Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Why the Julia Morgan Y should be used for permanent supportive housing and public use

13 Reasons why the Julia Morgan Y should be used for permanent supportive housing (PSH) and public use

1. Pasadena's civic center is a place that the people of this city should be proud of. It was intended to represent the heart and soul of our city. It was supposed to be a place of moral as well as physical beauty. At one end of the civic center is the First Baptist Church, which testifies to the spiritual life of our city and provides a beautiful view of City Hall. Next to it are YMCA and YWCA, which preceded the City Hall, and testify to how much our city cares for the poor and vulnerable. The statutes of Jackie and Mack Robinson are placed in a 109-foot park area facing our City Hall. Their monumental prominence testify to how our city has sought to overcome the racism of its past and honor its African American heroes. Our civic center has always been associated with religious and humanitarian work. It has a sacred quality and deserves to be a place for reflection, not a place of commerce. The public have made it clear what they want.  There is overwhelming and broad-based public support for nonprofit housing, public use and a social enterprise restaurant at the city-owned YMCA building. During the June 3 City Council meeting, 40 speaker cards were pulled and at least 100 people supporting PSH and public use were present. We represent a broad cross section of the city: religious leaders, housing justice advocates, homeless service providers, preservationists,  Sister City and tree advocate, and even an attorney for developers. Members of the following churches and organizations were present: SheDoes (a group promoting rapid sheltering of homeless women), First Baptist, Fellowship Pasadena, Orange Grove Friends (Quaker) Meeting, All Saints Episcopal, First United Methodist Church Pasadena, Pasadena Church, Epicentre Church, New Guiding Light, Friendship Baptist, Abundant Harvest, Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, and Clergy Community Coalition.

 YWCA stands for “Young Women’s CHRISTIAN Association.” This sounds obvious but it’s worth repeating. This building was built for a Christian purpose—helping those in need.

That's why we are urging the City Council to use the Y for its intended purpose, to help those most in need.

2. We are concerned that this Request for Proposals (RFP) does not to take into account state law AB 2135 which requires prioritizing supportive and affordable housing on surplus land. Here’s what the AB 2135 requires:

Enacted in 1968, the Surplus Land Act requires local agencies—such as cities and transit agencies—to prioritize affordable housing, as well as parks and open space, when disposing of surplus land. Specifically, local agencies must provide a first right of refusal to entities that agree to use sites for affordable housing or parks and open space.  When local agencies dispose of surplus land, they are required to give notice to local public entities and organizations involved in affordable housing development. Once a preferred entity expresses interest, the parties must enter into good faith negotiations to determine a mutually satisfactory sales price or lease terms. Prior to AB 2135, if the parties did not agree to a price within 60 days, the local agency could then dispose of the land without further requirements….AB 2135 extends the negotiating period between local agencies and purchasing or leasing entities from 60 days to 90 days. See and

By prioritizing affordable housing, the Mayor was simply following this state law and respecting the desires of his constituents. By rushing this RFP through and making it difficult for supportive housing developers to submit a proposal, the City Council may be violating the law; it is arousing opposition from the public. This does not bode well for the future of our beloved civic center. If this project is rushed through, it will not be something that people of faith will be proud of. 

3.  It is problematic to require a 45-foot “setback” that would encroach upon the 109-foot space adjacent to City Hall that is an historic garden/park. This set back must allow for a developer to be flexible—with set backs up to 109 feet. There is wide-spread support to maintain this 100-year-old Civic Gardens located at the southwest and northwest corners of Holly and Garfield Avenue. The current CUP and RFP provide virtually these same set back concessions that were granted to the failed Kimpton Hotel project, which aroused fierce opposition from many in our city and led to the project being rejected.  Einstein once defined insanity as doing the same thing over again and imagining you would get different results. We are concerned that the RFP is misleading by implying that this pending litigation not to encroach on the 109 feet will somehow disappear by the end of the year. This is not what the litigants believe or anticipate. Developers need to be told that there is intense community opposition to commercial development if there is encroachment on the 109-foot park area that would lead to a lawsuit and public outcry that could delay or even stop development. At very least, we need to foster trust not erode trust in the City Council and create a project that people of conscience would not be proud of. The civic center is too important to push though quickly without a consensus from the community.

The city has been looking for park space in the Central District. Here is the perfect place to use the city’s impact fees to declare, strengthen and maintain a park in the 109 foot garden area. 

4. The latest Homeless count shows that the number of homeless seniors continues to rise and the number of chronically homeless residents has not diminish. These people urgently need housing.  We are concerned that this CUP and RFP call for a hotel like the failed Kimpton and doesn’t even mention supportive housing or public use in the proposal or in the staff report.  It is assumed that the project will be a hotel. As the Mayor pointed out, prioritizing commercial development will divide the City and could delay this much needed project and cause further damage to the Y.  The Mayor is to be commended for taking a courageous stand and recognizing that supportive housing is the best option for this site. He knows that for nonprofit housing numbers can work without encroaching on the 109-foot park area.  He is showing the kind of moral and practical leadership that this city needs to address our homelessness crisis and restore this historic resource. Mr. Madison and Mr. Hampton also deserve to be commended for standing with the Mayor and with people of faith and conscience in this city who are demanding that their civic center reflect Pasadena’s highest values, not be sold to the highest bidder for commercial gain.  

