Charging a New Course

January 28, 2010
La Salle High School
Mayor Bill Bogaard

I am delighted to be here and I am honored to share this event with so many members of the Pasadena community.

La Salle High School has been a strong and inspiring presence in Pasadena for more than 50 years. No doubt you have noticed the signs displayed around campus – “Enter to Learn; Leave to Serve” – which demonstrate this school’s commitment to community service and social justice. I thank Dr. Richard Gray, La Salle High School president, who has been gracious in welcoming this event.

It is a privilege for me to work with my colleagues on the city council and I thank them for their dedication and the collegial spirit with which our work is carried out.

I want to salute the city manager, Michael Beck, for his effectiveness in working with the council on strategic planning. Our strategic plan process allows the council to establish priorities and then keep the community informed about the progress in achieving them.

The council’s work on the strategic plan helps us understand the state of our city as we begin the second decade of the 21st century. Together, our strategy is to chart a new course for the future.

Over the past week, I have seen this new course in action as Pasadena residents and visitors gathered to celebrate major new beginnings.

On Saturday community leaders, local residents and special guests gathered for the re-opening of Robinson Park. The clouds parted and the sun shone brightly on the new, sparkling, regulation athletic field, marking the first phase of a $22 million dollar project. It is an exciting testament to this community’s support for projects and programs that will sustain Pasadena for generations to come.

Then on Monday there was another celebration, this one at Caltech, launching the renovation of the 74-year-old Robinson Laboratory of Astrophysics. When finished, it will become the Linde- Robinson Laboratory, the first-ever platinum-LEED-certified historic renovation and research lab. It will be the new home of the Center for Global Environmental Science, an institute at Caltech for research in sustainability. A historic building is being adapted for 21st century research, with a strong commitment to historic preservation and sustainability.

Despite the economic recession, Pasadena is experiencing other investment:

  • Polytechnic School is undertaking the largest construction project in its history.
  • The Pasadena Unified School District will install another $20 million of school improvements under a capital project approved by voters two years ago as Measure TT.
  • Fuller Theological Seminary, having completed its library expansion, is finishing plans for a major center for the arts.
  • The City of Pasadena will complete plans for Annandale Canyon Estates, the 24 acres of natural mountainside acquired last year for permanent preservation as a natural resource.
  • KPCC will open its new, $25 million headquarters for Southern California Public Radio on South Raymond Avenue.

There are many other projects that showcase and celebrate this city’s vitality.

Here in East Pasadena, for example, A Noise Within will begin construction in March of its new, 350-seat performance space. This classical theater company of professional actors, currently based in Glendale, is dedicated to producing classical plays in the repertory tradition. In the new facility, student outreach will involve 20,000 young people from the region per year. The company’s $13 million fundraising campaign is nearing completion. A Noise Within is a welcome and long-awaited addition to our arts and culture landscape.

Southwest Chamber Music is producing the largest cultural exchange in history between the United States and Vietnam in a project sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and sanctioned by Congressman Adam Schiff. Called the Ascending Dragon Music Festival and Cultural Exchange, this three-year project will feature concerts, educational programs and community events hosted in Pasadena and in Hanoi from February to early May.

Another example: After 10 years at Descanso Gardens, Pasadena Pops is coming home this summer to the lawn in front of the Rose Bowl Stadium, where the popular summer concert series will continue its program of live musical entertainment for friends and families with picnic dinners under the stars.

I thought it would be well to spotlight the vitality of this great city before turning to a subject that has recently become more complicated: our local economy.

The Star News reported this morning that on February first about 250 city employees will start reduced work schedules – from 40 hours to 35 hours per week. This follows months of negotiations with the affected employee group for a different approach to achieve necessary cost savings. The city manager announced his decision yesterday based on the council’s five-year financial plan, which is designed to achieve a balanced budget by 2014.

The council is firmly committed to meeting the goals of this plan and has directed the city manager to take necessary actions.

Perhaps a few words of background on the city’s budget situation in light of the global recession would be interesting.

It was in the fall of 2008, about 18 months ago, that the impact of the recession became evident in our city. Development activity declined sharply and continues at a low level compared to the prior years of this decade, and sales taxes fell as much as 15 percent. The city manager estimated an operating budget deficit for fiscal year 2009 of $9.5 million, and he immediately implemented cost savings. More than $19 million in citywide reductions were achieved by reducing or delaying purchases and projects, defunding or freezing vacant positions throughout the city, and making other reductions. These actions will save the general fund almost $24 million over a five-year period. We are extremely grateful to our employees for their cooperation in this effort.

