Pasadena Stands the Test of Time

Pasadena Rotary Club
June 8, 2011
Mayor Bill Bogaard

Pasadena Stands the Test of Time


It is always an honor for me to speak at Pasadena Rotary, which I consider the City’s most prestigious forum for current affairs. Thank you for your generous welcome to me and for the opportunity to share thoughts about where Pasadena finds itself at this point in time.

On Saturday, at a party hosted by the Pasadena Museum of History, this great community kicks off its 125th birthday celebration, and I hope that many of us will be part of that event. It starts at noon and continues until 7:00 p.m.

About 3:00 p.m. that afternoon, I have the privilege, along with Councilmember Jacque Robinson, of cutting the Pasadena birthday cake. It is being prepared by chefs from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, and will take many hands—up to 20 chefs—and countless hours. A listing of its contents is mouthwatering, such as layers of Jamaican black chocolate sponge cake, with fillings of bittersweet chocolate ganache, Oreo Swiss meringue buttercream, and marshmallow fluff.

Pasadena’s Beginnings

Pasadena was incorporated in June 1886, becoming the fourth City to incorporate in Los Angeles County. According to the City’s website, this move was taken “largely as a measure to rid the City of its saloons”. I am glad to say that, at this point in time we appear to have overcome concerns about the deleterious effects of bars and taverns, and we are all on our own both to enjoy the hospitality establishments in the City, and to behave ourselves.

In the very early days, the City’s downtown was centered on Colorado Boulevard at Fair Oaks, and it boasted a variety of brick and wood frame structures, decorated with extravagant Victorian detailing. Pasadena Heritage assures me it was a bustling place, with hotels and large retailers on Colorado, and more modest, service-oriented businesses on parallel streets to the north and south. Throughout the early part of the 20th century, this was Pasadena’s main commercial center, frequented by the locals in a growing community and by the many visitors who came for the “winter season”.

By the late 1920’s, however, the original downtown was being left behind as the City spread eastward. Pasadena’s grand new civic buildings were being built several blocks to the east in what we now enjoy—and treasure—as the Pasadena Civic Center, which was conceived and created at the time pursuant to the Bennett Plan.

I want to come back to the Civic Center, but for now, let me point out that a project is currently underway in the Civic Center that provides trees, decorative sidewalks and crosswalks, and other aesthetic additions that implement and enhance the original architectural elegance of the Bennett Plan.

The “Test of Time”

Today’s theme is “Pasadena Stands the Test of Time”, and my goal is to share with you things that I have come to appreciate as demonstrating the City’s strength and vitality, and its enduring quality, and to report on the City’s budget for Fiscal Year 2012. I hope that we all leave today’s luncheon convinced that the City will prosper at least another 125 years.

Old Pasadena in Jeopardy

It may be hard many to believe, but 40 years ago Old Pasadena was slated for demolition. At that point, Pasadena’s original downtown was considered irrelevant and an obstacle to progress. There were still a variety of businesses that remained active, but most of the buildings had suffered neglect, were hardly used, or were even vacant. The aging downtown was shabby, foot traffic was sparse, and business activity had seriously declined.

The strategy that developed at the time from the traditional sources of influence in the community—City Hall and the business sector—was a traditional redevelopment strategy calling for demolition of blocks and blocks of historic structures and constructing modern, efficient new buildings. At that point in time, the fact that Pasadena’s irreplaceable history was at stake was not considered important.

It was Pasadena Heritage, a newly formed organization, that first raised the alarm in 1978 and took a strong stand against this agenda. It noted that these historic buildings represented a tangible record of our City’s history and that they were valuable resources upon which economic revival could be based. The organization proposed an alternative strategy whereby the historic downtown could be saved and renewed, and we all know it was the preservation strategy that took hold in the City. Old Pasadena has become one of the most successful retail and restaurant centers in Southern California.

A New Direction for the City’s Future

During these same years, with a new generation of leadership having come to the Council in the 1970’s, a period emerges of community clashes that forced into the open tough social and political issues that had been ignored until then, issues like: protecting neighborhoods while accommodating new development; addressing the needs of the disadvantaged of our community; and choosing between a “scorched earth” style of new development versus one that protects and preserves Pasadena’s architectural legacy.

