2020 City council candidate questionnaire replies
Motto & Contact info
Campaign Motto: Accessibility, Integrity, Transparency
Campaign Motto: Proven Leadership for South Pasadena
Campaign Motto: Better Together
Social Media Page(s): @primuthforcitycouncil
Campaign Motto: Progress with Accountability
Campaign Motto: SouthPASsionate
How long have you lived in South Pasadena?
I have lived in South Pasadena for 39 years.
My wife, Sheila, and I moved into South Pasadena thirteen years ago along with our three children: Iyla, Leily, and Gavin. My family attended South Pasadena schools and community events for over a decade, giving us extensive insight into our community’s values. This has also given us a substantial and diverse community network that provides a deep understanding and awareness into the issues and problems that people from many different background face here in our city. This large network came together in August 2020 to show their support and trust for me, with over 330 residents from all across South Pasadena signing a petition to recommend me for the position of City Councilmember for District 2.
What is your occupation?
Retired from Army Corps of Engineers and Metropolitan Water District of Southern California
Attorney (own law firm for more than 22 year since Jan 1998; elected City Clerk in Nov. 2013 and Judge Pro Tem of the California Superior Courts for Los Angeles County since Jan. 2006.
Upper Management, Metals, Raw Material Distribution
I am the current City Councilmember for District 2 as well as the Head of Capital Markets for a prominent private equity advisory firm. I have over 20 years of experience specializing in corporate finance and restructuring, business diligence, and operational leadership to companies in a variety of sectors. I have closed over $9 billion in financing commitments and led or supported over 100 acquisitions and restructurings throughout my career, including serving as a board member, operating committee member, interim CEO, and Chief Restructuring Officer for numerous multi-million dollar corporations across the country. I was awarded the M&A Advisor Turnaround Deal of the Year in both 2012 and 2017, and was named to the M&A Advisor 40 Under 40 in 2013. I earned my M.B.A. from the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University and a BA in History of Art from the University of California, Berkeley.
Where are your favorite places to spend time in South Pasadena?
Usually at home with friends and family. I also enjoy watching my grandchildren play AYSO soccer throughout the city.
The answer to this question has changed over time as my children have grown. When I was a child I would spend weekends going to Rialto theater or getting ice cream with my father at Thrifty Jr (now Rite Aid) or Fair Oaks Pharmacy. When my wife and I moved to South Pasadena 13 years ago, we spent most of our time enjoying summer concerts with our three children in Garfield park, watching movie nights on the grass on Meridian, or of course at the Arroyo for AYSO. As our children grew, I spent most of my time in the Middle School gyms coaching YMCA basketball and volleyball teams or taking in the Farmer’s market for Peruvian food at The Happy Inka. Now that my kids are all teenagers, my wife and I enjoy taking the dogs out for morning walks and stopping at Jones for coffee, or sitting at one of the outdoor restaurants like Mike and Anne’s or Briganti’s, to relax in the evening and enjoy the feeling the energy of the community.
Mamma’s Brick Oven Pizza, Hi Life, La Monarcha, Farmer’s Market, the high school track and biking around town
The Community Garden with my kids, visiting friends at our local restaurants and shops, and hitting balls at the driving range during sunset.
Nicole’s, Kaldi’s, and Farmer’s Market
What experience do you have in city governance?
Ten years as a South Pasadena City Councilmember and two terms as mayor. Prior to that, I served on numerous commissions.
30 years of volunteerism in So Pas; 14 years as commissioner – 7 years in Natural Resources Commission and 7 years in Parks & Recreation Commission; Elected City Clerk since Nov. 2013 and during former Sergio Gonzalez’s term as city manager, I was included in city processes in my department, monthly recap meetings with city clerk department, discussed responsibilities and finances in city clerk department and participated in interviewing city clerk applicants; drafted first amendment to So Pas Tree Ordinance; assist in completing and facilitating application that made So Pas “Tree City USA”; drafted Articles of Incorporation and ByLaws and contracts of Community Gardens; ad hoc committee with UUT; Board member for So Pas Historic Preservation Foundation; Board member for SPEF and help re-write SPEF’s By Laws and started summer program now run regularly by SPEF; Board Member with Chinese-American Club; member of Vecinos of South Pasadena; member of So Pas Woman’s Club, Board Director for American Cancer Society San Gabriel Valley Leadership Council and advocated for no-smoking ordinances in So Pas and California Legislative Ambassador for American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and American Cancer Society (volunteer lobbyist) for bills supported by ACSCAN and ACS.
Parks and Recreation Commission (1991 through 1996), three years as Chair.
I am the current City Council Member for District 2 here in South Pasadena. And in the month since taking over the position on September 2nd, I have driven a number of significant accomplishments in a very short amount of time, including:
• Number 1: For close to three years, residents had been voicing concerns about the direction South Pasadena was heading in under the control of the former City Manager. These issues came to a head this summer with the discovery (by my wife and I) of $14 Million of unexplained budget discrepancies that launched the need for a significant review of the City’s financial position.
Just ten days after I was sworn in, we voted to separate from the former City Manager without providing her with a golden handshake.
• Number 2: Knowing we needed a strong replacement, I went out and recruited Sean Joyce to come back to South Pasadena as our Interim City Manager. Having been a tremendous City Manager for the City of Irvine for close to 12 years, Sean brings a level of transparency, professionalism, and experience that we need right now to get our City back on track. But Sean was also previously spent 8 years as the City Manager for South Pasadena itself. He knows our City well, and is eager to bring back to City Hall a culture of openness, accountability, and transparency.
• Number 3: On my first day on the council, I proposed a Finance Commission adhoc committee to get our City’s financial situation back in order. Our City is currently operating without a financial Budget, without a completed 2018/19 year-end audit, without having even started an audit for 2019/20, without having reconciled monthly cash accounts for close to a year, and with no monthly or quarter-end closing procedures. The Finance Department has not provided monthly financial reporting to the Finance Commission or the City Council in close to three years.
My wife, Sheila, and I discovered $14 Million in budget discrepancies back in June, directly leading to the City Council’s 5-0 vote to hold over the Budget until the a year-end audit can be completed. However, it wasn’t until my appointment to the City Council on September 2nd that I realized just how troubled our City’s financial reporting is. And with my background in financial restructuring, I got to work, but there’s still a lot more to do.
