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Vital Connections

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January 17, 2008


Good evening, and welcome to the new locker rooms at the world famous Rose Bowl. I could not be more pleased that so many of you are interested in this new facility. Since the project was completed five months ago, the Rose Bowl locker rooms have been the place to be!

A Period of Change

This decade has been good to Pasadena. Each year since 2000 has been better than the last. Now in 2008, we find ourselves in a period of transition and change. In my report, I want to go over the City’s economic condition, review public and private investment, and then talk about some of the challenges and initiatives that make up the City’s agenda for the new year.

City’s Fiscal and Economic Situation

This fiscal year, the general fund budget is over $210 million, and the total operating budget—including the Water & Power utility—is $560 million. There are 2,400 City employees. At least through December 31, the local economy was strong and dynamic, with an estimated 110,000 jobs.

As our economy has transitioned over the last 25 years from manufacturing to retail and service activities, it has become stronger and more diversified. Our economy benefits from a balance of retail, financial and professional services, technology, and educational and cultural sectors. We have strong retail and restaurant sales and low unemployment, although the latter is higher this year than last. Our low office vacancy has fueled rental rates in Pasadena that are now among the highest in L.A. County.

It should be noted that Pasadena’s performance was stronger than in other California
communities. For example, construction statewide is down 5%, while ours is slightly up. New auto sales in California are down over 5%, though Pasadena’s decrease is less than 2%.

For 2008, our expectations must take into account national and state trends, and the U.S. economy is weak, based on record high oil prices and the subprime credit crisis, and the California economy is

even weaker and more uncertain. The Governor is grappling with a $14 billion budget deficit. It is clear that the state’s ability to protect children, renters, workers, and the elderly, as well as California’s wildlife and its land, is currently in jeopardy, and this will impact the City and our public schools.

This shortfall comes at a time when Pasadena, the PUSD and others are coordinating resources to meet the needs of young people, so the decrease in State funding creates an even greater challenge. All in all, Pasadena’s economic prospects during 2008 are at best uncertain and will almost certainly fall short of the upward movement so far this decade.

The Importance of Measure D

Speaking of future revenues, it might be helpful to mention Measure D, a local ballot measure that voters will decide on February 5th.

Measure D, which currently provides $10 million per year to the general fund for critical City services, would continue and update the City’s utility users tax on telephone service. The existing provisions were written 40 years ago, long before anyone could have envisioned how telephone technology would evolve.

The proposition does not substantially change services that are subject to the tax. Federal law prohibits the application of a UUT to internet access, and the City Council recently adopted an ordinance clarifying that no tax will ever be imposed on internet access without a future vote of the people. No matter how you decide to vote, I encourage everyone to go to the polls on February 5th.

Investments in Public Infrastructure

Turning to public infrastructure, Pasadena’s commitment to new investment this decade has been impressive. City Hall, more than any other building in Pasadena, speaks to what this community believes it is and wishes to be. The retrofit project was completed in July, on time and under budget.

The Pasadena Convention Center is undergoing a $121 million expansion to make it competitive with other urban centers in the region. When completed next year, the Center will double in size. This project is approximately 50% complete, and is on time and on budget.

More long-term infrastructure projects include a $234 million program to refurbish the City’s aging water system; and a $122 million master plan for power distribution. A sewer master plan was completed last year, with more than $44 million in capital improvements planned over the next 20 years.

In light of our venue this evening, I should review the Rose Bowl project. Last year, a strategic plan was proposed for improvements that will sustain the Stadium over time, including wider entry tunnels and aisles, more comfortable seating, a new scoreboard, and much more. Priority is given to public safety issues, historic preservation concerns, and the facility’s capacity to remain competitive in the Los Angeles sports market.

As many know, a draft environmental impact report on the project has been distributed, and will become final during the next 90 days. Then the project will come to the Council for decisions regarding the scope, cost, and funding.

Private Development

In addition to substantial public investment, there is new construction and rehabilitation in the private sector. Based on the dollar value of permits issued last year (ended June 30), private investment during fiscal year 2007 was about the same as the prior year: $220 million. Of this, about $80 million was in new residential construction and almost $50 million in rehabilitation of existing homes. Permits were issued for commercial development, office and retail space, in the amount of nearly $50 million, and for commercial rehabilitation of $45 million.

Concern is sometimes expressed that Pasadena has too much development. This year it seems very likely that such activity will decrease. But to get a broader perspective, it is interesting to compare the development in Pasadena with that in Glendale, which 30 years ago was similar in size and other respects. The population of each city then was approximately 130,000 people. Today, Pasadena’s population is about 145,000, while in Glendale the population exceeds 210,000. These two cities have had dramatically different approaches to community development, and now have dramatically different community identities.

