Thursday, January 30, 2014

Quercus agrifolia

It’s a fancy name for an oak tree, the coast live oak to be specific.  While several types of oaks are native to Monrovia like the Engelmann Oak, when we think “oaks”, we’re picturing coast live oaks.  Monrovia has its fair share of these stately trees throughout town.  In fact, Monrovians have always had a great affection and appreciation for their oak trees.

William Monroe’s house at 250 North Primrose Avenue is called “The Oaks.”  Then there are all the street names: Oakglade, Oakdale, Royal Oaks, Winding Oak…at last count there were at least 9.  Foothill Boulevard used to be named White Oak.  Then there’s Garfield Place.  Most people know this as the street with the oak tree growing in the middle of it…we could go on and on…ok just a couple more…there’s Bradoaks (a school and a street) and the Live Oak cemetery.

So why are we talking oaks?  Well after a recent incident involving some oak trees caused quite a stir, we thought it would be important to set the facts straight.  

Back in 1987, the City Council adopted the Oak Tree Preservation Ordinance to protect our oaks and acknowledge their importance.  What this City law does is to classify the oak as a protected tree in many locations and requires a permit to cut down or do a major trimming on most oak trees in the City. 

Where is this story going?

Well last year, a house on North Mountain Avenue was sold.  One of the things that really attracted the new owners to the property were the three majestic oaks in the front yard.  Recently, the owner noticed that one of the trees was not looking quite right and called a Certified Arborist to take a look at the trees.  Unfortunately, the arborist determined that all three oak trees were fatally diseased and that the other two would soon succumb to the same fate as the first and recommended that they be removed. 

The owner, fully aware of the City’s regulations, came in to talk to City Staff and provided a copy of the report for the City’s review.  The City’s arborist reviewed the report and inspected the trees for himself and agreed that the immediate removal of the trees was warranted.

The trees were removed over the weekend and like we said, Monrovians are very keen on their oaks.  Seeing that these beautiful trees were coming down and not knowing the back story, passersbys called the police to report the crime.  The police arrived and stopped the cutting until it was confirmed that due to their health, the trees were approved to be removed.

While there is no real happy ending to the story for the oaks, we are very happy to hear that the owner has chosen to plant two large sycamore trees.  Not only are sycamores another Monrovia native, they are also resistant to the oak tree disease that is likely still present in the soil. 

If you’re still with us and want to find out even more about oak trees, their care, Monrovia’s ordinance, you can find it on the City’s website.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

What happened at Planning Commission?

We're so glad you asked!

What the agenda lacked in quantity it made up for in quality.  After about a half a year in preparation, Staff presented the Planning Commission with the draft Housing Element for their consideration.  

To give you some background, every city and county in California is required to adopt a General Plan.  The General Plan is a community's long range blueprint that guides decision-making to achieve the established goals of the community.  In a sense, the General Plan acts as the constitution by which all decisions should be based.  Important stuff.

So back to the Housing Element.  The Housing Element is one of the seven required sections or "elements" of the General Plan and addresses the community's future housing needs.  The Element establishes policies and programs specifically to address Monrovia's existing and projected housing needs for all economic segments of the community.  Different from the other elements, the Housing Element has specific time frames when it must be updated.  The current cycle is for the period 2014-2021.  

Last night, the Commission held a public hearing to discuss the draft Housing Element.  At the close of the hearing, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval to the City Council who will hear this item at their February 4 meeting.  

Curious?  A lot more information can be found on the City's website.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Albertson's Closing

We just got the news that Albertson's Monrovia on East Huntington Drive will be closing in February.  We've been following the news, so its not a complete surprise, but still we're sorry to see them leave Monrovia.

But, this isn't the first time that this shopping center lost it's major tenant.  Back in the last millennium, longtime Monrovia business Kmart closed, that was around 1996 or so.  Check out this old Polaroid.  

It brings back memories of Blue Light Specials and those amazing deep fried burritos at the cafeteria.  That was way before the term "chimichanga" came into vogue.  We'd better bid adieu before we get too nostalgic.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Rising from the ashes...

OK, that was a bit dramatic.  But if you're still reading this then it worked.  

Most Monrovians only know the property at 302 East Foothill Boulevard as a vacant (and often overgrown) lot.  You know the one...on the south east corner of Foothill and Canyon at the end of a beautiful row of Craftsman homes.  Well, it's been that way well over 30 years since a fire took down the house.  Rumor has it, it was a caused by a Christmas Tree.  

Do you know where this house is?

We've never seen any pictures, but we heard it was a real nifty Craftsman.  

In fact, according to City Historian (and City Treasurer) Steve Baker, it looked an awful lot like this house, but in reverse.

Over the years, the Planning Staff received lots of questions about what was going on with the lot.  Our answer, "We don't know." 

Well now we do.

In fact we feel a little bad because we've known for a little while now, but with the holidays and plan checks and staff reports...well, you get the picture.  

So here's the scoop, and its no rumor. 

Once the property was put on the market, boy did we get inquiries!  In the end, the property was purchased by a local developer, Bowden Development.  And although the zoning would allow multiple units on the property, what was proposed--and approved was a two-story single family house with an attached second unit (AKA "granny flat").

The house takes it's cues from the rest of the block and the Wild Rose Historic District around the corner.  Kudos to the architect, we think he did a nice job and got the details right.  The site is laid out well to save all the oak trees.    