We are urging the City Council to reconsider this RFP and give preferential consideration to public use that includes supportive/nonprofit housing and public use of at the Y. This is what the public wants, and what we feel is in the best interest of the city.

5. We are concerned that you are selling our civic center to the highest bidder as if it’s just another piece of expensive real estate that you can get tax revenue from. That’s not what a civic center is supposed to be, and it’s not what your constituents want. The Civic Gardens at the SW Corner and the NW corner of Holly and Garfield is part of the 100-year historic setting of Pasadena’s Civic Center, going back to the Bennett Plan in the early 1920s. As recommended by the Civic Center Implementation Task Force, the City should commission a Cultural Landscape Report to establish the historic significance to this. Instead, you  commissioned a landscape architect, Olin, assuming that the land had no cultural or historical significance worthy of preserving. We agree that a Cultural Heritage Report should be done before encroaching on the 109-foot parkland with Sister City trees and statues of Mack and Jackie Robinson.  
A Cultural Landscape Report is prepared by qualified professionals based on appropriate methodologies and techniques for cultural landscape research, documentation, and evaluation. Cultural landscapes can range from thousands of acres of rural tracts of land to a small homestead with a front yard of less than one acre. Like historic buildings and districts, they reveal aspects of our country's origins and development through their form, features, and the ways they were used. Cultural landscapes also reveal much about our evolving relationship with the natural world. Such a report would help determine how best to preserve our civic center’s unique landscape that was intended to highlight and complement the grandeur of our City Hall. We urge you to do such a report before selling or leasing our precious heritage to the highest bidder and destroying forever our precious cultural landscape. Our civic center should reflect Pasadena’s moral values, trusting God as provider without needing to resort to a to luxury hotel.

6. The draft RFP is biased in favor of commercial development and blocks housing for homeless people by not including supportive housing in the project goals and objectives. It is stated in the RFP that the project should “serve as a catalyst for continued economic growth and provide economic benefits” (p. 5). We are also concerned that only city staff will be involved in considering RFPs. How can we be sure that they will reflect the community’s concerns? For this reason, I propose a broader selection of community members who have consistently shown up to participate in the assessment together with city staff. We also propose that there be a detailed scoring criterion with points which equally include the use of the Y for permanent supportive housing, non-profit, and public uses (which aren’t mentioned in the RFP). As the Mayor rightly pointed out, prioritizing commercial development will divide the City, delay this much-needed project, and cause further damage to this precious historic legacy. We are urging the City Council to put this RFP in abeyance to allow other projects to be considered such as a community project that includes housing for homeless individuals, nonprofit uses, and public space in the Y. This is what the public wants, and what we feel is in the best interest of the city. 

7. We  are concerned that City Council members may be fostering a negative attitude toward homeless people and supportive housing by talking about over concentration as if supportive housing is problem instead of a solution. The affordable and supportive housing in our city enhances a neighborhood, it doesn’t bring down property values or create negative outcomes like increased crime. Affordable and supportive housing often looks more appealing than market rate housing and it’s almost always more environmentally friendly. Supportive housing is needed in the central district because that where the vast majority of our homeless residents live. Placing supportive housing near where homeless people live is a best practice. When we take our homeless neighbors off the street, they no longer have the stigma of being homeless.  That’s good for businesses as well as those who are housed. That’s not just my opinion, that’s what Paul Little of the Chamber of Commerce stated in a documentary produced by the Housing Department. Housing our homeless neighbors at the Julia Morgan Y would take chronically homeless people off the streets of the central district and place them in an environment where they reclaim their lives. This is why the churches strongly support using the Y for this purpose.

We are deeply concerned about the women who have been abused and have ended up homeless and are living on the streets of our city. It seems like a travesty to take a place intended to shelter low-income women in need and turn it into a for-profit deluxe hotel. Other cities like Honolulu, Long Beach, and San Pedro have honored the YMCA legacy by turning historic Ys into supportive housing. Using it for commercial use is a desecration of its original intent. How will people of faith and conscience feel when they will look upon our civic center with a hotel pushed by a handful of City Council members with little or no public support? I wonder how Julia Morgan would feel about her name associated with such a misuse of her architectural work. Julia Morgan won a posthumous architectural award from the American Institute of Architects, it was pointed out that she was not only a “super woman” who designed Hearst Castle, she was concerned about the poor and vulnerable and built 22 YWCAs. I believe that Pasadena is dishonoring Julia Morgan’s legacy by turning her Y into a deluxe hotel. I therefore urge you to rewrite the CUP and RFP so it priorities housing for our homeless resdients, especially women.