• Number 4: Under prior City management, our commissions were dis-empowered, having their ability to set their own agendas taken away and preventing them from having direct communications with the City Council. We have amazing resident commissioners, and they need to be allowed to do the jobs we’ve asked of them. I’ve already started the process to form a committee of current and former commission members with the express intent of reviewing how to re-empower our commissions.
• Number 5: On October 24th, Councilmember Schneider and I participated in a Zoom discussion with Public Works and SMART Families regarding the decades-long neighborhood traffic issues along the Meridian Corridor between Monterey Rd and Alhambra Rd/Kendall Ave, and I will be making a motion at the October 7th City Council meeting that will help address residents’ concerns for obtaining a three-way stop sign at Meridian and Oak.
Since 2015, I have been your elected representative on the Board of Education of the South Pasadena Unified School District. In that capacity I have been responsible for all aspects of policy-making and a budget of $40+ million covering personnel, facilities, capital improvements and operations. The district has over 300 employees and seven facilities. It undergoes an annual audit which is closely scrutinized for any operational issues; there have been no operational deficiencies or finding in the audit since I have been on the school board.
Another important part of my school board duties has been working on the planning, construction design, contracting and appropriation of the school district’s $98 million bond (Measure SP) for facility upgrades.
I have 30 years of law practice which I can draw on to understand legal and regulatory issues facing the district such as lawsuits, contracts, negotiating with unions.
I have changed the management culture at several for-profit and nonprofit organizations that I have managed (SPEF, my law firm, and others). I include this experience as relevant because our city government needs a culture change to be more responsive to the public and to be more enlightened in its approach (more transparent, respectful of people and more collaborative).
I have been involved in the city’s planning process for a new general and Mission Street specific plan covering development and construction in the city. I have legal experience in land use and development.
Going back in time, in the early 1990s I was a member of an ad hoc committee appointed by then LA-Councilman Mike Woo to develop a street vending ordinance for the City of Los Angeles. I was very involved in a Latino immigrant community at that time, and my objective for being on the policy making committee was to advocate for legalized street vending so that my neighbors could make extra money to survive. My general approach to government is that it needs to change with the times; we need to make sure our laws accommodate new populations and businesses and protect vulnerable populations.
I was part of the leadership helping to create the community garden, I am currently a commissioner on the Mobility and Transportation Infrastructure Commission, and on the subcommittee working with Chamber of Commerce and city staff for Al Fresco
I currently serve as vice-chair on the Public Safety Commission. I have been involved in traffic and emergency preparedness public safety issues in the city since 2011
This January the city opened Entrelazadas: How Womanhood and Culture are Intertwined. This exhibit featured 12 artists whose artwork reflects the strength of Latin women. Vecinos collaborated on the event by publicizing in our newsletter and on Facebook, and we co-hosted a reception on opening night. The event was a success, both for the artists and for the community. Do you believe that the arts bring communities together and foster understanding of others? Did you view this exhibit?
Yes I believe that the arts bring people together, and the Council and myself established a Public Art Commission to demonstrate that. I am also supportive of the South Pasadena Arts Council (SPARC). We established an art gallery at City Hall and hold numerous exhibits. We supported the South Pasadena Arts Council’s utility box art project.
Yes, arts bring communities together and yes, I viewed this Entrelazadas exhibit.
I do believe that art brings communities together. I did not attend this event at City Hall last January, but I am so glad that the “Entrelazadas” event was a great success for the 12 artists involved and our city. I would welcome more art exhibits and installations at City Hall and throughout our city. My five children and my grandchildren are big fans of South Pasadena’s Eclectic Music Festival and Arts Crawl as well as the art events at the library. I would fully support such events as they bring visitors and revenue to our city.
Art has always been a part of my wife and my lives. I absolutely believe that the arts are a vital part of community and our human experience.
I have sketched (pencil, pen & ink, charcoal) and painted (primarily oil on canvas) my whole life. I actually received my Bachelor of Arts degree in History of Art at the University of California, Berkeley where I studied the art and histories of communities from all over the world from 5,000 BC until today. And I believe the study of art history is essentially the understanding of why societies do and believe what they do.
I did also attend the opening of the Entrelazadas exhibit with my wife as well as many of the exhibits that have been promoted by SPARC.
I did not attend. I really enjoyed the Dia de los Muertos event last Fall.
I very much believe the arts bring community together, foster understanding of the diversity of cultures we have here in the city. As a city I believe it’s important to foster art and feel the arts commission and SPARC continue to build relationships with groups like Vecinos that bring cultural awareness.
Unfortunately, but not unsurprisingly, this is the first I have heard of this exhibit. I have been a loud and frequent critic of the poor job our city has done in reaching out to and communicating information with residents, never more so than with the lack of communication and COVID updates for residents and businesses in the city
The arts are definitely one avenue the city can and should be using to help bring people/cultures together and promote understanding. If elected, I will seek to reimagine and recreate the Public Arts Commission into the Arts and Culture Commission
We understand that the selection of the curator of the city hall gallery is an open and competitive bidding process and not a direct hire of a councilmember. How will you as a councilmember support awareness and appreciation of Latino art and other arts in our city?
Having lived all of my adult life in Southern California, I have seen the diverse and vibrant Latino art and culture first hand. My wife, Judy, worked as a librarian for the City of Los Angeles for more than four decades in Boyle Heights, Cypress Park, Lincoln Heights, Echo Park, Eagle Rock and in downtown Los Angeles and was instrumental in finding books for her libraries that reflected the Latino communities in which she worked. As a Councilmember, I will work to collaborate with SPARC and to reach out to Vecinos and other community and cultural groups to ensure inclusive, vibrant art of all types is celebrated in our city.
Also, vacancies are typically advertised in the local papers and on the city website and the city’s facebook page. I believe recruitment could be broadened to include staff outreach to various community groups, such as the Vecinos, Women’s Club, etc. As long as the recruitment process is comprehensive and not limited to just some groups, but promoted to many, it will widen the pool of qualified applicants.
