Kidspace plans draw fire

Attorneys claim museum, city violated lease

Saturday September 04, 1999

By Janette Williams
Staff Writer

PASADENA---Plans for a new Kidspace Museum in Brookside Park started out with the support of everyone from Pasadena Heritage to the Arroyo Seco Foundation.

But now attorneys for the foundation have raised the possibility of taking legal action to stop the new museum, saying the city violated its own rules by leasing 3.4 acres of park land to Kidspace without putting it to the voters in a special election.

No one objected two years ago when the city leased Kidspace the site for 50 years at $1 a year with an agreement to restore the three historic buildings of the Fannie E. Morrison Horticultural Center and incorporate them into the new museum. Brookside, in the central Arroyo Seco, is already home to the Rose Bowl, Rose Bowl Aquatics Center and Brookside Golf Course.

But since Kidspace unveiled the avant-garde designs for its $15 million, 30,000-square-foot project two months ago, opponents have charged museum officials with violating their agreement with the city by proposing an oversized complex completely different from the original concept and unsuitable for the site.

"The lease may not be valid. The voters were not asked," said Dianne Philibosian, president of the Arroyo Seco Foundation. "We'll have to wait and see the response from the city, but I'd like to see them reject the mitigated negative declaration and the revised initial study and require a full Environmental Impact Report at a minimum.

"I also have concerns about possible City Charter and Arroyo Seco ordinance (violations) and I don't know where that will take us. It could ultimately render the lease null and void."

City Attorney Michele Bagneris said she was "still going through things" brought up in an 18-page letter to the council, and could not comment on the legal basis for the complaints.

Mayor Bill Bogaard said the council plans to schedule a special public hearing the week of Sept. 20 to address questions raised about whether the lease constitutes a transfer of park land.

"Some people now believe the location is inappropriate," Bogaard said, adding that the new building struck him as being "extremely large and difficult to see as being compatible with the setting, the scale and architecture of the rest of the buildings."

Councilman Paul Little said the issue has generated a lot of mail for and against the project.

Still, Little said, he was surprised by the level of opposition from neighbors.

"But then again I saw the handout people were getting under their doors, and that was almost inflammatory 350,000 people that were going to be swarming in, and (Kidspace) was going to be selling alcohol," Little said, referring to a flier put out by neighborhood opponents.

Carol Scott, executive director of Kidspace, said there was never any intention of applying for a liquor license. According to the lease, the nonprofit museum can rent out the facilities up to 20 times a year to offset the $900,000 annual running costs and groups could apply to serve alcohol at their events, she said.

"I think what (Kidspace) has proposed is something that will further enhance Pasadena's reputation as a community that cares about kids," Little said. "In and of itself, the design of the building is extraordinary. They've got something amazing, all other issues aside. Plunk that building down anywhere, and it would demand the accolades the design's been getting" from architecture critics.

But, Little said, Kidspace and architect Michael Maltzan had missed an opportunity Monday to give the whole community a presentation explaining exactly how the museum was going to work.

Kidspace officials have been taken aback by the level and spirit of the opposition, according to executive director Carol Scott.

Focus groups met about a dozen times at Kidspace for interested community members, said Angela Parris, director of operations. The final proposals incorporated what the Pasadena community asked for in the museum, including a theater, she said.

"And I cannot emphasize enough the thought and planning going on for outside the exhibit area," Parris said. "If opponents, particularly the ones so worried about the arroyo, could see the things we hope to offer the children of Pasadena, I cannot see any of them opposing it. We are enhancing the area."

Thomas Seifert, a longtime member of the city's Recreation and Parks Commission, said everyone originally "embraced" the proposals for bringing Kidspace -- now in a 6,000 square-foot space on South El Molino Avenue -- to Brookside.

"What happened is this project got ahead of the process, and our concern is that it has grown beyond the letter and spirit of the lease," Seifert said Wednesday, adding that the commission has asked the council to insist that Kidspace strictly adhere to the letter and language of their lease.

"The foot grew to a size 14, and we're trying to put it back into a size seven shoe," Seifert said. "It's gone beyond the scope envisioned. It doesn't belong on public land. It belongs somewhere in the city, and we truly want them to stay in Pasadena, but what they envision for their needs and operations no longer fits Brookside Park."