning additional community outreach to tenants of those homes, and the council approved a memorandum of understanding with the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation addressing the historic Caltrans-owned properties.
SB 381 was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in late September. In addition to the homes in South Pasadena, Caltrans had acquired properties in Pasadena and the El Sereno neighborhood of Los Angeles to facilitate construction of the 710 tunnel project, which was abandoned in favor of piecemeal regional traffic initiatives.
There are 68 Caltrans properties in the city — 46 occupied and 20 vacant homes, and two unimproved lots. Twenty-seven are considered historic properties. The deadline to purchase the homes is 2025, with the option for two two-year extensions.
The city has several different priorities when it comes to Caltrans properties, chief of which are preventing displacement of tenants and boosting tenants’ abilities to purchase the homes they had been renting. Current tenants are offered the first opportunity to buy the properties, with financing available for income-qualified tenants.
If tenants are unable or unwilling to purchase, and an HRE acquires the property, the house can continue to be used as a rental. If the property is sold at auction for fair market value, Caltrans will pay the tenants’ relocation fees.
The sale of historic properties will be used to build affordable housing using a 3:1 ratio. For example, if the city buys a property at $100,000 and sells it for $1 million, $900,000 must be used for affordable housing. Under the terms of the bill, certain buyers, including the city, may acquire the properties at the initial purchase price.
“With whatever financing we come up with, we can achieve a three-to-one across the portfolio,” Primuth said, “even though house by house we might not be able to do three-to-one.”
More meetings with Caltrans staff will be scheduled between December and January to provide tenants with more information on the sales process as well as tenant resources and updates on SB 381.

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