A New Plateau of Compassion

Remarks by Mayor Bill Bogaard
Community Housing Services
Celebration of 30th Anniversary of Founding
July 6, 2000

I am honored to have this opportunity to join with all of you in expressing admiration and gratitude to the directors of Community Housing Services who are being recognized tonight.

In preparing tonight’s remarks, I had the opportunity to review the history of CHS and to be reminded of its important purposes and programs. The question I want to raise in the next few minutes is whether, more than 30 years after it was first organized, there is any less need in the world today--in our community--for its kind of purposes and programs.

Over the weekend I read a review of a new biography of Michael Harrington who, you will recall, was one of the important intellectual leaders of the 1960’s. Many of us will remember that it was in the 1960’s when several profound books came out that shaped the balance of the 20th century in America, and still impact importantly today.

The Death and Life of American Cities by Jane Jacobs, which became the great manifesto of the urban preservation movement

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, which produced the ecology movement.

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Freiden, which did nothing less than readjust all previous relations between the sexes.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by him and Alex Haley, which transformed a good deal of subsequent thinking about African Americans.

Unsafe at Any Speed by Ralph Nader, which created the modern consumer movement.

But the work of social criticism that seemed to be the most promising of all was Michael Harrington’s The Other America, an expose of American poverty, which came out in 1962.

Middle class America, in its naivete, had come out of World War II in the smug and happy belief that American justice had triumphed not only over Hitler and Mussolini and Japanese imperialism abroad, but over poverty at home, except in a few remote and insignificant places. But that was not the case.

A full third of America’s population still labored under conditions of sheerest misery, even in an era of economic progress. Harrington’s book succeeded in pointing to that strangely invisible reality. President Kennedy and his top aides scratched their heads at the revelation, wondering exactly what could and should be done.

It was that realization that gave rise to many programs designed to provide services to low-income populations that would alleviate poverty and promote self-sufficiency, like these that CHS is offering today.

CHS was formed in 1969 with a single mission: housing for low-income families displaced by the construction of the 210 Freeway in Pasadena. At this point however, while its name reflects those roots, a lot has changed over 30 years.

CHS is now a complex organization performing many functions and providing comprehensive services from South Central Los Angeles to Lassen County in Northern California. The mission is clear and compelling: to alleviate poverty and promote self-sufficiency.

Its consolidated annual budget approaches $25 million; it has over 300 employees; and it offers more than a score of programs in numerous locations around the State.

In July of last year, CHS became the Community Action Agency for the Pasadena area, as approved by the City Council, and it now takes on the role of community organizer and public advocate for the underprivileged.

The idea of “community action” was conceived in the 1960’s, under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, in the wake of the publication of The Other America. It was to be a companion program with Head Start. Together, Community Action and Head Start were intended to empower low-income communities through the direct delivery of services and support for community organization.

So now we find ourselves in the year 2000, more than 30 years after the 1960’s, in the midst of a period of unprecedented economic prosperity. The impact of technology on the economy and on our daily lives is almost beyond comprehension. During this 10 year period of prosperity, the stock market has tripled in value, making a huge number of Americans financially secure and making a significant number of persons, including teenagers and twenty-somethings, multi-millionaires.

In Pasadena, we are enjoying the benefits of these positive trends. The City is experiencing both a significant amount of new business development based on technology and what can only be described as a cultural revitalization. There is strong investment taking place in the City of Pasadena including the Paseo Colorado, the commercial office development east of Lake on Colorado Boulevard, the South Lake Development which goes under the name “Stores on South Lake”, and more than 2,000 market-rate housing units in the pipeline or are presently under construction.

In the cultural area, I am particularly excited about the new direction taken by the Norton Simon, which has invested millions of dollars in improving its exhibition space and in developing a wonderful garden, and has increased the days and hours available to members of the public. I am cautiously optimistic that Art Center College of Design will determine that Pasadena offers everything the Art Center needs to build its future in the 21st century.

This fall, a program gets underway that will spotlight to the nation the cultural and the scientific resources of the City, a program called “The Universe”, which will portray perceptions of the cosmos over the centuries from a scientific and a cultural viewpoint. Eight of Pasadena’s significant cultural institutions will participate, including the Norton Simon, Caltech, the Armory Center for the Arts, Pacific Asia Museum, Art Center College of Design, Huntington Library, and Southwest Chamber Music.

