For Generations to Come
January 17, 2007
Posted: 1/17/2007 5:10:00 PM
It is a pleasure to be at Hamilton School, which reflects so well the School District’s investment and hard work this decade. More than $300 million has been invested to modernize schools. In addition, new teaching practices in reading and mathematics are preparing all students to be successful learners. Hamilton School is proud of the steady increase over several years in its Academic Performance Index, now approaching 800.
This success is the result of dedicated teachers and staff members, strong parental involvement, and motivated students. It is also due in no small part to Principal Sarah Rudchenko, who has been a gracious host as we prepared for tonight’s event.
PUSD Has New Superintendent
I think everyone knows that the Board of Education has just recruited a new Superintendent. Edwin Diaz, a public school educator from Gilroy, California with 30 years experience, will assume his duties in April.
Last December, Board President Pete Soelter invited me, along with the Mayor of Sierra Madre and the President of the Altadena Town Council, to play a small role in this recruitment. I spent time in Gilroy, talking with the stakeholders in public education, including principals, teachers, administrators, Board members, city officials, and community leaders.
Based on this visit, my impression is that Edwin Diaz has what it takes; he is capable and collaborative, diplomatic, a good listener, responsible and responsive, and committed to needs of various constituencies. I am confident that Superintendent Diaz will significantly enhance the students’ educational experience.
Allow me to respond to one of the questions most frequently asked: what are you doing—what are you going to do—to help our public schools?
Schools alone cannot serve all of the needs of students. We all know “It takes a village...” The communities served by PUSD have a responsibility to help, to cooperate with the schools, and I am proud of the ways in which Pasadena is pursuing that responsibility. Let me offer two examples.
School Safety Team
Last summer, our Police Department deployed a School Safety Team to handle policing at Pasadena-based PUSD schools. The team consists of seven officers supervised by a lieutenant, at a cost of $1.2 million per year. This dedicated group strives to promote a safe environment for learning and education.
Since the school year began, the progress has been dramatic—based on incident statistics—and the team has been exceptionally well received by teachers, principals, parents and students. Police Chief Barney Melekian said, “Our officers are getting to know Pasadena’s young people and that has long term benefits for this entire community.” Their work in the schools is benefiting the officers in the neighborhoods.
As Mayor, I will strive to extend this City-PUSD partnership, creating a foundation based on mutual respect for many other successful joint efforts.
Joint Use of Facilities
The second example involves joint use of school facilities for recreation, harkening back to the era before 1975 when Pasadena was famous for the joint after-school programs on school grounds and in public parks.
Ten days ago, the Council approved an agreement with PUSD to develop McKinley School as a joint-use recreation center. The City will spend up to $100,000 to prepare these facilities for public use. On evenings and weekends, the public will be able to use a sports field, and two playgrounds and basketball courts. This effort is modeled on a joint-use agreement completed last year at Madison Elementary School. At the same time, the Council directed City staff to explore public use of 19 tennis courts at Pasadena High, Blair, Marshall and Wilson Middle School.
Other examples of working together could be mentioned.
Let me address the fiscal aspects of our joint efforts with PUSD. In addition to the School Safety Team, the City has been spending more than $3 million a year in ways that benefit PUSD students. In my view, the guideline for City expenditures is that they fulfill municipal responsibilities—such as public safety and the well being of youth—or achieve community benefits—such as recreational facilities. As we explore opportunities, I intend to bring to bear a taxpayer’s viewpoint, recognizing that the goal is the health, safety and welfare of the City and all its members.
I have no doubt that many community benefits can be achieved through these joint efforts, and I expect that we will discover many ways of working together during the coming year.
I am already at risk of spending too much time on education. But, recognizing that many in our community believe that the greatest challenge facing Pasadena is the quality of public education let me make one additional point.
The Community is Helping PUSD
A number of community organizations have developed outreach programs that significantly enrich PUSD students’ educational experience. I am referring, just to mention a few, to projects at Caltech, PCC, Flintridge Foundation, several private companies, and the City of Pasadena itself.
These partnerships should be celebrated, I do celebrate them, and my hope is that we can scale up such efforts—expanding existing programs and establishing new ones, as suggested in the widely discussed Kahlenberg Report, commissioned by the Pasadena Educational Foundation. It states, “The good news is that PUSD has more potential to improve its schools, especially the academic achievement of its low income students, than perhaps any other community in the country given the incredible resources within Pasadena, Altadena and Sierra Madre.”
The time is right to engage the entire community in support of the public schools in a way that has not previously occurred—at least since 1970. That is a challenge I place before us tonight and I hope that 2007 is the year that we begin to meet it.
What Makes a City Great?
Turning then to municipal affairs, last year a noted urbanologist, Joel Kotkin, published a book entitled, The City: A Global History. In it, he examines the evolution and experience of urban life throughout history, and he attempts to answer an age-old question—what makes a city great?
