May 20, 2007

Southern California Edison's plan for self-storage units and RV parking,1,3116947.story
From the Los Angeles Times

[See related story here]

Pasadena residents draw a line at the lines

Where they see open space, Edison sees revenue-generating self-storage units.
By Deborah Schoch
Times Staff Writer

May 20, 2007

Southern California Edison's plan to replace Pasadena plant nurseries with self-storage units and parking lots has sparked a vocal campaign to preserve a two-mile swath of land under power lines at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains.

In a region facing fierce development pressure, the debate illustrates the growing importance of remaining open space, even if it lies under tall towers and a thick web of power lines.

More than 100 residents met Saturday in a standing-room-only session to plan an initiative to preserve the Edison-owned corridor, calling it an important piece of a potential "emerald horseshoe" of open space cradling the Pasadena area.

The utility is working with a private developer that plans self-storage facilities on Edison rights of way dotted across Los Angeles and Orange counties, with two completed ­ in Long Beach and Orange ­ and one under construction near Anaheim. RHC Communities Inc. also has self-storage projects pending on Edison corridors in more than a dozen other area cities.

In Pasadena, the firm plans to build two self-storage projects on a portion of the corridor. The outcry there is the most vociferous to date, in part because some residents view the current Edison right of way ­ historically a checkerboard of nurseries, tree farms and parking lots ­ as some of the last remaining open space in the city of 146,000 residents.

One speaker at the meeting, Jet Propulsion Laboratory climatologist Bill Patzert, called the corridors an "open space opportunity" at a time when the last open land includes cemeteries and military bases such as Camp Pendleton.

"Give the last open space to the people," he said. "Rather than putting your stuff in storage, give it to the Salvation Army."

Starting in the 1990s, Edison began looking for more lucrative "second uses" for land under its power lines, blaming the decision in part on deregulation and the resulting increased competition. That led to a shift from Christmas tree farms and nurseries to bigger revenue generators such as self-storage units and car lots ­ and Edison said it owed that increased revenue to customers and shareholders.

But just as some Orange County residents protested the closing of Christmas tree farms in the mid-1990s, Pasadena residents are speaking up for plant nurseries and undeveloped space.

The Pasadena project is planned by an RHC subsidiary company, Tustin-based Pacific Storage Partners, which has proposed two self-storage facilities, each about 70,000 square feet, officials said. The plan also called for a warehouse, parking for a new YMCA and ice rink, and an estimated $500,000 in park and recreation improvements. The developer has already provided land that is now part of Vina Vieja Park.

Critics say the plans involve too much development. The Edison corridor provides a valuable band of open land running from Eaton Canyon south, parallel to Eaton Wash, and ending south of Del Mar Boulevard, residents said Saturday. The meeting was organized by a new group, Open Space Now, and held at the Eaton Canyon Nature Center.

The flash point of the controversy, they said, was news that two local nurseries, Persson's and Present Perfect, would lose their land this summer to the new development, which has not yet been reviewed by the city. The tree farms and other nursery areas have already moved.

Persson's in particular has stirred residents' concerns, because it has operated on the site for 35 years and built a staunch following, some speakers said.

"They're having their knees cut out from under them after 35 years, with no public meeting," said attorney Michael J. Coppess, a former Pasadena planning commissioner. "This strip of land is not being planned within the public process. It is being driven by a private storage developer."

He urged residents to contact City Hall and fight development of the right of way, calling the plan "space for cash and prizes."

Spokesmen for Edison and RHC Communities said in interviews Friday and Saturday that the Pasadena plan is on hold as RHC studies how to incorporate more parkland.

"We're not just talking self-storage," said RHC's George Minter. The original plan would have added 12 acres of parks, he said. "What we're trying to do is significantly increase that acreage," he said. A new plan could be ready within weeks, officials said.

Minter blamed the current outcry on the Persson's case and said many of the opponents hadn't studied the complete plans. He said Persson's was offered the chance to move across the street to a new location but declined.

But Gary Butters, general manager of Persson's, said the cost of the move would have proved prohibitive, in part because the nursery is under 1975 city codes and would have had to meet 2007 code standards.

"It wasn't as simple as just picking up your plants, moving them across the street and opening again," said Butters, whose wife, Linda Persson-Butters, owns the nursery started by her parents. Butters said he was also apprehensive because the project incorporating the proposed nursery site has not yet been approved by the city.

He and his wife plan to close the nursery June 30 and will hold a liquidation sale.

RHC representatives met with homeowners associations along the corridor for several years, and those groups never opposed the final proposal, Minter said.

Edison has worked with several developers in recent years to build self-storage facilities in Rosemead, Redondo Beach, Orange, Irvine and other cities, said Edison project manager Lou Salas. In 2001, the utility signed an exclusive option with RHC for the development of more projects.

"We figured it was more prudent to do it with one developer," Salas said. RHC projects on Edison corridors have been approved in Los Angeles, South Gate, Bellflower, Pico Rivera and Paramount. Other plans are pending in the Eagle Rock area, Torrance, Carson, Redondo Beach, Hawthorne, Montebello and other cities.

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