Monday, November 13, 2006
C.A. Approves Conversion of Pasadena’s Raymond Theater
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The City of Pasadena properly approved a project to convert Old Town’s Raymond Theater into an office-residential complex while keeping the building’s façade, this district’s Court of Appeal has ruled.
Div. Four last week upheld Los Angeles Superior Court Dzintra Janavs’ order denying requests by various preservation groups and individuals for mandamus, declaratory and injunctive relief against the city.
The plaintiffs claimed the City Council’s findings in support of its decisions to approve the Environmental Impact Report and requested variances for the project violated the California Environmental Quality Act, conflicted with the city’s zoning plans and were not supported by sufficient evidence.
But Justice Nora M. Manella, writing for the Court of Appeal, said:
“In our view, ample evidence supports these findings. The revised final EIR and its addenda support determinations that (1) some form of mixed-use development constitutes the only reasonably feasible use of the Raymond, and (2) the modified project preserves historical elements of the Raymond while creating a significant amount of housing.”
Gina Zamparelli, a concert promoter and former manager at the Raymond, who founded plaintiff Friends of the Raymond Theatre and maintained the Raymond could be successfully used as a theater, told the Pasadena Star News:
“Despite the court ruling, there is no disputing the reason we lost the Raymond Theatre. It is because of the unfair actions and decisions made by both the city and the [developer] Buchanans.” She said the group hadn’t decided if it would appeal to the Supreme Court.
But Assistant City Attorney Frank Rhemrev, praised the decision, telling the paper:
“We found out it wasn’t feasible to maintain it as a live entertainment venue. The next best thing was to maintain its historic fabric.”
The Raymond was completed in 1921. Throughout most of the 1920s, 30s and 40s it offered live performances and films. In 1948 it was converted into a movie house, and operated as the “Crown Theater.”
Over the next decade, the habits of moviegoers shifted, and the neighborhood declined. In 1974, the theater closed after a dispute over the showing of adult movies therein. It operated sporadically thereafter.
In 1985, Marc Perkins and Gene Buchanan formed Buchanan/Perkins Ltd. to develop the theater. In 1987, BPL applied to the city to convert the theater into an office building with retail commercial space, and to build an additional office building on a parking lot adjoining it.
Under a modified plan, the theater’s exterior would remain largely intact, but its interior would be converted to hold five floors of apartments and commercial space, and parking levels would be built within and beneath the theater.
Following public hearings a final EIR was published in 2000. It assessed the proposed project and several alternatives, including (1) continuing the existing conditions, (2) restoring the Raymond as a full-time venue for live performances and films, (3) converting the Raymond to a nightclub, (4) using the Raymond as a cultural and education facility, and (5) converting the Raymond and the adjoining lot into a health club.
The final EIR stated that although the project would result in restoration of the theater’s historical façade, it would irreversibly eliminate the Raymond’s capacity to function as a theater. The final EIR also stated that alternatives (2) through (5) were superior to the project on this point and technically feasible, but not clearly economically feasible.
The city directed Economics Research Associates to study the economic viability of the above alternatives. The information from this study was incorporated in a revised final EIR, which concluded that alternatives (2) through (5) were “[p]robably [n]ot” economically feasible.
Under the modified plan, the Raymond was still to become a mixed-use building. However, the walls and ceiling of the auditorium and parts of the stage area would be preserved but converted for use as commercial space certain other historical elements would be retained, and the front façade would be restored.
The project required variances to allow for tandem parking and a higher percentage of compact parking spaces than permitted by zoning regulations, and for permission to set the new building back from its property line so that its front wall will be consistent with the Raymond’s façade and to raise the new building above the height of 45 feet allowed by zoning regulations.
After the City Council approved the modified project in 2002, the plaintiffs filed suit, claiming numerous errors.
But Manella, quoting a previous opinion, said:
“It is, emphatically, not the role of the courts to micromanage these development decisions. Our function is simply to decide whether the city officials considered the applicable policies and the extent to which the proposed project conforms with those policies, whether the city officials made appropriate findings on this issue, and whether those findings are supported by substantial evidence.”
“Under these standards, we see no error.”
Pasadena City Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris and Assistant City Attorney Frank L. Rhemrev represented the City of Pasadena.
R. Scott Jenkins of Hahn & Hahn in Pasadena and William S. Garr represented Buchanan/Perkins Ltd.
San Diego attorney Craig A. Sherman represented plaintiffs Spirit of the Sage Council and Friends of the Raymond Theater.
Sacramento attorney Frances An represented plaintiffs Foundation for the Realization of Contemporary Arts, Sciences, and Technologies and Robert Frampton.
The case is Spirit of the Sage Council v. City of Pasadena, B167658
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company