City Adopts Methodical Approach on Caltrans Homes

First published in the Oct. 15 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.

In the wake of Senate Bill 381, the fate of properties owned by the California Department of Transportation is still undecided, as the City Council last week deferred any potential action on the properties until at least November.
After Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill last month, the council was slated to establish an ad hoc committee, authorize a request for proposals to be issued and allow evaluation of funding options to fix up the Caltrans properties — per the municipal staff’s recommendation. SB 381 is the latest political step to help cities dispose of the properties, which have languished since the transportation agency began buying them up to facilitate construction of the now-defunct 710 Freeway tunnel project.

“I don’t believe a strategic pause means nothing is done,” said Councilman Jon Primuth, “but I do think it means we are consulting with all of our stakeholders, and that includes the Planning Commission.”
Newsom signed SB 381 into law on Sept. 28, providing a road map for Caltrans to unload its properties, many of which continue to have tenants and some of which have been claimed by squatters. It offers protection for longtime tenants and gives the city of South Pasadena abilities to create affordable housing and preserve historic properties.
In accordance with Senate Bill 416 and the Roberti Act, Caltrans began to dispense surplus properties, including houses, in 2017. The governor signed Senate Bill 7, which ended the 710 Freeway extension project, in 2019.
Now, the City Council is expected to form an implementation committee, solicit bids to collect repair estimates for unoccupied Caltrans properties and authorize the staff to take a look at funding opportunities for updating homes to make sure they are habitable.
It’s unclear how much it will cost to repair the unoccupied homes because it is contingent on the scope of work and what is defined as acceptable housing.
The staff laid out a schedule at the council’s meeting that listed a joint meeting with state Sen. Anthony Portantino — who authored the most recent legislation — in early November, approval of a request for proposals in November and approval of a professional services agreement in January.
“The staff’s recommendation was really based on the idea that we wanted to be very proactive in how we address the legislation and try to push forward as quickly as we could,” said Margaret Lin, interim director of planning and community development. “That said, it does take Caltrans and the Office of Administrative Law quite a while to develop and then release the regulations and the guidelines, and so there is time.”
The council agreed that renovating unoccupied homes is a priority because of the potential safety hazards that they present. Because of this, Mayor Diana Mahmud at first said she was hesitant to delay issuing an RFP to complete housing inspections so that homes can be appraised and renovations can begin.
“Moreover,” she continued, “we have committed to do community meetings, and I think in order for those community meetings to be productive we need to be able to provide actual information based upon sound, objective information.”
City Manager Arminé Chaparyan and staff will work with the city attorney to figure out what role a committee could play regarding the RFPs and how to best fund the update of homes to make them habitable.
They’ll also work to set up a community meeting with Portantino to get more information on SB 381 and how it affects South Pasadena residents.