The proposed Playhouse Park on Union (Photo - Greg Gunther).

      The proposed Playhouse Park on Union (Photo – Greg Gunther).

      The Playhouse District is chock-a-block with restaurants, hotels, theaters, places of worship, bookstores and art museums.  There are opportunities to telecommute from the comfort of home or to catch an easy ride to work via the Gold Line or Bike Share.  With its vibrant mix of uses and a pedestrian-friendly lifestyle, the Playhouse District has attracted tens of thousands of new residents like me.

      By Deborah Dentler

      My husband and I downsized from a sprawling suburban lifestyle into a condo in the Playhouse District a few years ago and never looked back.  We now enjoy a healthier lifestyle and have reduced our carbon footprint.

      Living in the Playhouse District means seeing movies on big screens again, buying real magazines and newspapers again (from the old-fashioned stand outside Vroman’s), and walking everywhere–including to the Rose Parade, Central Library, Hollywood Bowl shuttle, all just a short stroll away.

      I was so thrilled with my new urban lifestyle, it took a while to notice what was missing.  I saw kids, dogwalkers, seniors, cyclists, book and newspaper readers, music and performance lovers, and “tree-huggers” (like me) galore.  But no parks.

      “Grandma, are we there yet?”  My two-year-old granddaughter whined as I trudged slowly across a noisy, ugly, shade-less freeway overpass pushing her stroller (weighted down with diapers, wipes, water, and snacks) to the playground. I had located my nearest park on my phone’s GPS and set out on foot, only to find my spirits and energy flag during what turned out to be a 45-minute walk on a hot summer day.

      Later, I checked a map of Pasadena. Surely there was a closer bit of greenspace and a swingset?  Alas, no. The Pasadena Playhouse is located more than a mile from the two nearest public parks (Grant and Villa).

      Unpaving paradise park in Seattle (Photo - seattle.gov).

      Unpaving Paradise park in Seattle (Photo – seattle.gov).

      How did this happen?

      The City’s own written policy states “an accessible public park will be within a half mile of every resident” and state laws and regulations require municipal governments to provide park and recreational amenities for residents impacted by increased housing density. Pasadena’s park planning has fallen woefully short. Turns out that, well before I moved into the neighborhood, virtually all potential open space was, apologies to Joni Mitchell, paved to put up a parking lot.

      This can and must change. Developers are required by law to pay fees to the City when their construction projects get approved. By law, those fees ensure that new residential development dwellers have adequate park facilities.

      Don’t be fooled by developers who assert that because they paid the Residential Impact Fees (“RIFs” for short) they—not we, the residents—should get to say how RIF money is spent.  That money belongs to us, the public.

      RIFs in Pasadena, 2017

      With each new housing development, Residential Impact Fees (RIFs) are collected to provide for parks. If you live in Pasadena, you’ve paid these either as part of the purchase price of your condominium, or they’re built into your monthly rent (Photo – Playhouse Park, Facebook).

      The RIF collected by the City when your building was constructed was a fee baked into the original price of your condominium. Or, for rentals, the RIFs were costs the developer folded into your monthly lease. By passing RIFs on to you in the purchase price or rent you paid, the developer handily arranged for you to pre-pay for parks, trails, open space and playgrounds you never got.

      You can easily calculate how much you pre-paid for a public park when you bought or rented your home in the Playhouse District.  If you own a one-bedroom condo in the Playhouse District, you’ve effectively contributed about $18,980 towards a neighborhood park.  For a 3-bedroom unit, your share is about $24,000.

      More than $8 million has been collected from developers to fund parks in the Playhouse District since the 2000, to build parks we do not have. The fund continues to swell (and sit unspent) while the City approves ever more new housing developments at an unprecedented rate.

      If RIF monies aren’t spent to provide parks, trails, open space and recreation in neighborhoods affected by growth in residential density, state law entitles private developers to get their money back. We can’t let this happen!

      I asked Pasadena’s park and recreation staff when the first unspent monies will start reverting back to the pockets of local developers. The answer: “we’ll need to start worrying about that in 18 months.”  That was months ago.

      If RIF monies
      aren’t spent
      …state law
      entitles private
      to get their
      money back

      It’s imperative we get a public park built now in the Playhouse District. With the cost of land and real estate rising steadily in the area, it gets harder each day for the City to acquire land for parks to serve downtown residents and visitors.

      At long last, there is a very real possibility the Playhouse Park district will finally get the public park residents deserve and for which we’ve essentially pre-paid in the form of developer fees passed onto residents in rents and purchase prices.

      Using RIF funds, the City of Pasadena has just purchased a small bank building and adjacent parcel of land and office space at the corner of Oak Knoll Ave. and Union, for use as a public park. That’s welcome news to residents of the Playhouse District, but much planning and advocacy remains to be done. Already, there are competing voices (mostly from non-Playhouse District residents) who want RIF funds to be spent elsewhere.

      The public is about to get a long-awaited chance to have a say on where a new park should be built, and what it should look like. City officials are holding a free community outreach meeting on Thursday, February 22, 2018 at 6:30 P.M., in the Gamble Lounge on the 1st floor of the Presbyterian Church located at the corner of Madison Ave. and Colorado Blvd.

      For more information about proposed Playhouse Park, send an e-mail and visit us on Facebook. Together, we can un-pave our little slice of Pasadena paradise.

      Deborah Dentler is a Pasadena attorney specializing in foster care cases. She sits on Pasadena’s Environmental Advisory Commission.

      Playhouse Park Community Meeting
      6:30 am - 8:00 pm
      Pasadena Presbyterian Church


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      1. Sean says:

        Very informative article. Thanks for publishing it. So many cities in the area have so little park green space. Too many cities give breaks to developers who do not give back to the community. In this case, the city is mandating that developers buy-in to green space, but the city is not following through on its end of the bargain to actually use the money for green space. What gives Pasadena CC?

        On another note, the City of San Gabriel just built a brand new park in cooperation with the school district. The school district was not using the land so they agreed to jointly develop it into park space. They received grant money from the state for the project and the park just opened this month. What a novel idea!

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