There is no doubt that Pasadena is building a great future and doing so in a way that strengthens and enhances the many characteristics that have made Pasadena such a special place.

Does that mean that the kind of programs and projects offered by Community Housing Services are no longer needed? Or may no longer be needed after a few more months or years?

Unfortunately, the answer is decidedly “NO”.

Recently, in connection with the General Plan update, studies have been done of Pasadena’s need for housing, primarily affordable housing, since as I mentioned a large number of market rate units are presently underway. These studies bring out some interesting facts and figures. I don’t want to bore you with statistics, but I do want to say that more than 1 out of every 4 households in Pasadena is low-income, which means a total income of less than $25,000 per year. Another 16% of these households make less than $40,000 a year.

Ironically, some of the very positive factors that I have described about Pasadena’s progress contribute to the shortage of housing that is affordable to people in Pasadena. High land costs, construction costs, and the cost of market financing contribute to the high purchase price of new residential units. In fact, coupled with the limited availability of vacant land, these constraints make future development of affordable housing unlikely without City intervention.

The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of Pasadena residents cannot afford the median priced home that exists in our community today.

Directly related to these bleak income statistics is a need for new job opportunities and new business development that will benefit Pasadena residents. Notwithstanding a vigorous effort over 15 years, our efforts to reduce unemployment in the Northwest have not met with success. The rate today is three times the rate in the rest of Pasadena .

Moreover, our schools are falling short – far short --of the expectations in the community, many based on the success of Pasadena schools more than thirty years ago. In this regard, I am greatly encouraged by the quality and by the thoughtfulness of the report that has just been issued by the Task Force on PUSD Governance headed by Councilmember and former Mayor Chris Holden. Let us hope that this, together with a gradually expanding program for after-school experiences for our young people, will contribute to ongoing improvement in the performance of our public schools’ training of our young people.

The needs of our community could be expressed in other ways, but it is certainly clear that life continues to be extremely complicated and the need for commitment on the part of persons like those who have gathered tonight, not only to take advantage of opportunities in Pasadena but to help respond to the needs that exist.

Some people think that Southern California will become the key metropolitan area in the United States in the next few decades. We have a very creative technology industry growing here. It is the center for much of the media and communications innovation in the world. But Southern California is also the new face of America. The demographics and statistics of our State show that this is going to be a very different state 20 years from now. I believe that Pasadena can be a model for the nation.

The character of our community and its economic future will be shaped by how well Pasadena meets its challenge. This is a community effort. We must all come together as a community – local government, the schools, the business community, the churches and the non-profit organizations – to maximize the resources available for the benefit of all.

One of the mandates of CHS’s Community Action Program is that community action agencies must be governed by a three-part board of directors, consisting of representatives of the community, of government and of the business, educational and faith parts of the community. It is the intent of this requirement that the community agency benefit from collaboration. This kind of collaboration is precisely what is needed on a broad basis in Pasadena for us to succeed in the future.

With all of our blessings and all of our successes, the challenge that stretches before us is a struggle for the soul of Pasadena. We are more than a group of community leaders, more than a collection of programs, more than the sum of our prospects and our intentions. We need to be trustees of a dream.

It was in the 1960’s when this nation lost two of its most powerful voices of that dream, but they left us their vision, their values and their hopes in the dream they awakened. We remember them now to remind ourselves that our journey is not yet finished, that we must not settle for things as they are.

Martin Luther King told us something we need to hear again. He said, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now, in the unfolding life of history. There is such a thing as being too late.”

And Dr. King also said, “We must work unceasingly to lift this nation to a higher destiny, to a new plateau of compassion.”

There was another voice in the 1960’s whose words have endured over the years. Robert Kennedy said, “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. In crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of opposition and resistance.”

Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy lived for an important dream.

As we celebrate the dedication of those who we honor tonight, we are reminded that the important dreams that inspired them should inspire us all. Let us rededicate ourselves to building a community--a world class city--that meets the needs of all its citizens, and is truly a model for this great nation! 

Posted: 7/6/2000 09:15:00 AM
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