The Pasadena development experience has been significantly influenced by our General Plan, which encouraged development in the Central Business District and other commercial areas, and limited development in single-family neighborhoods. Toward the middle of this year, the City will begin updating elements of the General Plan, which will provide an opportunity for all of us to start envisioning Pasadena’s future in the next decade.

I have another thought in regard to concern about development. What has taken place in the last 10 years has conformed with the goals and guidelines that we as a community approved in the General Plan. It is possible that some are not so concerned about the amount of development, but about its appearance, style, and relationship to what already exists. If new construction could meet our expectations for architectural quality and design, there might be more acceptance.

I hope this year that we can initiate a community discussion about architectural quality and design, and build an understanding and consensus about what we as a community want to experience.

Traffic and Transportation

Turning to traffic, this is an issue that is problematic in Pasadena, Glendale and most other cities. Last year, a Council-commissioned study identified strategies for reducing the evening peak-hour traffic congestion. It offers 12 revolutionary, forward-thinking strategies for reducing the number of trips on the streets of our City, and those strategies are now being analyzed. The process will be open to the public—including the business community and neighborhood associations—as implementing actions are considered in the months ahead.

During 2007, Gold Line operations were significantly improved, through new technology
and improved operating practices. This resulted in significant reduction of downtime for the barriers at the Del Mar, California and Glenarm crossings. Limited-stop express service on the Gold Line, which contributed to delays, has been terminated.

I am pleased that momentum is building for the Foothill Extension from Sierra Madre Villa Station easterly through the San Gabriel Valley—first to Montclair, a distance of about 24 miles, and then on to Ontario Airport, another 5 miles to the east. The schedule calls for construction to begin on the first phase to Azusa sometime next year, but at this point, neither the start time nor the financing is firm.

Commitment to Sustainability and Environment

Last year, there was widespread community support for preservation of open space. The Council has budgeted studies to create an Open Space Element of the General Plan, which will get underway in the next few months. A community advisory group will be established, comprised of some City advisory commission members and other community appointees to ensure broad-based representation. The next step will be comprehensive mapping to look at existing open space opportunities.

As a complement to the just completed Green Space and Recreation Element, we are working to complete a comprehensive Recreation and Parks Master Plan that will guide the long-term creative, orderly development and management of our recreation services and parks. These are among Pasadena’s most valued amenities.

The City Council approved in concept a plan for the 30-acre Hahamongna Annex Park, a site acquired from the Metropolitan Water District to create more park land in Pasadena. The final version is expected to come before the Council later this year. The City is also attempting to acquire 20 acres above Annandale Golf Course, land which is in a native state even though it was subdivided into several parcels for development of single-family homes more than 80 years ago.

Beyond these planning efforts, I see the City’s agenda for 2008 as emphasizing our
sustainability program; addressing the needs of young people; and pursuing our relationship with PUSD.

Incidentally, sustainability in the civic context means maximizing energy efficiency, seeking out renewable sources of energy, conserving water, preserving and enhancing open space, constructing green buildings, and creating public transportation facilities that allow people to circulate without cars.

I believe that 2007 will be recognized as the turning point in public acceptance of the reality of global warming. People know that climate change now threatens not only the environment, but also our national security, our economic stability, and public health and safety.

Pasadena is seen as a leader in this effort, following the Council’s unanimous approval of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement in 2006. Our green building practices ordinance, one of the first in the nation, ensures that building design and construction integrate sustainable siting, water conservation, energy efficiency, improved occupant health, and conservation of natural resources. Nearly a quarter of a million square feet of commercial and institutional space in Pasadena has been certified as sustainable under the green building practices ordinance, and more than a million square feet of space is currently in review for such compliance.

During the coming year, Pasadena will continue to reduce emissions within City operations and will reach out to our constituencies—businesses, organizations, and individuals—to engage them in this commitment. This outreach effort will be aided by three major conferences that are coming up.

he Systems, Cities & Sustainable Mobility Summit in February, hosted by Art Center
College of Design, will gather an influential group of visionaries, corporate heads, urban planners and government leaders to discuss sustainability concepts and practices. The GreenTech Conference in June, hosted by Entretech, will unite experts from Caltech and other academic institutions with entrepreneurial leaders at the edge of developing green technology products and services. And the Green Pasadena Leadership Summit, also in June, will conduct broad discussions with a cross-section of the community regarding climate change, green building and urban design, environmental health, and many other topics.

Violence Prevention and Youth Development

Let us now move to the needs of young people.

Recent reports on public safety have been mixed. Major crime continued to decrease, for which we are all grateful, but there is an exception: a rash of violence among young people. The causes are unclear and solutions are difficult to identify. Gang activities, fueled by drug dealing, are certainly a factor. The recent release of a number of violent felons back into our community after serving prison sentences was a contributor as well.