I appreciate the fact that the curator selection is an open bidding process, as should be the case with a City function. However, I would prefer we find ways to actually support and foster Latino and other artists that come from our own community. Having once been a young artist, it’s difficult to study, work, and create and promote your own projects. Life responsibilities always get in the way and pull you away from creating and growing your own voice. I’d like to see the City look for local, state, and federal grants that we could utilize to sponsor Latino artists and help provide them with the resources they need to express themselves and have an opportunity to be seen and heard.
I will support the city’s publicizing and promotion of Latino cultural events. I’ve really enjoyed the cultural activities I’ve attended in the past.
I would support more awareness and appreciation of Latino and other arts within our city by working with the curator to make sure it’s a priority. I also feel it’s imperative to encourage and give opportunity to bring more BIPOC voices onto the arts commission and involved with SPARC to ensure more inclusion of all the people from our community.
As a council member, I can use the bully pulpit to make sure any RFP for the next curator of the city hall gallery specifies multicultural inclusiveness
What steps would you suggest be taken (and by whom) to promote, enjoy, and celebrate Latino community and culture in South Pasadena?
One thing I can do is to arrange meetings between Vecinos and the Chamber of Commerce, SPARC, the Public Art Commission, the 4th of July Committee and the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Committee. I would like to work closely with a representative of Vecinos and the Library and Senior Center.
The input of the community is important and seek Latino artists in our community as well as our neighboring cities like Los Angeles which has a bountiful resource of Latino culture and Latino artist, not only in paintings, but in songs, poems, music and dance that reflect the Latino culture. A Latino community arts festival should be held every year using the volunteers in our community.
One of my campaign platforms is to encourage involvement through the active participation by commissions and concerned residents to help guide the city to best service the needs of the community. As part of that ongoing process, I will work with community services, the library, the Chamber of Commerce, the Vecinos and others to observe and celebrate dates and events significant to Latino culture, such as Dia de los Muertos and Cinco de Mayo.
This really is an outreach effort. It is difficult for the City to, itself, create ways to celebrate a particular culture within the community – because the best ideas will come from the community itself. But what the City can do is work through vehicles like the Arts Commission, SPARC, or even Chamber to organize meetings with members of the Latino community to brainstorm on events, holidays, or community themes where we as a City can build opportunities, complete with art, music, and dancing, for cultural celebrations and broader South Pasadena community engagement. This will also help build the network needed for improved Latino involvement on the Commissions and Committees themselves.
The city partners with local sponsoring organizations on events. As Vecinos or other Latino organizations bring opportunities for partnership to the city, I will look favorably at city involvement and support.
I would encourage more collaboration with groups like Vecinos with our commissions, Chamber of Commerce, Parks and Recreation, to create more opportunities to showcase and celebrate multiple cultures traditions, art and community.
Presently, only SPCC appears to enjoy any city wide level of awareness. This may be partially attributed to the involvement of SPCC members in other areas of community engagement. Vecinos needs a voice on the Arts commission, on the senior commission, on the youth commission and on Parks and Rec. Outside of direct city control, I would encourage Vencinos to partner more often with school PTAs and SPEF. As one example, color day is a south Asian festival which SPEF adopted at the suggestion of members.
Although South Pasadena is now perceived as a diverse and liberal city, it has roots as a Sundown Town and has recently experienced acts of vandalism against residents with Black Lives Matter signs. What would you do to address the city’s roots of racism and what actions would you take to combat present-day racism in our town?
As the result of an incident in town involving members of two minority groups, another Councilmember and I developed a resolution affirming South Pasadena’s commitment to diversity and safeguarding the civil rights of all residents. This was unanimously approved by the City Council.
Educational public outreach and working with SPUSD to include anti-racism subjects in our schools curriculum from elementary to high school levels and City must acknowledge the past as a Sundown City so that the residents learn from the mistakes of the past and move forward for inclusion of all people of all skin colors and other communities such as gay/lesbian (LGBTQ) communities, transgender, etc.
As a Councilmember, I will support the hiring of talented individuals from all backgrounds and ethnicities to rebuild our city government with a team that truly reflects the diversity of Southern California to deliver the highest level of service to our residents. I will also support a review of the South Pasadena Police Department, including an evaluation of the current police budget as well as taking a hard look at how well the department adheres to current policies.
Racism, whether in our community, or systemic in our governmental bodies, should not be tolerated. I would like to work with the City Manager and human resources department to bring a DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) program into the City to assist with training, education, and outreach. Training and education within the City and especially Public Safety department. And Outreach to the community to help foster understanding and tolerance. I’d also work with the School Board to see how the City and the School District can work together to bring better education and understanding throughout, and at all levels of, the community.
We must look to the past to understand the present and improve the future. To understand the past, I would support presentations and lectures at the South Pas Library community room and feature articles in the city’s newsletter with commentary with the city council. As to present-day racism in our town, I would need to see what that means. I think it is obvious that racism still exists. But we need to carefully identify what is racist and what is not, or the concept loses its meaning and power. People hold many different perspectives on what is racist.
We need to make it clear from our city that we take any form of hate crime seriously. I would further work to develop methods to protect the civil rights of our whole community. There have been a growing number of hate based offenses that I feel have not received the same type of protection or prosecution. We need to take the steps necessary to make sure our police are serving our community fairly. We can’t ignore our history in this town, these times have shown us how history shapes the present. If we can confront and acknowledge the history we can’t learn from it as a community and address the inequities it’s left behind.
You can’t fix what you don’t measure, and many current residents of South Pasasdena , myself, even as a 20 year resident included, do not know the Sundown origins story of our city. My children see the multi-ethnic town they have grown up in, they don’t identify their friends as being black, Hispanic, Asian, Irish, Italian, Jewish, Catholic, Muslim etc, They area just their friends, plain and simple.
As previously described, I would reimagine the Public Arts commission into an Arts and Culture commission to develop and promote more cultural awareness events in the city. SPPC and the city jointly sponsor Chinese New Year every year. Vecinos can join with the city to sponsor a better, bigger Dia de la Muertos, or with the chamber to have a dedicated latin music stage at The Eclectic just to name two examples.
