Pasadena Star News

Foundation sues city over Kidspace lease, permit

Arroyo Seco activists say arrangement violates rules on park use

November 22, 2000

PASADENA -- The Arroyo Seco Foundation sued the city of Pasadena on Tuesday, challenging a 50-year lease with Kidspace Museum and the approval of a conditional use permit for the museum to occupy park land.

The foundation alleges the city's approval of the lease and permit violates the city charter and the Arroyo Seco Ordinance, which states: "No portion of the lands of the Arroyo Seco shall be used for any commercial or institutional uses other than those which existed at the effective date of the ordinance."

The ordinance was adopted in 1990.

No one at the Pasadena City Attorney's Office or at Kidspace could immediately be reached for comment.

"There was a great wrong here," said Mark Frankel, an Arroyo Seco Foundation board member. "The city charter says if you're going to transfer parkland or change its use or sell it, you need to have an election of the people."

Frankel said the suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, aims to have Kidspace's lease rescinded.

"We really feel strongly about the need for open space and park space in Pasadena," Frankel added. "Taking 3 acres out of the public domain for 50 years ... when we have so little to begin with is not the right way to be managing the city's resources."

The foundation is a group of local activists who want to preserve the Arroyo Seco, which is a natural canyon extending from the San Gabriel Mountains through Pasadena to the Los Angeles River. In 1964, the city set aside the land to preserve and maintain it as a natural park, according to the foundation.

In 1998, Kidspace Museum agreed to lease the Fannie Morrison Center in the Arroyo Seco for $1 per year for 50 years.

The museum plans to restore three existing buildings at the center and build a fourth, which would replace one that burned down, the foundation contends.

"I think Kidspace is a great organization. We just don't think that's an appropriate place for them," Frankel said.

The Fannie Morrison Center was a horticultural and botanical center, but is presently used as a storage facility for park maintenance equipment, according to the lawsuit.

The Pasadena City Council approved the lease, claiming the museum's activities qualified as "park and recreation" use as defined by the City Charter, according to court papers.

On Oct. 23, a city zoning hearing officer granted the conditional use permit, the lawsuit states.

But the foundation contends any proposed project needs to be voted on by the residents of Pasadena per the City Charter, Arroyo Seco's attorney, Douglas Carstens, said.

Approving the project violates the City Charter, which states, "All dedicated park land owned by the city shall be used only for park and recreational purposes, and shall not be sold, transferred or used for other purposes, except upon the approval of a majority of the voters at an election held for such purpose," according to the lawsuit.

The foundation is asking that court set aside the approval of the lease and conditional use permit, claiming it "will suffer irreparable harm in its community because of the significant loss of usable open space in the Arroyo Seco, which is available to the public at no charge."

-- Staff writer Katherine Drouin-Keith contributed to this City News Service story.