Some of us remember those turbulent days in the 1980’s, and the many debates involved in considering a new direction in Pasadena’s approach to community development. The traditional guidelines for investment were challenged and new proposals were offered by grassroots activists, calling for “managed” growth; neighborhood preservation; urban design; a “human scale” of development; and “placemaking”, so Pasadena would stand out from competitive communities in the region.

It took nearly 15 years for those debates to be resolved, but that period of controversy ultimately reached a conclusion in 1994 when a new General Plan was approved. Thereafter, new development was limited for several years by the slow economic climate, but toward the end of the decade investors came forward ready to go back to building Pasadena’s future—helping it “stand the test of time”—and the 1994 General Plan provided the rules. Since then, the General Plan has had a substantial influence on the development of our City.

We are all aware that general plans provide framework for translating broad community values and expectations into specific strategies for managing growth and enhancing the quality of life. California law requires that day to day decisions of the City follow logically from and be consistent with the General Plan.

Pasadena Moves to an Urban Style

Pasadena’s modern experience with growth and development has been heavily influenced by the Gold Line light rail system, which began operating between Los Angeles and Pasadena in 2003. As the system was constructed and began operations, the City experienced major changes in the Central Business District, particularly around the Gold Line stations.

One can think of the Del Mar Station which is enhanced by a very popular restaurant operating in the historic Santa Fe Railroad Station, or adjacent to the Sierra Madre Villa Station, which is surrounded by 200 new apartments. Contractors are putting the finishing touches on the new home of a wonderful new theatre facility. A Noise Within, the classical repertory group that will move to Pasadena this summer and begin its performances in the new facility in October.

It is interesting that nearly 3,000 residential units have been added within walking distance of the Gold Line Stations. Approximately 175,000 square feet of retail and commercial space has been added, along with the significant renovation and adaptive reuse of historic buildings that has taken place in Old Pasadena, including the Raymond Theater and the Royal Laundry. Estimated construction costs for the residential and commercial development, not including the cost of land, total roughly $500 million.

Recently the City conducted a survey of the demographics of the Central Business District, which has provided some interesting information. During the last 10 years, population in the area has increased 40%, from 11,500 people to 16,500. The population is younger: 33% of the residents are between 25 and 34 years of age—that is 33%--as compared with 18% for the rest of Pasadena. There are, for good or bad, fewer children. Eight percent of the residents are less than 18 years old, compared to 23% for the rest of the City, and household sizes are smaller, averaging 1.66 persons per household, compared with 2.52 for the rest of Pasadena.

There are also some interesting indications about mobility—getting around—without using a car. There is more walking in the Central Business District, 35% walk to work or walk to conduct errands every day; and another 32% walk for these purposes two to three times per week. People are driving less as a single occupant in the car—50% drive alone to work versus 70% for the rest of Pasadena; and more people are using transit: 15% take public transit to work, versus 7% for the rest of the City.

This is just the beginning of a long term change in the Southern California lifestyle, but it is interesting to see evidence that public transit and walking have significant roles to play in the future.

New City Investment

If the question today is whether Pasadena is able to “stand the test of time”, it seems reference should be made to recent infrastructure commitments: the renovation and seismic correction of City Hall, completed in 2005, and the Convention Center which opened in March, 2008.

The current project is the Rose Bowl renovation, which kicked off in January and is making steady progress on its three-year construction program. If things go well, in January 2014, the renovated facility will host not only the 100th Rose Bowl Game, sponsored by the Tournament of Roses, but the Bowl Championship Series as well.

The project involves nearly tripling the number of premium seats in the press box—with sales of premium tickets helping to pay for the improvements, doubling the number of concession areas, increasing the number of restrooms, reducing the Stadium’s exit time from about 30 minutes to 17 by widening the tunnels, and making other circulation improvements.