Do you support the South Pasadena High School Anti-Bias Club's efforts to paint a Black Lives Matter mural on the exterior city hall wall (facing Fremont)?
I am in support of finding a location in our wonderful city for a mural that celebrates inclusion and racial equality. I am also very proud of members of South Pasadena High School’s Anti-Bias Club, Khalil Murdock and Noah Kuhn, who were so moved by the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement that they took action and wrote letters to the City Council to commission a mural. As a Councilmember, I will always be open to great ideas from all residents no matter their age, race or gender.
I support the enthusiasm and the beliefs of the SPHS Anti-Bias Club and am supportive of a BLM mural. But I was not on the council when the proposal was previously brought up. I do have a question about the location and whether East wall of City Hall actually fits the project – ie, is it visible enough, and is the size of the wall appropriate to the size of the proposed mural. My understanding is the imagery of the mural has not been determined yet, so location and project likely should go hand-in-hand logistically.
From a financial perspective, I would like to see the long-term maintenance plans and costs associated with the mural to best understand how to accomplish fundraising not just for the development of the mural, but also for long-term care.
Yes I do.
At this time, based on the information available, I do not. I would like to know more about the history of the SPHS Anti-Bias Club and what contributions/accomplishments the ABC has had at SPHS. I am in favor of substantive long term changes and reform, which are hard, not cosmetic patches just to give the appearance of inclusiveness.
Do you believe there are any plaques or monuments on city property that should be removed or further explained? (e.g., Americanism Center plaque at Garfield Park) Why or why not?
I pledge to work through the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation and the Library’s local history librarian to uncover the history behind plaques or monuments in question and to determine, with community input, action deemed necessary.
We must acknowledge our past and those plaques should not be removed and the reasons for this must be explained through public workshops and educational public outreach by So Pas library and So Pas community services department to justify its non-removal and gather the public opinions of those neighborhoods that wanted to remove these plaques so that we may learn why it is offensive to some.
I know many residents are deeply concerned about the Americanism Center plaque at Garfield Park by the rose garden. I would be in support of soliciting opinions from residents, or creating a committee, to determine how to address this plaque that greets residents and visitors as they enter Garfield Park. With the assistance of the voices of the community, I believe we can come to the best solution for the sad, but true, racist and discriminatory history of some former residents of our beloved city.
My personal belief regarding the Americanism Center at Garfield Park is that we should add a further plaque to explain and represent that our beliefs as a community have grown and evolved for the better. However, this is a broader community issue, and I would support the desire from the community to remove the plaque altogether.
The key for me is, how close is the connection between the plaque and a racist message? If there is a racist message or explicitly racist organization as the sponsor of the display, it needs to be removed or a context needs to be provided with additional signage to understand the history without promoting offense. If the connection between racism and the plaque is derivative of its association with racist individuals — such as the plaque’s sponsor organization’s purpose and message was not explicitly racist but historically the group was associated in some way with a racist organization, or may have had members who were racists, or may have partnered in some way with a racist organization — then I would not remove the plaque or display unless the connection is so strong as to be undeniable (such as if the organization was de facto racist in its main activities even though it looked non-discriminatory on paper). This approach is very similar to how judges apply the law on discrimination to achieve a just result.
We should reevaluate all our plaques and/or monuments. The Americanism Center plaque seems like one that could be an opportunity to bring more awareness to our past by adding the full story and how we no longer stand for racism and oppression
I am not aware of any plaques of monuments that should be removed or need further explanation at this time
What is your position on Measure U, the proposed continuation of the Utility Users Tax on the November ballot?
I totally support and endorse Measure U, the renewal of the existing Utility Users Tax at the current rate. The revenues from this tax are vital for the city.
I support Measure U and have endorsed it in perpetuity unless recalled by resident because we need stability of our city’s finance going into COVID-19 and post COVID-19 pandemic so that our city services are not jeopardized.
I fully support Measure U.
My wife and I both support Measure U, and we have already sent in a Letter to the Editor for the local media to aid in its approval. I’m provided a copy of it below to further explain WHY we support the UUT:
Why We Support Measure U
By Steve Rossi and Sheila Rossi
We have lived in South Pasadena for over 13 years, and have spent our entire careers working in finance and strategy. Whether as a consultant, commercial banker, private equity professional, investment banker, or as small business owners, one of our main functions has been to review, analyze, and yes…even to restructure the books and records of the companies we work with. In fact, it was our discovery of $14 Million of unexplained differences between two budget drafts being disseminated by the Former City Manager and the Finance Director that started us down a path of questions, analysis, and discovery, ultimately resulting in the 2020/21 Budget being held over in June, and Steve’s appointment to the City Council on September 2nd. In the four weeks since his appointment, we’ve discovered even more: That our City is operating without any monthly closing procedures, that we are nearly 10 months behind on our cash reconciliations, that we haven’t had interim financial reports in nearly three years. And we still don’t have a final audit for 2018/19, nor have we even started the audit for 2019/20.
But despite all of our questions and concerns regarding the City’s lack of financial visibility, we have never once questioned one fact: South Pasadena needs the UUT.
We restructure businesses for a living, and there are two things we’ve learned throughout our careers. 1) You can’t wait for perfect information to make decisions, and 2) When you’re in a period of financial distress, you don’t throw away good revenue.
First, we would love for all of our financial reporting questions to be resolved before November 3rd. That’s why, on the very night Steve was appointed to the Council, he motioned to form an AdHoc Committee to get to the bottom of – and fix – our City’s financial reporting. And while that work won’t be accomplished by November 3rd, we can’t wait for perfect information to make decisions. We can’t allow our City’s imperfect financial reporting to prevent us from coming together as a community to support the services we hold so dear.
Second, even though we can’t tell you with certainty what our City’s financial performance is today…we can tell you this: We are in the midst of a global pandemic and likely the worst economic period of any of our lifetimes. Our City revenues are already in a state of decline as businesses have been suffering from Covid shutdown and social distancing requirements. In this time of financial distress, we can’t throw away good revenue, and the nearly $3.4 Million we already receive each year will end if we don’t come together to Vote YES on U.