Unfortunately, revenues continued to fall during 2009. This relates to the recession, state raids on local revenues, and a structural deficit in the city’s general fund, the building services fund and the water fund, among others.

The council is preparing to make $5 million of additional reductions for the fiscal year ending on June 30 and to prepare a budget for next year consistent with lower expenditure levels.

The savings achieved so far have not significantly affected services to the public, but obviously the partial furloughs announced yesterday, and other reductions necessary in the future, may well be noticed by us all.

The city has a strong and diversified economy, and several employers, such as Caltech, Huntington Hospital and JPL, have funding that is less volatile than companies in the private sector. Existing companies are expanding and new companies are coming to town. But the next few months are likely to be financially difficult and politically controversial. As I mentioned earlier, the council is committed to the five-year financial plan and has great confidence in the city manager.

In broader terms, I am cautiously optimistic that the local economy will continue its recent upward trend, and I believe federal stimulus funding received in Pasadena will be helpful. Public, private and non-profit agencies here have received more than $60 million in support of 110 projects throughout the community relating to science and technology, education, transportation, energy, public safety, and housing. As many observers have noted, however, high unemployment in the nation is likely to be a drag on future economic growth.

The city’s financial situation has been affected in recent decades by the state government which, on several occasions, has taken revenues intended for local use – including our real property taxes, gas tax revenues for local street and highway projects, and redevelopment funds. The governor’s budget proposal, announced earlier this month, includes a plan for continuing these raids on local funds.

The state’s fiscal meltdown and deteriorating services have sparked citizen efforts to qualify dozens of initiatives in an effort to restore state government accountability. One of these proposals is for a convention in 2011 to re-do the state’s constitution.

Last month the League of California Cities, for which I serve as a board member, joined a coalition of community leaders throughout the state in kicking off the signature-gathering effort to qualify a voter initiative for the November ballot. The Local Taxpayer, Public Safety and Transportation Protection Act would close loopholes to prevent the state from borrowing, taking or otherwise redirecting local government, transportation and public transit funds.

Funding is an important question for the Rose Bowl renovation. In recent months, the Rose Bowl Stadium has famously hosted international soccer matches, a concert with the largest attendance in U.S. history, and the Rose Bowl and BCS games, all with significant economic benefits to Pasadena.

A 2008 study by the USC Business School found that the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Game that year generated more than $55 million in economic activity in Pasadena, with $5 million going directly to the city treasury and more than $15 million in indirect revenues such as sales and hotel taxes.

The stadium is preparing its new course for the future with a $170 million renovation planned to begin the day following the 2011 Rose Bowl Game. The project would be completed three years later, in time for the 100th Rose Bowl Game in 2014 and the National Football Championship one week later.

Sometimes municipally owned stadiums are neglected and become liabilities. In Pasadena, we treasure the Rose Bowl Stadium as an icon of the city and a national historic landmark. Its importance to the community and the local economy is widely recognized.

This is a good time to start the stadium project because stimulus funding is available, interest rates are low, construction costs are down, and community consensus to launch the project is strong. Over the next six months, the council will study the financial implications, leading to possible final approval in the fall.

This is a groundbreaking year for the Foothill Extension of the Gold Line. Construction on this project is scheduled to begin in June on the portion from East Pasadena to Azusa. A recent report by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation calculates this project will generate $1 billion in economic output over the next three years, and create nearly 7,000 jobs for the region. Taking rail transit into the San Gabriel Valley will spur economic synergy for Pasadena and the other cities along the Foothill Extension corridor.

There is another transit project in the offing – a fleet of slow-moving, San Francisco-style trolleys that would link Old Pasadena to South Lake. The goal is to allow persons to park their cars in one spot, and then access other downtown areas for shopping, dining and theater experiences. Streetcar systems are very popular in Portland, Seattle, Denver, Tucson and other cities.

You will remember that last year, an update of our General Plan was launched relating to land use, mobility, housing, open space, and conservation of natural resources. The goal is to assure that the General Plan, as our city’s vision of what we want Pasadena to be, reflects this community’s values.

Dozens of events last year engaged community members in this General Plan update. Concerns raised include the amount of development and the scale of projects, Pasadena’s architectural heritage and its accommodation of contemporary architectural styles, and prospects for improved public education.