There has been one aspect that is controversial, and it relates to the City’s effort to provide employment to local craftsmen and other local workers. Among Pasadena residents, there is a very high expectation that a project involving over $150 million should provide significant new employment opportunities, and we all know that jobs are needed in Pasadena today in light of the weak economy.

The biggest obstacle to meeting the City’s goals is that contractors are coming to the project with an existing workforce, experienced in the areas covered by the contract, and they are trying to keep such workers employed. The number of opportunities for new hires is limited. This is a project that involves a large number of specialized and focused jobs, such as the scoreboard replacement element; restructuring of circulation within the Rose Bowl; creation of new restrooms and concession stands; and specialized carpentry, cement, and stonework around the site.

In recent days, the Rose Bowl Operating Company has strengthened its local hiring plan to require contractors to engage residents for employment up to at least 15% of payroll rather than 15% of new and replacement jobs. If the new goal is achieved, it will result in between $1.5-$2.5 million of compensation paid to local workers in on-site wages.

The City’s commitment is strong, and it fully intends to meet and even exceed these new standards.

Legacy Connections

There is a unique feature of the project that has not been well publicized, and that is Legacy Connections, a private philanthropic organization that has committed to raise money to accomplish elements that were not part of the core project description. The foundation, which is headed by James Hirschmann, CEO of Western Asset Management, has already raised more than $3 million.

Future City Projects

There are two other City projects which reflect, at least to me, the long term nature of this City’s commitment. The first is the YWCA, which City Hall determined more than a year ago to acquire from the owner, both to prevent further deterioration of this elegant historic structure that was taking place under private ownership; and to initiate the renovation and re-use of the structure as a productive element of the Civic Center.

The other project is the streetcar that has recently been evaluated to serve four retail centers in the Central District—Old Pasadena, Paseo Colorado, the Playhouse District, and South Lake Avenue. The streetcar would be a major capital project, approximately two miles in length, and would cost approximately $70-$80 million.

Funding is needed from a mix of local, regional and federal funding sources, with the hope based on history that federal sources will provide up to 50% of the total capital requirements. The local contribution, speaking realistically, would require up to $30-$60 million, with the most likely basis for that funding being a property-based assessment district in the area of the project and redevelopment financing.

The benefits of such a commitment would be significant. Over a 10-year period, a streetcar is estimated to increase assessed property values by $900 million, promote retail sales by $42 million, and enhance hotel revenues by nearly $3 million.

Fiscal Year 2012 Operating and Capital Budgets

On Monday, the City Council took a major step toward adopting the operating and capital budgets for the fiscal year ending next June 30, 2012. I am proud to say that the combined efforts of the City Manager and the strong cooperation of workers has allowed the City, looking at the five years ended in Fiscal Year 2014, to reduce expenses that would have otherwise been incurred by about $150 million.

The General Fund budget in the new fiscal year will be about $215 million, and the other City operations, including the electric and water utility, the Convention Center, the golf course, and the Rose Bowl, are budgeted for appropriations at $315 million. The number of employees budgeted in the new year, in the General Fund, is 970 and in other operations, about 1,170. The staffing is down more than 250 FTEs—full time equivalents—from the budgeted level three years ago.

In the area of capital investment, the new budget will be $155 million, which will cover the Rose Bowl renovations—$72 million—and water and electric investment at $64 million. The balance of this budget will go to other City facilities, such as streets, lighting, parks, sewers and storm drains, and new technology.


Pasadena is famous for architectural landmarks and renowned institutions and events. It has become a regional economic, scientific, cultural, entertainment, and educational center. We cherish our historic character, especially our distinct residential neighborhoods, each with its own special identity. But we also are a changing urban community faced with harsh challenges, poverty, pollution and economic competition.

I love Pasadena because of the diversity and the debate, the arts and science, the history and architecture, the strong local economy, and the compassion and concern for those who are disadvantaged. But you can love Pasadena without claiming that it does everything right. You can love Pasadena and recognize it has real challenges to meet.

As we celebrate the 125th Anniversary, and recommit ourselves to building a greater city, this is a perfect time to celebrate our strengths and to explore what kind of community we want Pasadena to be.

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