Without the UUT, there will be significant cuts to all areas of local services, including public safety, senior services, tree maintenance, parks, streets and the library.
Support the UUT. Vote YES on U
I support Measure U.
I fully understand the limited revenue sources available to the City of South Pasadena, and generally speaking, support the UUT. I have stated before, and repeat again, that I can neither support, nor will oppose, Measure U this fall, until a clearer picture of the city’s financial health is known, the 2018 -2019 audit completed, and reform of the finance department underway. Interim Asst City Manager Elaine Aquilar has accomplished more in her first four days on the job than the current finance director has in over one year.
I will be watching what our city council does over the next four weeks to bring the city’s financial house back into order before casting my vote on Measure U. I don’t believe in biting off the nose to spite one’s face, but I do believe the voters are owed a better explanation of how the city’s finance department was allowed to spin so out of control before asking the voters to extend the UUT in perpetuity,
What steps would you suggest be taken (and by whom) to encourage the participation Latinos on city commissions and committees to ensure wider perspectives are considered at all levels of policy creation and decision making?
The city needs to do a better job of informing groups, such as Vecinos, of commission openings at the city. We have almost 20 commissions and committees, which provide opportunities for residents to participate in civic life. I will make sure that Vecinos and other groups are communicated with directly about these openings.
There should be a city-wide vetting of commissioners in organizations like Vecinos and our public schools to seek qualified Latinos to serve as commissioners.
As a Councilmember, I will always invite voices and ideas from all residents. Concerned community groups were once welcome in our city government and I plan to ensure that once again, everyone in our community of South Pasadena can have access to leadership to share their ideas, concerns, goals and hopes for the city.
I will work to ensure that the City publicizes any openings on commissions, committees or board openings to a diverse audience, including posting them in public spaces such as the library, our Gold Line Metro station and our parks as well as sharing the announcements with various community organizations, including the Vecinos. We could also, if permitted, post them at the new Grocery Outlet and other markets and coffee shops, so there is wider local publicity.
It really is a need for outreach, by City Hall and the City Council, to members of not only the Latino community but other underrepresented groups as well. Each year, the Mayor selects residents for appointment to open positions on the commissions. These appointments tend to come from a small pool of residents that supported that City Councilmember during their last election. This typically results in a small subsection of the community’s ideas being represented, and tends in particular to leave out many members of Latino and other minority groups in town.
I would like to propose that we work with the City Manager, Sean Joyce, and the City’s Human Resources department to institute a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion program throughout the City. This program should also include an emphasis on developing relationships with Latino and other minority group members of the community with the goal of identifying strong candidates for Commission and Committee positions BEFORE those positions become available. When there is usually only a week between the announcement of a Commission and selection of members, it’s difficult to reach out to new residents after the fact. Rather, by developing a “bench” of qualified minority group candidates ahead of those positions needing to be filled, once a position becomes available, City Staff will then be able to work with the current Mayor to reach out to those candidates and invite them to submit applications.
The city should notify Vecinos of new openings, and encourage Vecinos city/public affairs committee to meet regularly so as to recruit qualified individuals to apply for commissions. Vecinos officers should send letters of support. So much depends on the candidates who apply.
We need to continuously seek out and encourage more participation from Latinos on city commissions and committees. A diverse makeup leads to more inclusive decision making. which is essential if we are going to have a more equitable future for our community. If elected to City Council I would make sure we give importance to cultural and socioeconomic diversity for positions. I would help to do more outreach to the greater community and groups like Vecinos that represent our diverse constituents to make this possible.
The city needs to improve its’ outreach efforts to all residents, whether for public meetings, commission openings or events. I’ve mentioned this before. Interested organizations, including Vecinos, share a responsibility to make sure their members are kept informed.
As a city council member with the opportunity to appoint residents to commissions and committees, my criteria are residents who can offer a level of expertise or perspective which will broaden the capabilities of the organization.
What personal and professional qualities should the next South Pasadena City Manager have?
First, the person must have experience as a city manager. The person must be extremely knowledgeable about city operations and in particular, a small city with few revenue sources. The person must have experience in engaging the community and building a team to run the city. As mayor this year, I have led the process to offer the former city manager a separation and retirement package and to recruit a highly experienced former South Pasadena city manager, Sean Joyce. He will serve as the interim city manager while we recruit for a permanent city manager.
The city manager must be transparent, must listen to the voices of the community, must build teamwork and boost employee morale and experienced in city management as a whole.
All candidates running for office have a platform that includes increasing transparency with regard to the city budget and governance. Please tell us your plans to increase transparency and public trust. There should be a regular audit and monthly reports and yearly budgets both in the finance, and monthly reports in the city’s investment portfolio. These audited reports must be available to the public and if there are discrepancies or questions from the public, the Finance Department and the Finance Commission must be available to answer the concerns of the public.
Our new city manager must have a well rounded background in municipal management, including city finance. We also need someone who is comfortable and outgoing with residents in South Pasadena, who are generally well educated, talented, and often have strong opinions or ideas about what should be done in the community. Finally, we need someone who can work collegially with city staff and help build badly damaged morale and create stability.
I am humbled to have been able to bring Sean Joyce back to South Pasadena as our Interim City Manager. His breadth of experience, knowledge of how small-town governance and resident communication ought to work, and his impeccable professionalism and honesty are a perfect example of what we should look for in our next City Manager. I am also looking forward to working with Sean to help set up a process to identify and review prospective candidates that will include significant community input.
1. Demonstrated commitment to engaging with the public and involving the public and commissions in policy-making. He or she must have shown they believe in robust communications and outreach to the public and they know how to work with commissions.
2. Experience managing turnarounds in city government. We need the city manager with a track record of driving organizational change as a team player.
3. Good at managing other managers. The City Manager is really the quarterback for the department directors managing the teams doing all the work in finance, planning, police, fire, building and safety, public works, etc. We need someone who knows how to work with other strong leaders (police chief, other existing department heads) and recruit and motivate other high-performance managers who can lead successful turnarounds in all their departments.
Our next City Manager needs to have experience with a small city like ours with less revenue than others. They need to have a strength in a wide range of city management and leadership experience as we work with a small staff that wear many hats. Our next City Manager also should be involved and enjoy engaging with the community in order to help rebuild trust and transparency.