8.  Since this is an historic site, with monumental busts of Jackie and Mack Robinson,  it's important to know that when Jackie Robinson retired from baseball, he established the Jackie Robinson Construction Company to build housing for low-income families in Harlem. Robinson was passionate about social justice.  How do you think Jackie Robinson would feel if he knew that his statue was next to an historic YWCA that had been turned into a deluxe hotel?  We would truly honor the legacy of Jackie Robinson if his statue was next to a beautiful historic site where low-income people could live in dignity? Let's make the civic center and Robinson park a place that the City can be proud o.

10: Supportive housing will be an economic as wellas  social development of our community. The City can require local hires for affordable and homeless housing. For Heritage Square North, 20% were local hires, and 60% of materials used were purchased locally.  Supportive housing would provide economic benefits to the local community in ways that commercial development could not guarantee. Heritage Square left $ 7 million in the City because of its policy to provide local contracts and supplies. Unlike city funded affordable housing projects, there is no requirement for commercial developers to hire local contractors. Nor are commercial ventures required to hire local employees. Therefore, commercial development would not necessarily provide any jobs for local residents nor would there be any requirement for material to be purchased locally. It makes much better economic sense for the City to invest in supportive housing in an area where such housing is urgently needed, and where most of Pasadena’s homeless residents currently live. Please revise your CUP and RFP to prioritize much needed supportive housing.

11. Service providers are doing their the  needs of the poor with food, clothing and other support serves. One of the biggest needs is for housing. Lack of affordable housing is a major causes of poverty and homelessness.  Homeless service providers have testified to this Council many times that the lack of homeless housing in this city is making very hard for them to find housing for those who are homeless. The latest Homeless Count has some good news. Our efforts are having an impact in reducing homelessness, but we haven’t yet reduced the number of chronically homeless people, those who are most visible. That population has increased from 269 from 238. These are the people that business complain the most about. Here’s what the  2019 Homeless Count says about this group.

While notable progress has been made to reduce homelessness in key subpopulations, the number of people experiencing chronic homelessness increased and now accounts for approximately 50% of the total homeless population. People experiencing chronic homelessness have a disabling condition and have experienced homelessness for more than one year. These individuals typically have complex, long-term health conditions that are further exacerbated by living on the streets without a stable home. Their higher needs also make them more visible in public spaces. To make meaningful advancements towards reducing chronic homelessness and supporting a highly vulnerable population with the greatest service needs, increased investments in proven solutions, primarily supportive housing, are critical.

Since there is only one supportive senior housing project in the pipeline, we need to create multiple supportive housing projects, both short- and long-term.  Reducing our homeless population by providing housing will make our community safer and better for business. That’s why I am urging you to re-write the CUP and RFP to prioritize supportive housing at the Julia Morgan Y.

12. It is troubling that current RFP prioritizes commercial development over people.  However, I also feel it’s worth considering the financial advantages of prioritizing supportive housing in your RFP and CUP.  Chronically homeless people are likely to cost society more money in health care than younger and healthier homeless residents. Given the City’s budget crunch, it makes more economic sense to house our chronically homeless neighbors in facilities with services provided by the County’s Measure H funding than to let them sicken and die on the streets, with various agencies in the City footing enormous medical bills. A Rand study showed that housing homeless residents has saved the county $1.20 for every dollar spent on housing and supportive services. According to an Economic Roundtable study, the cost of dealing with a homeless individual in LA County is around $5038 per month, vs $605 per month when they are provided with supportive housing. These costs increase with the age of homeless individuals. Based on this study, we can estimate the cost to Pasadena of having 69 homeless seniors living on the street to be around $4 million per year. Housing them in supportive housing would save $3 million a year. This would be a huge financd

13. This  is an historic moment for our city. We will be deciding the fate of our beautiful civic center, whether it will reflect our city’s highest moral values or simply be another commercial venture catering to the rich. In the past our city has made decisions that have prioritize money over people, with dire consequences for our low-income residents, and we now have a chance to do better. For instance, the City used millions of dollars of redevelopment funds to redevelop Old Pasadena. We now have a thriving city center, but this improvement came with a heavy price. Many low-income individuals were displaced, and some ended up chronically homeless. The state’s Redevelopment Fund required that 20% of the taxes from a redevelopment project be set aside for affordable housing but the city lobbied successfully to exempted from that requirement. These tax dollars went instead to the pensions of the police and fire department, thereby lowering the tax burden on the wealthy and middle class. Our low-income residents, many of whom were people of color, ended up on our streets. Let’s not repeat the sins of our past. If you aren’t aware of such sins, especially the sin of racism,we  recommend that you read Conspiracy of the Good. Let’s avoid the sins of our past and use the Julia Morgan Y for affordable and homeless housing. Let's learn from our history, including the failed Kimpton hotel, and use the Julia Morgan Y for its intended purpose: housing those in need.  And if Redevelopment Funds were used to purchase this property, let’s make sure that 20% of the tax revenues from this property go to supportive housing. Better yet, revise the CUP and RFP to prioritize supportive housing and make us proud of our civic center. 

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