JC Penney building in the San Fernando Mall

The San Fernando City Council was to consider entering an agreement with the California Statewide Communities Development Authority (CSCDA), and approving a resolution so CSCDA could issue housing revenue bounds for a housing project — now known as the Penny’s Apartments — at its Sept. 15 meeting.

The estimated $20 million project — converting the old JC Penney building in the San Fernando Mall into a four-story commercial and residential use property with 101-single bedroom units and 108-parking spaces being developed by Aszkenazy Development, Inc. (which also owns and publishes the San Fernando Valley Sun) —  was  approved by the council by a 4-0 vote (with Ballin abstaining) in July. The approval included city zone changes. 

If CSCDA decides to issue those bonds, the value could not exceed $12 million. City Manager Brian Saeki said San Fernando would not be liable in any way for the bonds.

But the agency representative scheduled to explain the bonds process, and listen to public input, was unable to appear. That appearance has been postponed until Oct. 20. The city staff’s presentation and recommendation on the resolution was also postponed until that date.

The attending council — Mayor Sylvia Ballin, Mayor Pro Tem Robert Gonzales and council members Jesse Avila, Joel Fajardo and Antonio Lopez — agreed to open the public hearing to the resolution, with all remarks made on Monday, Sept. 15, being part of the record.

At least two dozen persons from the packed audience inside the Council Chambers came forward to speak. Some were folks who have spoken previously about the project; some were appearing for the first time.

All speakers opposed the project.

Some complained of there was not enough notification about the amount of the project being geared for housing rather than business. Others contended parking and shopping would be a nightmare if residents have more than one vehicle. Still others argued it would create public safety problems.

“I’ve spoken before, asking there be more public input, time and research to be considered before approving the zoning changes that’s going to allow the development of this low-income housing project,” said Miguel Montanez.

“After talking with more than 100 residents and people in the downtown mall, I realize a large number of people are unaware of the project. And when they are informed they have many questions about the feasibility and the size of the project. A group of residents have formed an organization named Residents for the Betterment of San Fernando, to present our concerns to you and stop the development. Today I ask, before anything is decided that more time and thought is given before the [bonds] approval.”

Resident Mary Lou Mendoza voiced more skepticism.

“On July 29, 2014…I was informed that the change in the variance for this project and to be rushed and approved within 20 days because the developer needed to apply for government funding and tax credits to fund the project. If this is the case, what happened to those requests? And why is the developer now asking for the city to approve a bond?” Mendoza said.

“If the developer wants to build this project, the developer should use his own funds. The project is not what the city needs. … I’ve asked how you planned to address the parking issues for this complex, and the parking issues it would create. I asked how you would handle those tenants with two vehicles, and where would the tenant’s visitors park. To date my questions have not been answered.”

Resident Antonio Ruiz said the people he talked to “did not know” about the proposed development and construction. “What they thought was [developers] would renovate the building, and bring JC Penney back or another department store, which San Fernando needs. We don’t need residencies in our mall.

“We have to invest and bring more businesses — not small businesses but larger department stores into our mall where it will development, we have more employment and more funds coming in. The housing would destroy our mall,” Ruiz said.

A young man who said he had worked in law enforcement, said he had seen firsthand what happens “when you open up housing” for Section 8 residents. “I’ve seen the crime they bring. I’ve lived on a street where a new apartment opened up, and my Mom’s car had been tampered with.

“We don’t need [this project] in our city. We need a Target. I have to drive to Granada Hills to got to go to Target. Why can’t I have a Target here? Just something rather than a complex that’s going to bring crime? It’s common sense.”

 Included was a letter from resident Irma Montoya, dated Sept. 15, who wrote, “As a concerned citizen and constituent of the City of San Fernando, I’m writing to ask you not to approve the financing in any way the acquisition, construction and development of a 101-unit multifamily housing project, located at 1150 San Fernando Road. This project is not in the best interests of the residents of San Fernando.

“As public servants, it is a responsibility of the council members to look out for public interest, welfare, and the safety of their constituents. Again, please vote no on the issuance of the multifamily housing revenue bonds for Penny’s Apartments.”

The public hearing and deliberation on the bonds issuance resumes on Oct. 20.