Honesty, Integrity, accessibility, and compassion
All candidates running for office have a platform that includes increasing transparency with regard to the city budget and governance. Please tell us your plans to increase transparency and public trust.
As mayor, I have led the installation of an interim city manager and an interim assistant city manager. The latter will focus on financial issues, including the long-delayed audit and the current budget. Having the right leadership in place will aid in increasing transparency and confidence in city governance. The right leadership is important for staff who meet and engage with the public.
There should be a regular audit and monthly reports and yearly budgets both in the finance, and monthly reports in the city’s investment portfolio. These audited reports must be available to the public and if there are discrepancies or questions from the public, the Finance Department and the Finance Commission must be available to answer the concerns of the public.
I pledge to listen and meet with residents on issues of concern and do my best to represent them. Specifically, I want to make sure that our city commissions, which are full of talented volunteers, are not limited as they have been for the past couple years under the now departed city manager. They must be able to set their own agendas and communicate directly with the city council, instead of being marginalized and completely staff directed. Second, we need financial transparency, including regular financial statements presented to the city council and community on a quarterly basis, or even a monthly basis until the current financial crisis is resolved. Third, public records should be provided to residents upon request in a timely way and not subject to delay and costly legal review that often is unwarranted.
Transparency and public trust begin with honest and open communication. Under the former City Manager, the culture at City Hall became one of internal micromanagement and external obfuscation. All requests ran through the City Manager. Public record requests were continually delayed or denied. Phone calls were not returned. Some of this is the result of the former City Manager’s decision to cut too much staff from each department. This forced the City to rely too heavily on outsourced consultants which inevitably results in loss of institutional knowledge and significant inefficiencies when dealing with residents. And with each “non-answer” or unreturned phone call, community suspicions grow.
We need to get our staff the resources they need to properly service the community. But we also need to foster and promote a culture of open communication and responsiveness. Residents may not always like what the City’s position ultimately needs to be, but if we spend the time to explain why things are being done, or not done, then we can still create a bridge of trust and understanding with the community. Under prior management, our City lost that. It’s time to bring it back.
As for the City’s finances specifically, we can’t operate as a City without having accurate, timely financial reporting. And as a City, and as a City Council, we need to stop making financial decisions until we actually know what our financial position is. To that end, I have already initiated an AdHoc Committee to address the following things:
• Completion of the 2018/19 year-end audit (CAFR), understand why it was delayed, and provide recommendations to address the management deficiencies highlighted in the draft CAFR,
• Ensure the 2019/20 CAFR is engaged, started, and set up to successfully completed on time,
• Assist with getting the 2020/21 Budget completed so we can have better visibility into our projected cashflows through this pandemic period,
• Research and recommend best-of-class monthly and quarter-end financial reporting policies to ensure that we don’t end up in this situation again, and finally
• Determine whether it is advisable to engage an outside audit firm to conduct a forensic analysis of the July 2019 through August 2020 financial numbers
Once the AdHoc has been able to complete its work, the City’s financials will be up to date, and Staff will have the resources and procedures in place to ensure they don’t fall behind again.
In regard to the financial problems,
1. there must be an authoritative report on the scope of the problems, a work plan and timeline for fixing the problems followed by timely updates. That way, the public will understand what the problem is, and how and when it will be fixed.
2. Find/support a finance director who can bring best practices to the finance department. There is a lot of work to be done on improving practices, employee morale, efficiency, cross-training and technical professional development.
In regard to the city’s overall organizational culture, transparency must be more than a talking point and pronouncement. It must be operationalized to change behavior. First, the city council must explicitly include in its evaluation of the city manager a section on “implementing transparency” so that the city manager understands their job depends on how transparent they and their department heads are in their decisions and actions. That will create accountability and enforcement of the value of transparency. Second, all department heads should be evaluated on how they implement the underlying values of transparency in their departments: are employees collaborating and supporting each other? Do they feel comfortable reaching out for help when they need it? Can they report problems and struggles to their supervisor without fear of retaliation? Are they treating the public with respect and providing timely accurate communication? The value of transparency has many many practical applications. Third, there needs to be an employee meeting/retreat to create a psychological shift toward sharing information, collaborating with others and reaching out to support co-workers. There must be a cultural change signaled by an event that gets them thinking differently.
Our city would benefit with more engagement with the public by our City Manager to increase transparency. We also need to increase community outreach to participate in the process with better surveys and ways to engage. Having our Commission meetings streamed to the public during COVID has increased access and allowed more community involvement on issues. It would be great to keep this in place after COVID and think of other ways to make it easier for more of the public to get involved.
To me, transparency includes putting a score card on the city website to make it easier for residents to keep track of our progress, San Marino has such an example on their website.
Transparency includes having open forums where the community is actively engaged and able to participate in the process, not the faux surveys and non-participative Zoom sessions presented to residents earlier this year.
Finally, to me, transparency includes allowing for council members, commissioners, and residents to be able to ask specific questions and receive direct and specific responses.
Do you support reviewing the South Pasadena Police Department budget with an eye towards potentially reallocating funds for social services that might be better proved by non-peace officers? Why or why not?
The City Council and I have established two subcommittees, one Council subcommittee, and one a subcommittee of the Public Safety Commission, to review police policies and to recommend changes. The recommendations will be presented shortly. I fully support their efforts on behalf of police reform.
Yes, at the moment the SPPD spends about 1/3 of the city budget ($9.4 million); these funds should be reduced and reallocated to the creation of a wellness and mental health commission and the SPPD must be required to undergo de-escalation training and not use deadly force in the first instance when apprehending a suspecy.
Yes. The City Council should look into the current compensation and size of the police force as well as the City’s contracts for predictive policing and helicopter surveillance. Review of these services is needed to determine how effectively these contracts improve public safety. I believe this city should explore partnering with neighboring cities for social services to handle situations now handled by the police force, such as homeless assistance and welfare checks.