His conclusion is, “Since the earliest origins, urban areas have performed three separate critical functions—the creation of sacred space, the provision of basic security,
and the host for a commercial market.” Even today, Kotkin says that successful cities must, “. . . still resonate with the ancient fundamentals—places sacred, safe and busy”. I thought it would be meaningful to view Pasadena within this framework.
City’s Economic and Fiscal Situation
Let’s talk first about being busy, about Pasadena’s economic and fiscal situation.
Pasadena operates as part of a dynamic and changing world. Today’s “new economy” has shifted from manufacturing to information. The new global society—political, economic, social, and cultural—compels us to recognize an increasing variety of values and perspectives, a whole new kind of competition.
In the face of these trends, I can report that Pasadena’s economy is strong and continues to perform well. It is diversified and dynamic, with well over 100,000 jobs and a record this decade of steady growth. Our unemployment rate in November—the latest data available—was 3.2%, among the lowest in the region, and nearly 25% lower than one year ago.
Our vacancy factor for commercial space has shrunk to less than 5%, one of the
lowest in Los Angeles County. These are strong indications that the local economy is growing, as white-collar businesses expand and add workers.
This fiscal year, the City’s general fund budget is about $200 million and the total operating budget, including the electric and water utilities and the Rose Bowl and the Conference Center, is nearly $530 million.
The City’s debt level remains reasonable after the issuance of over $160 million in bonds to support the expansion of our Conference Center. The general fund reserve will reach $15 million this year or 7.55% of general fund appropriations.
Our current situation, coupled with a record of sound fiscal policies and management, allows the City to maintain bond ratings from AA to AA+. These ratings put the City higher than 90% of other rated California cities.
What is reassuring is that the City’s economic base continues to expand and diversify, strengthening our position as a center not just for one industry, but for many—for technology, financial and professional services, retail trade and restaurants, the arts, and higher education. The Star News recently reported that biotech and high tech companies are flourishing in and around our City.
Pasadena’s fiscal health is a tribute to actions the City Manager recommended over the years, and the City Council approved, to assure prudent fiscal management. I want to acknowledge and to thank those with whom I have the privilege to work in offering leadership to this great City: Vice Mayor Madison, Councilmembers Gordo, Haderlein, Holden, Little, Streator, and Tyler, and City Manager Cynthia Kurtz.
Pasadena’s Crime Record
Returning to Professor Kotkin, his second requirement for great cities is “Cities must,
first and foremost, be safe”. Let us review Pasadena’s experience.
I am able to report that during the last ten years, serious crimes in Pasadena declined by over 22%. The Police Department’s focus has been on reducing gang violence, with emphasis on eliminating youth homicides and improving the quality of life in our neighborhoods. During 2006, Chief Melekian reports an upturn in the homicide rate and a series of incidents of violence involving young people—which are all being addressed vigorously—but the overall improvement is still dramatic.
It is true there are certain national trends which have boosted crime reduction, but there is no doubt in my mind that our Chief’s effectiveness and the professional dedication of our police officers and staff are major factors in our success.
My views are based on the way our officers conduct business—community service policing. Last August, a groundbreaking study conducted by the Police Assessment Resource Center concluded that, “Pasadena residents and police officers, as a whole, have an unusually high degree of mutual regard, support and trust.” It was one of the first studies that surveyed the opinions of individuals about the police department, as well as the views of police officers about their relationship with the community. At City Hall, no one was surprised when this report concluded that, “Much can be learned from [Pasadena’s] example of successful community policing”.
One of the keys to the Department’s success is its award-winning Volunteer Services Program—comprising 150 persons—who log thousands of hours, helping to create a bridge to the public while saving the department valuable time and resources.
Pasadena: A Unique Place
The third element of successful cities, Kotkin says, is that they offer “sacred places”. At the beginning of history, urban settlement typically centered around a temple or cathedral. But in this more secular era, the meaning of sacred places has evolved. Kotkin says “sacred” today means “…things that engender for its citizens a peculiar and strong attachment, sentiments that separate one specific place from others. Urban areas, in the end, must be held together by a consciousness that unites their people in a shared identity.”
Well, there are many “sacred places” in our great City. To start, there are scores of churches that meet the original test of sacredness and which help shape the City with the values of tolerance, compassion and community service. Our single-family neighborhoods are elegant; benefiting this decade from significant new investment to upgrade what has been called for decades “aging housing stock”. Our civic center—dominated by City Hall, the Public Library and the Civic Auditorium—is admired and envied around the country. We have the Colorado Street Bridge, the Rose Bowl, and great college campuses. Our streets are lush with tree canopies. There are indeed many sacred places.
Pasadena is also memorable because of its great institutions and traditions. Think for example of Caltech, JPL, Art Center, and Huntington Hospital; our great museums and theaters; and our traditions of volunteerism and the Tournament of Roses. These elements create “a consciousness that unites our people in a shared identity”.
We continue to make significant investment in infrastructure, such as improvements to
the distribution networks of the electric system, the water utility, and the sewers. Construction has begun on a major expansion of the Pasadena Conference Center, which also involves building a new ice skating facility in east Pasadena, near PCC’s Community Skills Center.
