Councilmembers at the recent San Fernando city council meeting chose to take no action on the potential development options on Public Parking Lot No. 3, leaving the contract with Azure Development to expire next month.

On July 18, council members discussed among other items, the community outreach conducted by Azure Development about the development options on one of the city’s downtown mall adjacent public parking lots.

There were three proposed options: two were a mix of residential and commercial developments that would’ve included a movie theater and a mixture of  “both townhouse and condo style homes”  — one option offered more constructed homes while the other offered fewer homes with more open spaces and a social/wellness center — and the third option was an all-commercial option. 

The first two residential options would have allowed the City of San Fernando the opportunity to receive a CalHome grant from the state to help low- and very low-income households with first-time homebuyer down payment assistance.

The outreach was conducted over a 90-day period between May and July. A survey by the company totaling 343 respondents found that the majority felt that the first option would be the most beneficial to the community. Only 11 respondents were business owners. 

Before the City Council made its decision, they heard four dozen public comments, both in person and online. The majority of in-person comments came from union carpenters — some from Carpenters Local Union 661 in Sylmar — who were in support of the project being approved because they maintained it would create much-needed jobs and would allow them to work close to home while providing their community with affordable housing. 

Many comments made through email were against the project, claiming there was poor public outreach and the city’s failure to create an overall master plan. Azure critics claimed the survey only reached out to approximately 1.45 percent of the City’s population.

Several of those comments asked that the project be paused until the completion of the City’s Downtown Master Plan, which would include guidance from councilmembers, city staff and the community on how to best proceed with future developments. A Request for Proposal from the City to consulting firms was issued on July 12 and was due July 19.

City Manager Nick Kimball said City staff will review the proposals and, within a month or so, would bring a recommendation to councilmembers. After a firm is given the contract, the City will begin community outreach to get their input.

“As far as when it [Master Plan] will be completed, you’re looking at … 12 to 18 months, but we’ll have data out of that plan starting seven or eight months from now that we can start using to make some decisions and present to [the city] council along the way,” Kimball said.

After a more than an hour-long recess in a closed session, council members decided to make no motion on the item — effectively letting the contract with Azure Development expire on Aug. 5.

“I have made it clear that I am against apartments in our downtown mall,” Mayor Mary Mendoza said. “When the Azure project was brought to us for the first time, I opposed the housing development on Parking Lot 3. … As it stands, with the information that I have, I don’t feel that I can make a responsible and informed decision at this time on the project.”

Mendoza said she similarly had opposed the apartment building development previously proposed for the JC Penney building in the city’s mall.

The second item up for discussion was the placement of liens (a form of security interest granted over an item of property to secure the payment of a debt) on property for nonpayment of waste collection services.

The City of San Fernando has a contract with Republic Services to collect the city’s trash — both residential and business. The city has had an ongoing problem with both residents and business owners who aren’t paying their trash bills from Republic. The figures to date for unpaid trash collection that remain unpaid for more than 90 days are $41,939.38 from 93 residential accounts and $68,142.66 from 48 commercial accounts.

Due to the contract, Republic Services cannot stop the collection of trash, even in the case of unpaid bills, due to the public health risk it could create. Instead, the unpaid bill is added to the property tax.

During public comments, property owners brought up concerns that the contract places the burden of unpaid bills on them instead of their tenants. 

One property owner, Susan Schwary from GMSM LLC, recounted how a tenant, who she had recently evicted from a store due to nonpayment of rent, did not believe he should’ve paid for the trash bill. After his eviction from her property, they found a false wall at the back of the store filled with trash. She said they are now stuck with a $4,800 bill from Republic Services.

“They want to lien our property, which to me is unfair,” Schwary said. “This should be a dispute between this tenant and Republic … this is unreal what we had to go through. All the money we lost on this guy, and now we have to pay his trash bill.”

Councilmember Cindy Montañez sympathized with the property owners and suggested that the council take a look and possibly amend the contract with Republic so owners and landlords do not have to pay for tenants’ bills. She also suggested looking at the data to determine how many people can pay off those bills.

“I think my biggest concern is people who are never responsible for that bill,” Montañez said. “Having a lien against the property, I think that’s not right to do that. [Property owners] had nothing to do with not paying that bill.”

The City Council made a motion to table the item to be discussed further during a special meeting. No date has yet been given for that meeting.

City of San Fernando Vice Mayor Hector Pacheco announced during the meeting that he will not be running for reelection this November. He is still serving out his first term on the City Council.

“I always put the neighborhoods of San Fernando first, and I always will,” Pacheco said. “After four years, I just think it’s time now that I pass the torch, so to speak, to the younger generation [behind] me that wants to find their own way to give back to our community, and I hope that they certainly do.”