As Mayor Bill Bogaard gives the 2011 State of the City address, locals offer their own take on the condition of the rest of Pasadena
By Jake Armstrong 01/20/2011
Now is the time when politicos at almost all levels of government report to the people they serve. In tonight’s State of the City address, Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard will discuss leadership — his theme for 2011 is “Leading the Way” — as it pertains to the community’s quest to improve its financial well-being, public safety, arts and culture and other areas important to civic pride.
But on the heels of a tumultuous 2010, undoubtedly a year like no other, how would citizens who interact with their government rate leadership in their fair city? Opinions seem about as diverse as the city itself.
“In general, everyone is pleased with the manner in which the mayor and the City Council govern the city, even if we don’t agree with every decision,” opined Paul Little, head of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce and a former Pasadena City Council member. “The city is pretty stable, and that is reflective in a polite and business-like City Council.”
How about the rest of us?
Two years ago, the council swiftly outlawed smoking cigarettes on restaurant patios and within 20 feet of entryways. But since then, a number of nonsmokers in this majority nonsmoking community wanted city leaders to go a step further and craft an ordinance to control tobacco smoke wafting from unit to unit in apartment buildings and condos. The effort seemed to be coming to a head last year, with Councilman Steve Haderlein even voicing support for an all-out ban on smoking within city limits. Then, the council’s momentum toward addressing the issue inexplicably seemed to wane.
It’s not a matter of finding a way. Many California cities, including neighboring Glendale and South Pasadena, have enacted laws restricting smoking in condos and apartments. It’s about finding the political will to act, said Nancy Sagatelian, a resident on the vanguard of those calling for council movement on the issue.
“It takes an enormous amount of courage to stand up to secondhand smoke,” Sagatelian said. “There’s something wrong with this status quo and it needs to be changed, and I think it needs to come from the top and then there is no more argument.”
Instead of banning smoking in a certain percentage of an apartment complex’s units and leaving enforcement up in the air, Sagatelian said she wants to see the council get behind an effort to outlaw drifting tobacco smoke, likely the most politically difficult option, given the attendant privacy and property rights issues. “I know the mayor was all for it two years ago, and then once the outdoor ordinance was passed, it seemed like this indoor issue wasn’t revisited. I’m hoping not just the mayor but the city manager will also help move it forward,” she said.
Faced with the decision of standing up for low-wage workers or green-lighting a hotel project to help a politically connected developer secure $11 million in federal stimulus bonds, the City Council recently chose the latter. In doing so, council members also essentially threw to the wind building density guidelines residents helped set to cut down on congestion, according to Jill Shook, who opposed the hotel project and for years has advocated for more affordable housing in the Crown City. When it comes to affordable housing and community planning, where exactly city decision-makers are leading their constituents remains to be seen, Shook said.
Like a handful of others who launched an appeal to stop the hotel project, which would reshape a former retirement home into an upscale boutique hotel, Shook was amazed that council members did not insist the developer require average pay to be higher than poverty-level wages so that hotel workers could afford to live in the community. “I understand where they are coming from, but it was a real lack of leadership on their part,” she said.
“We say it, but do we really mean it? Are we committed to having ethnic and economic diversity? I don’t see it near as strong as I’d like to,” Shook said.
Connect the dots?
It’s tough all over, as any Pasadena resident struggling with unemployment or foreclosure might tell you. Joblessness in the Crown City hovers around 10 percent and foreclosure currently threatens about 1,500 homes, according to recent estimates.
So who’s making sure illegal immigrants aren’t making matters worse? Not Pasadena’s city leaders, according to resident Les Hammer, who’s taken City Council members to task over what he considers their weak stance on immigration reform. The council formally denounced Arizona’s tough immigration law, and simultaneously called for comprehensive immigration reform in May, which Hammer likened to support for “amnesty on the installment plan.”
He says the council — and the school board — should make it more difficult for the undocumented to avail themselves of government and educational services.
“I think the council needs to step up to the plate for hard-pressed taxpayers and not look for more creative ways to provide benefits for people who are not supposed to be here,” Hammer said. “There seems to be a lot of discussion about affordable housing, but how about the rest of us who have to pay for it?”
Hammer said the state spends $10 billion a year on medical care and education for illegal immigrants and their children, and he wonders why no one in the city’s power structure is tracing such costs back to the $5 million shortfall in the city budget and the $23 million hole in the Pasadena Unified School District budget. “Can anyone on the City Council connect the dots? Is there any connection between illegal immigration and the growing underclass?” Hammer asked.
Get up, get out, do something
Things seem to be simmering down at Centennial Place, according to resident Larry Gonzalez. Just a few months ago, Gonzalez and a small cadre of other longtime tenants in the low-income apartment building were bristling after clients of Union Station Homeless Services began moving into the building.
The move is part of a plan to convert the building to subsidized supportive housing for the homeless, and Gonzalez and the others were perturbed that a few of the new tenants were bringing the life they lived on the streets into the building they now called home, and that their pleas for building management and city officials to take charge of the deteriorating situation were being unheard.
Leadership? Gonzalez said that will mean “a little more hands-on interest” on the part of city officials.
“I don’t know how our government works. Are they sitting behind a desk or are they getting out and getting around, saying ‘maybe we can do something about that,’ maybe getting out a little more?” he asked.
But there were some signs of bureaucratic initiative this past year: The city is in eminent domain proceedings to take control of the Julia Morgan-designed YWCA building essentially rotting in the shadow of Pasadena City Hall. Gonzalez, who wants to see that historic building become more affordable housing, called that a good step. “I hope they do something constructive with it then,” he said.
The State of the City address begins at 7 p.m. tonight at ArcLight Cinemas, 336 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Parking validation for up to four hours is available for all Paseo Colorado parking areas. The address will be taped for future broadcast on KPAS and streaming over the Internet.