I do support reviewing the services currently provided by the SPPD. First, I think we need to review our entire City budget. There are a lot of tough decisions we need to make as a community, but we need to make them in an informed and educated fashion. That requires that first we complete the work on the overall finances, so we know what our actual revenues and expenditures are by department. That information will inform us what resources we have to utilize. Once we have that understanding, then we can review the SPPD budget specifically.
I strongly believe in the concept of “continual improvement”. The answer should never be, “but, we’ve always done it this way.” Innovation and change for the better can only occur when we struggle through hard questions to find new and improved ways of doing things. In the wake of the Vanessa Marquez shooting, we need to come together as a community, but also specifically as the SPPD itself, to understand how we can ensure that never happens again. But those decisions need to be fact-based and data-driven. We need to review what practices currently work inside of SPPD and then work with the community and regional groups to develop new ideas and solutions to the practices that don’t.
Yes — reallocating funds to involve more social services must be studied. Hopefully, new forms of policing will emerge and we will be able to rely on social services to avoid unneeded confrontations.
I fully support reviewing the South Pasadena Police Department. Police interactions that involve minor traffic enforcements and social service needs, including homeless interactions, should be shifted away from armed officers. I believe we as city need to do our part to work toward systematic change, divestment from criminalization, transformative reimagining of public safety, and meaningful investment in our communities.
CareFirst budgeting is at the center of my campaign. As a Public Safety Commissioner, I have been vocal about reallocating funding to create a social services department within the city to support homeless, low income, renter, mental health, affordable housing issues, etc.
If you had sole power to decide how many new housing units would be built in South Pasadena over the next eight years (i.e., during the so-called RHNA sixth cycle), how many new housing units would there be? By percentage, what mix of housing types would there be? Please address concerns some residents have that additional construction of new homes detract from the current beauty of our town.
As many residents know, the City Council and I do not have sole power to decide how many housing units would be built in town. South Pasadena is now required to plan for 2,000 more units, and that is totally unreasonable. We need to work on appealing this. We need to establish inclusionary housing, bonus densities to incorporate more affordable units, and to focus on how to make it easier to build ADUs (accessory dwelling units). Additionally, we need to take steps to expedite the long-delayed approval and sale of Caltrans properties along the route of the now-cancelled SR-710 North freeway and return them to the housing market.
We have until 2025 to build 2,062 housing units (RHNA) state-mandated affordable housing units for low income and very low income households especially renters who make up over 55% of the city. Encouraged ADUs, mixed use housing for seniors in city owned properties to keep our seniors in town and the utilization of vacant dilapidated CalTrans properties (need to be rehabilitated or rebuilt to meet city code and is habitable.
I do not have a magic number or answer to this, but I believe that zoning and development must be a collaborative and open process that is based to the extent possible on community consensus. The Southern California Association of Government’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment of over 2,100 additional units over the next 8 years in our city is too high and is rightfully being appealed. The focus should be on reducing this number to one that is more achievable and will not overtax our City’s resources, including schools, traffic, water, sewer and public safety providers. We should focus on under-utilized areas such as the Ostrich Farm and on transit-oriented development. I pledge that I will work to build that consensus, working with city staff, different neighborhoods and businesses, the school district, and others. Responsible development is warranted and can improve our community. We must also maintain the character of the city and neighborhoods we all love. I’ll work to achieve that balance.
The current RHNA allocation for South Pasadena sits at 2,062 units. That represents an approximately 19% increase to the total housing currently in place in South Pasadena today. But that number is deceptive. The real housing unit liability is far greater than 2,062 units. Included in the RHNA allocations are roughly 1,150 affordable housing units (which means household income is below 80% of South Pasadena’s median annual income of just under $93K). But most for-profit housing developers will only include 10%-15% of their projects as affordable housing units. If you do the math, South Pasadena would actually have to build roughly 8,000-11,000 total housing units in order to reach the 1,150 affordable housing unit goal set under RHNA.
That would double the size of South Pasadena in just the next eight years. And in the RHNA 7th Cycle calculations, they would see 100% community growth and require even more units be built during the next go around. Our City’s water, sewer, and school infrastructures – just to name a few – cannot support that type of growth that fast.
Truth be told, I would like to keep the RHNA requirements as small as possible as I believe development should be decided by the community, not the State. However, the RHNA appeal process is very difficult, and unlikely to result in a significant decrease in our allocations. So the real question is this: How do we make sure development projects built in South Pasadena include a significant amount of affordable housing units WITHOUT displacing our current renters or eliminating existing affordable housing inventory?
The answer to that is by passing a Housing Element alongside an Inclusionary Housing Element that requires – at any time when the City is non-compliant with its RHNA requirements – that new development projects include at least 50% affordable housing units (this in fact was also the number utilized by PlaceWorks in their presentation to the Planning Commission earlier this year). By doing that, we can meet our RHNA numbers, whatever the final requirement ends up being, and we can also ensure that we build the affordable units so necessary in this community without creating massive amounts of development that negatively impact the small-town charm of our community and without putting undue strain on our infrastructure. And there are ways we as a City can assist developers in obtaining Tax Increment Notes and other types of government or public funding to make this possible and a win-win for residents, the City, and developers.
500 new units over 10 years. That’s not just my opinion. That number seemed to be the consensus result from the four year general plan process involving many residents. The units should be multi-family units in mixed use developments along transit corridors. We have very few “infill” opportunities in our neighborhoods for new construction. Thus, the new units and developments will not detract from our town’s charm. The additional density is actually needed to bring customers to our local businesses. The 500 does not include the anticipated new ADUs.
While I would love to spend the time discussing what the dream number would be I think we are better served by facing the reality of our RHNA numbers that, even with a fight, will be larger than we are prepared to handle. We should have a strong inclusionary ordinance to allow for affordable housing, and put pressure on Caltrans for action on their properties. Our city is desirable to build in, we can set restrictions to help fund our schools, reduce our congestion, and allow for more cost effective affordable unit inclusion, and quicker ADU approval. This is imperative to the success of our budget issues, environmental issues, infrastructure issues, local business success, and equitable treatment for our city. Housing effects everything, so you can’t really be for any other cause if you aren’t for some housing increase. If we add affordable housing within South Pasadena we can retain more of our families and workers, reducing travel emissions.
