ALTADENA — In an effort to channel some of the benefits of a proposed 272-home development to local residents, developers have teamed up with a community college and two social-service agencies to design a construction-trades training and placement program that will be launched this fall.
The joint effort will direct local youth toward the building industry by training participants at Pasadena City College and matching both skilled and non-skilled workers to contractors throughout the San Gabriel Valley.
Cantwell/Anderson Inc. of Pasadena and Southwest Diversified Inc. of Newport Beach are planning to build homes on about 40 acres of the 220-acre site known as the La Vina property at the northern tip of Lincoln Avenue. Most of the land lies within the Angeles National Forest.
The development was approved May 3 by the county Regional Planning Commission. The Board of Supervisors, which has yet to schedule a hearing, must approve the project before construction can begin.
The Urban League, based in Pasadena, will handle recruitment for the program. The group will refer area residents interested in non-skilled jobs to Foothill Area Community Services Inc., or FACS, another Pasadena-based nonprofit agency. FACS will evaluate and match unskilled workers with area subcontractors.
Those people interested in learning skilled trades will attend Pasadena City College for a semester and receive a certificate after they complete courses. They too will be placed through FACS.
At least 100 Altadenans have already signed up for the job program, said Andrew Oliver, a spokesman for the developers. The developers are providing seed money for the program and will help the participating agencies seek more funding.
James Crayton, associate dean of the college's Community Skills Center, said four new classes will be offered in September. The free 18-week courses include landscaping, plumbing, telephone installation and security guard training. Crayton said he expects the classes to fill up quickly because of the virtual guarantee of employment upon completion of the program.
Tim Cantwell, president of Cantwell/Anderson, said he has requested that classes in carpentry and electrical and concrete work be added as more recruits are enrolled.
The Foothill Area Community Services agency is setting up a data bank with names of workers and contractors to help with placement, said Ross Lee, the agency's human resources director.
"(Construction) is a continuing source of employment," he said. "We will be an ongoing center where people can come for referrals."
The organization is applying for about $165,000 in county funds for the first three years of the program, Lee said, adding that he expects to place 300 construction workers the first year.
The Urban League, which will assess participants' experience and help them decide what trade to pursue, is still working out its program budget.
Cantwell said he is excited by how the program evolved from residents' concerns about how the $100-million project would benefit the local economy.
Initially, though, the developer had doubts.
"When we first started thinking about it we thought, 'Omigosh, would it be a long bureaucratic task that would just burden the development with inefficiencies and slowdowns?' " But he is confident the plan will work because of the constant demand for construction workers.
"We're committed to putting the trade people together with the awarded subcontractors," he said. "We felt it was not only a socially responsible thing to do but would make good business sense."
Although the ultimate decision on who is hired will be made by the 50 subcontractors working on La Vina, the contractors will be very eager to have a ready pool of employees, he said.
"In each trade we're talking about (needing) very large numbers," he said. The development is scheduled for completion in five years, but employees might be retained to install swimming pools or gazebos and to landscape the 35 acres of common space.
In addition to the La Vina contractors, recruits in the program will be matched with contractors throughout the San Gabriel Valley who need workers, said Oliver, who will coordinate the program.
Tony Stewart, president of the Altadena chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, had pressed the developers to start an equal opportunity program. She argued that residents of the predominantly black and economically depressed Lincoln Avenue neighborhood two blocks south of the project should be compensated for the additional traffic it would generate.
"I think it's terrific," Stewart said of the plan. "It's going to be a boost for the community. Once you get training for work, no one can take that away from you."
A homeowners group, Friends of La Vina, is not as happy about the proposal. The group has complained that the density of the project and the increased traffic it will create would disrupt the wildlife and semi-rural nature of the hillside neighborhood.
"(The developers) are trying to buy support from the community," said Friends leader Adolfo Miralles. Although only about three dozen group members attend meetings regularly, Friends has more than 1,000 supporters, he said. "What they're doing (about the job training) is a very commendable thing, but it does not change the merit of the project one iota."
Jim Shackleford, an Altadena contractor, had apprehensions about the development. "I was concerned they were just going to come in here, take the local resources and impact our community and not put anything back," he said. But now, Shackleford said, he is convinced that the developers are sincere about helping the community.