The task for this year is to evaluate the volumes of information gathered and to examine the policy implications for future council consideration. A final draft of the new policy documents is expected to be presented to the council for approval in late 2010. The emphasis on public participation through community events this year is not as strong as in 2009, but it continues to be important. Your input in this process is welcome at any time.

As part of these studies, the Bicycle Master Plan will focus on increasing the number of persons using bikes, decreasing bicycle-involved accidents, creating bike parking that is more secure and convenient, and creating a network of bikeways that will connect virtually every neighborhood in Pasadena.

Water has been in the news a lot lately, first because of the drought and then because of the heavy rains. It is clear that the rains experienced in recent weeks does not change the long- term, critical shortage of water resources needed by our great state.

In February, our utility is launching the most comprehensive water-planning effort in its 100-year history. Sources of safe and sustainable water will be mapped out for the next 25 years. A workshop is being scheduled in April to allow interested persons to participate in the scoping of this important plan.

We are making progress in recovering the use of groundwater as a source of supply for our customers. In addition to the treatment plant at Monk Hill mentioned in the video, investment is now underway for bringing back five other wells that have been out of service for years.

Our strategy for water is based on the Green City Action Plan, first adopted in 2006. Reports have just been issued on the accomplishments of 2009, documenting more than 175 quantifiable measurements such as citywide water usage and tonnage of waste diverted from landfills.

The Green City Action Plan has received state and national awards and has been used as a model by many other cities. We are all entitled to be proud of this strategy for sustainability.

I am pleased to report that the water conservation plan adopted this summer has significantly reduced water usage. As of January 20, customers’ water consumption is down 13 percent year over year, and water usage at city facilities is down more than 50 percent.

Let us talk about the Pasadena public schools.

At City Hall, we are pleased with the increasingly effective working relationship with PUSD, and we are confident the spirit of partnership that has developed in recent years will not only benefit the schools and the students, but the entire community. There has been an increase in park and recreational facilities for general public use in the non-school-time hours.

The big news at PUSD is a proposed parcel tax, approved by the board of education on Tuesday and scheduled for a vote in May. State funding cutbacks have created a deficit at PUSD of more than $20 million, and a parcel tax would make up for a part of that loss.

The fact is that PUSD students have continued to increase academic performance index – or API – scores, which are up 23 points from last year and are outpacing gains made by school districts nationwide. There are many important initiatives underway at the district that improve student performance and district effectiveness, but that momentum is jeopardized by the current funding situation.

The city council will consider endorsing the parcel tax at its meeting on Monday evening and I believe such endorsement will be granted. If things go well, I plan to be a strong advocate and to join in the growing support already evident in favor of the parcel tax.

All of us have in mind that this is a census year and that the census will be taken as of April 1. It is critical that a full count be achieved in Pasadena so we receive our full share of federal funding for a broad range of community needs, from parks to affordable housing. The League of California Cities indicates that an undercount in California would cost the state $3 to $5 billion over 10 years. Moreover, there would even be risk of losing one of our congressional representatives. My hope is that all of us take the census as a serious matter and a personal responsibility.

I also want to spotlight this year’s One City, One Story celebration of reading coordinated by the public library. Alan Drew, the author of this year’s novel Gardens of Water, will be in Pasadena on March 14 for a free community event, and dozens of other events and programs will be held during the spring. Gardens of Water will be required reading this year in the literature curriculum at PCC, which is also planning a theater production based on the book’s Romeo-and-Juliet theme. At the same time, Caltech will focus its attention on a special program related to the earthquake that opens the novel. One City, One Story is a wonderful example of how all sectors of our community come together to achieve a common goal.

As we envision the future of our extraordinary city, let us ask ourselves two simple questions: Why do we live, operate businesses and run non-profit organizations in Pasadena? And what is it about our community that makes it so attractive to others?

Certainly there are challenges and needs that are not easy to overcome, including crime, taxes, aging infrastructure, deficient institutions, traffic and unemployment.

But in the end, the strength of a city is in its spirit – shared values, trust in one’s neighbors, capable and dedicated citizens, caring and compassionate service organizations, and a vision filled with hopes and dreams. Pasadena has all of these.

The council’s new vision statement speaks of “world-class events, science and technology, arts and culture, and history and architecture” along with great neighborhoods. Importantly, that vision also commits us to “opportunities for all.”

I am confident that we can live up to this vision, and I hope my report tonight has given all of us the same confidence. In the year 2010, our city is charting a new course.

Thank you and good night.