In response, the Police Department launched Operation Safe City, a traditional, heavy enforcement program that cracked down on gang members and their associates. Our officers seized dozens of guns, made hundreds of arrests, and served many search warrants and arrest warrants, substantially reducing the violence. Toward the end of the year, the focus shifted to the apprehension of felony suspects. This high level of vigilance continues along with the Police Department’s traditional community-based partnerships designed to link prevention, intervention and enforcement.

Barney Melekian, speaking then as Chief of Police, said, “Our young people are the future, and they deserve more than we are giving them.”

Last fall, responding to that challenge, the Council established the Youth Development and Violence Prevention Committee, inviting Pasadena City College, PUSD, Supervisor Michael Antonovich, the Altadena Town Council and others to join City representatives and non-profit organizations in the first multi-agency effort of its kind. Meeting twice monthly, this Committee has as its goal the development of short- and long-term solutions to the problems of youth violence. What has become clear is that among these agencies partnerships are needed—Vital Connections.

Last weekend, the Pasadena Star-News asserted in an editorial that we are failing children to a frightening degree. It said, “The State must find ways to send more kids to preschool, help them become more physically fit, and graduate at a substantially higher rate from high school.” That point is confirmed by the Committee’s work so far, which indicates that the needs of many children, teens and young adults in Pasadena are not being met. In partnership with other agencies and non-profit organizations, our community must provide stronger educational opportunities, more recreation, summer work and internships, and more permanent jobs. I see this as a critical goal, a critical effort, and a critical responsibility in the coming year.

long these lines, our staff is working with the Northwest Commission to review the City’s plan to provide strong community support in the Northwest quadrant of the City. The original Northwest Plan was adopted more than 20 years ago, to improve economic, social and physical conditions for its residents and businesses. Much of it was implemented and significant investment has been made to continue pursuing the goals of the Northwest Plan. This year, the Council expects to update the Plan and expand its commitment as part of the effort to meet the needs of young people.

The First Source Hiring Ordinance ensures that Pasadena residents are given opportunities to work on local construction projects. The ordinance has two components – one voluntary that allows developers of private construction projects to receive rebates in exchange for hiring local workers; and one mandatory that is applicable to developers who receive financial assistance from the City in connection with their projects. Nearly a million dollars has been paid in wages under this ordinance, which has been so well received that revisions are being made to expand its coverage.

Working with PUSD

In considering the needs of children and youth, it is clear that public schools have a
significant role. I continue to be impressed by the progress at PUSD under the strong leadership of Superintendent Edwin Diaz. He worked with the Board of Education to adopt “The Approach to Excellence”, a comprehensive strategy to reform the District. I believe we are on the threshold of significant actions to move this effort forward.

The PUSD intends to remain an active partner in the strategy for youth development that is currently underway, and is taking actions to strengthen student achievement and all other aspects of the education process. The City and the School District are working closely on a number of opportunities for joint effort and joint benefit, including transportation, facilities, health services, policing, recreation, water conservation, and internships.

Pasadena Promotes Healthy Living

And the City is making a major commitment to the needs of young people with initiatives for healthy living. Through a Public Health Department campaign that began two years ago, which concentrates on community wellness, many activities are encouraging healthy lifestyles for children and adults.

A number of events will be available this year to promote the benefits of exercise. On February 6, we will kick off Up & Moving Pasadena, in which I, along with special guests, will lead monthly morning walks around the Rose Bowl, and everyone is invited to join us.

On Saturday, January 26, an anticipated 15,000 young people, their families and others will participate in the Kids Fitness Challenge, the largest event of its kind in California. On February 24, Pasadena is the terminus of the AMGEN Tour of California, a professional bicycling race that will complete its 650 mile bike route at the Rose Bowl.

I hope you will take advantage of these and other exciting events.

Uniquely Pasadena

In closing, I want to read a quote from California Planning & Development Report, which several months ago enthusiastically declared Pasadena’s downtown to be the best among mid-sized California cities.

“What began during the 1980’s as an attempt to leverage retail revitalization on Colorado Boulevard, off of strategically located parking garages, has evolved, believe it or not, into a transit-oriented housing strategy thanks to the Gold Line. Who would have believed,” the quote continues, “you could blow out the middle of a shopping mall and put housing on top—and make it one of the hottest residential properties in L.A….It’s a cliché to say Pasadena is the best, but nothing else is even close. It’s the gold standard.”

Those of us who know Pasadena appreciate this kind of glowing compliments because they show that the outside world is noticing our progress. At the same time, we recognize that the quote does not describe the totality of our City. There are many important needs, which are being addressed in the only way we know how – as a caring, energetic and active community.

Healthy living. . .youth development. . .a strong economy. . . master plans to guide our future. . . environmental stewardship: Pasadena has been on the path to greatness since its incorporation more than 120 years ago, and our community continues working together toward a common vision – a vision that unites us through Vital Connections.

Let us tonight re-dedicate ourselves—each and everyone—to this vision of Pasadena as a great, equitable and compassionate community.

Posted: 1/17/2008 02:30:00 PM