The city currently has 10,500 housing units, the current RHNA allocation calls for over 2,000, a 20% increase, another 7,000 residents. By comparison, Monrovia, a city 50% larger than South Pasadena, has an allocation of about 1,500 units, 25% less than South Pasadena.
South Pasadena can’t absorb that quantity of people and housing units in such a short time period. Our schools can’t absorb 1,000 new students that quickly. Our infrastructure can’t support that level of rapid growth. It wouldn’t matter whether you located all these new units close to transit or not, the infrastructure does not exist to support it.
In my view, 250 units is a more realistic estimate of what could actually be built and not destroy the fabric and vibe of our city. At most, 20% single family residences. 20% designated affordable housing, 20% designated senior housing, allowing our current seniors to age in place I would seek 10% set aside for supportive housing and up to 20% as subsidized housing for teachers and city staff to be able to live within our community.
Would South Pasadena benefit overall from rent control? If you think yes, what specific kind of rent control do you support?
The city contracts with the Housing Rights Center to assist tenants with rent and related tenant issues. The City Council and I recently approved funds that will provide $1,000 grants to eligible tenants. In regard to evictions, South Pasadena maintains policies consistent with the County of Los Angeles. The issue of rent control is being addressed countywide and statewide, and we will work with them on implementing changes.
Yes, a comprehensive rent control regulations/resolutions needed to be issued by the city with the dialog of both landlords and renters in order to arrive at an equitable solution to high rents. Also solicit solutions from cities of similar size and demographics as our city to see how they solve this problem. There needs to be a balance between the landlords’ needs and the needs of the renters.
First, I do think the city needs an inclusionary housing ordinance so affordable units are required in new multi-unit housing developments. On rent control, half our residents rent and should not be driven out of the community by ever higher rents. Frankly, the biggest concern may stem from large property owners who do not live in the community, but instead are essentially financial businesses that invest in rental property here and across the region and even the nation. So that’s where I would start, by studying who owns rental units and look to see whether these large property owners are charging exorbitant rents. If so, I would move to stabilize and control rents for these large corporate property owners. This, I believe, would take pressure off of rents and create a better balance in the rental housing market between tenants and landlords without penalizing people who rent a house or rent out a duplex, for instance, and subject them to new regulatory requirements.
I lived in rent controlled housing in Northern California, and if rents are too low, then owners stop maintaining and investing in their properties – which is a problem for the overall community and the renter a like. There needs to be a balance struck between the cost benefit to the renter and the profitability and maintenance needs to the property owner.
However, this is significant part of the inclusionary housing ordinance that South Pasadena needs to take very seriously. Under the new State guidelines, the State wants the actual affordable housing amount in each community to increase. In our case, they want that number to increase by approximately 1,150 units over the next 8 years. If you consider that housing developers typically want to include only 10%-15% of each project as affordable, for every unit of affordable housing that we LOSE due to increasing rent beyond what is considered “affordable”, South Pasadena would have to build 10 new housing units just to get back to where it started.
All residential tenants should be protected from sudden increases in their rent. We have statewide rent control that is sufficient to protect renters against dramatic increases in rent. I do not think a separate rent control ordinance is needed but if the statewide measure does not go far enough, I would be willing to consider a local ordinance.
Our residents have worked hard and come together successfully to protect renters from unjust evictions, and more can still be done. I believe South Pasadena should also put in place more rent control measures, set at CPI or close to inflation, which would still maintain a fair price for landlords. I would work with cities that have been successful like Culver City who just approved moving forward with a plan, to help us resource and come to a solution quicker. I would also like to put in place a rental registry for our city to be able to quickly and effectively notify renters of there rights and any law changes. Even with the moratorium in place renters are still getting evicted because they are unaware of the moratorium. A registry will keep them up to date and help them with proper procedure to handle everyday tenant issues.
Stable, safe, neighborhoods exist when they are occupied by long time residents, whether homeowner or renter. Long time residents have roots in the community, support our local businesses. Property owners benefit from having stable, long time tenants too, as those tenants tend to take better care of their properties. Having a culturally inclusive community also means having an income level inclusive community.
I am a renter and know that I would not be able to afford my same unit if I had to move into the city today. That scares me. I thought when me kids had grown and left for college, I could downsize, I can’t. One bedrooms in South Pasadena rent for more than what I pay today. How will future young families be able to afford to more to South Pasadena. Yes, I support rent control.
For a city made up of 51% renters, it is unheard of/awe inspiring/break the mold, that we have the number one school district in the state. San Marino, La Canada, Palos Verdes and Woodside, the other top 4 districts, are all 95% or more single family home communities.
Should South Pasadena impose a vacancy tax on unoccupied commercial, industrial, and/or residential real property? Why or why not?
Imposing a vacancy tax on unoccupied real property is an idea that should be examined seriously and soon.
Yes on vacancy tax on commercial unoccupied properties, CalTrans owned properties but not vacant residences owned by private citizens for as long as the vacant residential houses do not constitute an neighborhood eyesore, must be kept city code upgrade and be habitable at all times.
The idea may hold promise, though it’s had limited success (please see this link: https://calmatters.org/housing/2020/03/vacancy-fines-california-housing-crisis-homeless/). It seems worth studying, but I think that the inclusionary ordinance and examining corporate controlled rental housing would be my starting points.
I think we need to be careful about implementing a vacancy tax during an economy-shaking global pandemic as there could be many unintended consequences for many property-owners that are already feeling the impacts of Covid-19. However, long-term I do believe that South Pasadena could benefit from the imposition of a vacancy tax on both industrial and residential properties. There is a significant amount of properties that have been sitting vacant and in various states of disrepair for many years. The City still needs to provide services for public works, public safety, etc for those properties, but is losing out on property taxes, sales taxes, and other community impacts by having them sit empty or idle.
This is an intriguing idea that needs to be studied. I have not yet read a fully thought out proposal.
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The devil is in the details, but conceptually, I support a vacancy tax. In a small town such as ours, where commercial and residential space are in high demand, the city can not afford to have vacant buildings go unused. From a public safety perspective, vacant buildings, commercial or residential, pose greater risks to the safety and stability of our neighborhoods.