Questions About Development
So, I suggest that Pasadena is not only busy and safe, but it is “sacred” in Dr. Kotkin’s definition. But recently, more and more people have approached me to express concern about all of the change taking place. They talk about development and traffic. In light of the number and the strength of these concerns, I have concluded that we need to launch a meaningful community discussion to understand and to consider what is being said. This accords with our commitment in the General Plan that the public always be engaged in the process of determining what kind of a community we want Pasadena to be.
For me, the discussion begins with the 1994 General Plan when this community consciously adopted two new directions, which were meant to balance one another.
First, the Plan calls for protecting existing residential neighborhoods from intrusive development. With mostly single-family homes, neighborhoods require more land and extensive infrastructure. So the second new direction was to permit, even encourage, mixed use residential development in our Central Business District.
Since then, both of these approaches have had significant impact. The neighborhoods are prospering and in downtown many homes have been built offering an urban lifestyle. But some would say too many homes have been built.
There is reason to believe that development is slowing down. The evidence is not clear, but excess supply and variable interest rates suggest that less development will occur during the second half of this decade than in the first. This trend could offer the community an opportunity to absorb the development that has already occurred.
With respect to development, the question most being asked is how much is too
much, but let us also ask about the pace of development, its appearance, and its architectural quality and design. At the same time, our discussion should review the City’s efforts to mitigate and manage traffic, to enhance understanding of what is being done, and to gain support for new proposals for reducing traffic, or its impact.
It is my hope in the months ahead—during the campaign leading to Council elections on
March 6—that the Council and the community will participate in such a dialogue.
The Agenda for 2007
During the coming year, there are a number of ways in which the City is working to continue Pasadena’s evolution as a great city. Let me refer to them briefly. During the new year, the City will complete a new Open Space Element of the General Plan and a Master Plan for parks, which are currently in draft form. I hope these policies set a grand strategy for the city for enhancing and expanding parks, increasing recreational opportunities, and establishing additional open space as a permanent legacy for our city and the entire region.
The City will complete a new Policy on Children, Youth and Families and evaluate the role of a youth council to assist in meeting the needs of young people. We are committed to being a family-friendly community, which nurtures children and gives every child the opportunity to develop to his or her full potential. As City decisions are made, we should strengthen our evaluation of the impacts on families.
To be family-friendly, the City will pursue aggressively its commitment to affordable
housing. The relentless increase in home prices is forcing persons of even average income to seek housing elsewhere. The City’s unique character will not be retained if we do not succeed in embracing all of its diverse population.
The City will actively pursue its increasing commitment to environmental stewardship
and sustainability. With the City Council’s approval in October of the U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement, Pasadena is committed to actions in 21 areas that contribute to efforts around the world including reducing fossil fuel emissions, increasing our tree canopy, reducing waste and incorporating “green” building standards. When the new Environmental Advisory Commission begins operations next month, the City will accelerate environmentally responsible decisions and activities.
Pasadena intends to develop a sustainable city environment, physically and financially, based on the commitment of the Council and city staff as well as the capability of
various Pasadena institutions. For example, next month Art Center is conducting a “sustainable mobility summit”, to address the devastating costs incurred—social, environmental and economic—in maintaining our gas-powered mobile society. The product of the conference will be “Pasadena Principles of Sustainable Mobility” to demonstrate Pasadena’s leadership and Art Center’s long term commitment to focus design energies on 21st century problems.
Rose Bowl and Public Library
Before closing, may I mention two other initiatives this year that will have significant impact on the future of our City.
First, at the Rose Bowl, a task force is developing a strategic plan which is intended to assure the long-term prosperity of this historic icon as well as the safety, convenience and comfort of those attending events. The proposal is expected to be completed over the next few months for the Council’s consideration.
Secondly, in the municipal election on March 6, Pasadena voters will consider a ballot measure to continue Pasadena’s existing Special Library Tax. Measure C authorizes the City to continue a special assessment on real property at the annual rate of approximately $32 per single-family dwelling. Voters overwhelmingly approved this funding in 1993, with more than 70% of the vote, and then renewed it for ten years in 1997 with an 83% approval. A two-thirds vote is required. It is my hope that the voters will strongly approve Measure C.
One other matter before closing: I want to recognize someone here tonight, who lives
with the excitement and the challenges—the highs and the lows—of Pasadena all year long. My wife, Claire, is an important advisor to me and I want to thank her for her support of my work as Mayor.
According to Joel Kotkin, cities represent mankind’s greatest contribution to history.
“Cities compress and unleash the creative forces of humanity. From the earliest beginnings, when only a fraction of humans lived in cities, they had been the places that generated most of history’s art, religion, culture, commerce and technology.”
Pasadena is a City like this; it is part of this great urban tradition. It has been, it is today and it can continue to be. As we prepare for the coming year, for the next decade, for generations to come, I ask you to join me in renewing our commitment to building a greater city.
It is our city, it is our future, and it is our choice . . . for generations to come.