We expect them to break ground soon.  We'll keep you posted...especially if you subscribe.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

2013 was a pretty good year after all

At the start of 2013, we were feeling cautiously optimistic, which is how we felt at the beginning of 2012 and 2011 only to be slightly disillusioned.  But oh what a difference a year makes!  All those phone calls, emails, counter visits are definitely resulting in something tangible.  Finally, we can say with some surety that things are looking up.  In fact, the Planning Staff has had a very busy year and things do not look like they are slowing down.  Despite the length of this post, this is just a brief overview of some of what's been going on here.

Planning Commission
Let’s start with the Planning Commission, they reviewed 43 entitlements in 2013 a 35% increase over 2012.  Too numerous to mention all of them, some of the highlights include:
 Monrovia’s first microbrewery—or any brewery for that matter—Pacific Plate located at 1999 South Myrtle Avenue was approved at the beginning of the year and opened their doors a few months ago.  Hope you got a chance to try their "Christmas in a glass".
5th & Huntington
A new 154-unit apartment building at the corner of 5th & Huntington Drive was approved in the spring.  Construction plans are now being reviewed by the City and the developer is planning on breaking ground in the spring of 2014.  This will be a huge change for that corner and will make a terrific entry statement for Monrovia.
Del Taco is under construction at 945 East Huntington Drive, next to Fast5Xpress car wash which is also well under way.  Both businesses should be open in several months.  This was truly a collaborative process involving the residents of the mobile home park to the north, the developer, City Staff and also Duarte’s staff (since the City of Duarte owns half the street).
Del Taco


New Restaurants in Huntington Oaks
Chipotle, Smashburger, Panera have opened in a beautiful new building that replaced Acapulco in the Huntington Oaks Shopping Center.  Menchie’s frozen yogurt will be joining them soon.
Additionally, an expanded Union 76 service station and Giving Hands thrift store both received their approvals this year.  A 21-unit and 4-unit Planned Unit Development were approved at 1323 South Magnolia Avenue and 535 West Lemon Avenue, respectively.  The 18-unit Ivy at Monrovia condominiums should be completed mid-Winter 2014.

Ivy at Monrovia (Olive side)
Ivy at Monrovia (Ivy side)
Old Town continues to attract new restaurants.  Planet Cookie has transformed into Meridian.  S’Links at the south end of Old Town along with a new Japanese and bar and grill will make the 600 Block a hot dining destination.  Travel the world of food in the 600 Block.

Current Planning
Not every project, plan or permit is required to go before the Planning Commission.  The overwhelming majority of development is reviewed at a staff level.  From building remodels to landscape plans to new signage, the Planning counter has been busy this year.  Several existing businesses have completed or are in the process of doing major remodeling projects.  Popeye’s Chicken, the MonArc shopping center on Duarte Road (we’re still having trouble not referring to it as “the Super A center”) and AW Collision Center on South Mountain—big improvements to those buildings.

What's left of Wendy's
New Signs in Foothill Park Plaza

Wendy’s in the Foothill Park Plaza is undergoing its transformation…and speaking of Foothill Park Plaza, there have been several upgrades in 2013—new paint, parking lot improvements and a whole new sign program.
Literally, driving up the a good way
We’re happy to see that the car business is getting better too, both Sierra Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram (that’s a mouthful) and Mini Cooper completed big remodels.  Check out their new “sign”.  It puts a whole new spin to driving up the wall.  We weren’t sure about it on paper, but really like it in person.  Watch for further changes to Auto Row in 2014…big changes.

Historic Preservation
505 North Alta Vista Avenue
The Historic Preservation Commission reviewed two new historic landmarks for the register: #128 at 201 Acacia Avenue and #129 at 505 North Alta Vista Avenue.  The Commission is also responsible for reviewing and approving exterior changes to the City’s 129 historic landmarks.  If the Commission determines that the proposed change is consistent with the architectural and historic character of the property, a Certificate of Appropriateness (C of A) can be approved.  Eight C of A’s were approved this year.  As a “working Commission”, the Commissioners are often requested to serve on subcommittees to work out specific details.  Despite the apparent lack of progress on a couple projects, both the renovation of the Aztec Hotel and the complete remodel of the building at 316 South Myrtle Avenue have relied on their expertise.  We expect to see some visible progress on both properties over the next few months.

Advance Planning
Also known as long range Planning, this section of the Division is responsible for the update of the City’s General Plan and Zoning Ordinance.  In addition to a couple of project-specific amendments to the City’s General Plan, the primary focus in 2013 was the update of the Housing Element.  Over the year a consultant was hired to assist in the preparation of the Element.   This included a community workshop as well as a citywide survey was conducted earlier this year.  Public hearings will be held by the Planning Commission and City Council in early 2014.

Our staff processed an agreement to turn over the day-to-day activities related to monitoring film production in the Monrovia to FilmL.A., a non-profit organization to promote filming in Los Angeles County.  Working as adjunct staff, they will take over much of the legwork required in processing permits for filming production…at no cost to the City.

The City’s flagship transit program, Monrovia Transit dial-a-ride provided over 50,000 trips in 2013.  Watch for new vehicles in 2014.  The City’s portion of Proposition C monies (one of three countywide ½ cent transportation taxes) funded the resurfacing of the majority of Olive Avenue.

Gold Line construction is going full steam ahead and while the City’s Public Works Department is taking the lead on the interface with the new light rail system, many of the City’s divisions, including Planning, have been involved.  We’re all feeling the pain of construction, but in the end, we’re confident that this will be a great thing for Monrovia and the San Gabriel Valley. 
Well, there you have a very brief…ok not so brief overview of what’s been going on around “the counter.”  Although we’re not prone to make resolutions, we are striving to blog more often.   So stay tuned, there’s going to be a lot more good stuff coming soon. 

Happy New Year!