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The Momentum to Succeed

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January 22, 2009

The City Manager has proposed an innovative approach for municipal management that requires the Council to identify its priorities and approve specific efforts for achieving our goals. 

As the Council refines this effort, we will achieve a clear statement of our objectives that will serve to measure the extent of our success. The Council will conduct monthly reviews of our progress and we will enthusiastically ask the public to offer comments. This process is intended to be transparent and accountable. My hope is that the community will find this approach to be illuminating and helpful.

Public/Private Investment

One measure of the City’s progress for strengthening our community is the investment taking place in buildings, infrastructure and neighborhoods.

During the past 10 years, the total reinvestment in Pasadena – public and private – has approached $3 billion. As to public investment, the total is nearly $1 billion, including $90 million in new gas turbine generators at our Power Plant, more than $100 million in the seismic retrofit and restoration of City Hall, and a total of $400 million that is being invested in our water and energy infrastructure over a 20-year period.

These public investments are needed to create and maintain the high quality of life that the people of Pasadena deserve. The availability of reserves built up so far this decade allows the City Council to contend with budget challenges without foregoing these high-priority projects. This gives us the momentum to succeed.

As to private-sector investment, the dollar value of construction permits over the past 10 years has been close to $2 billion. This includes new construction of residential, commercial and retail projects, as well as rehabilitation of offices, businesses and homes. The rehabilitation reflects a desire among property owners to ensure that existing structures are modernized and kept in good condition. 

Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension

It appears that the year 2008 was a significant step forward for the Foothill extension of the Metro Gold Line, from the Sierra Madre Villa station to Montclair and, ultimately, Ontario Airport.

In November the voters of Los Angeles County narrowly approved a 30-year sales tax increase to fund transit and transportation improvements. This approval demonstrates voter frustration with regional traffic congestion. The approval of the sales tax increase is good news for the Foothill extension to Azusa, which I have been told could begin operations in 2013.

The MTA has issued a draft long-term transportation plan which provides that the new Gold Line operations will not begin until 2017, leaving us uncertain as to how quickly construction of the Foothill extension will begin. But Pasadena will continue to be aggressive in its efforts, together with other Gold Line extension cities in the San Gabriel Valley, to seek our fair share of funding and to proceed with the project as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, ridership on the Pasadena ARTS buses – our local system – is up nearly 5% since July. Although the cost of gas at the pumps is deceivingly low at this time, I am confident that ridership on the ARTS buses will continue to increase. 

People everywhere are beginning to think about their transportation habits. We should all expect that transportation programs in the future will include more toll roads, the use of public-private partnerships, and “congestion pricing” that charges drivers for access to certain freeways and highways. We will be forced to adjust our expectations regarding transportation, just as we are being compelled to change our behaviors in other areas such as energy and water.

Public Schools

As this year begins, the working relationship between the City and the Unified School District is closer and more fruitful than at any time in the last 40 years. The City Council and the Board of Education conduct joint meetings twice a year, and senior staff from our two agencies actively work together on the efficient use of joint resources for the benefit of our young people and the community.

In recent times, significant progress has been made in partnerships between the City and the School District. They involve recreational facilities, truancy reduction, emergency preparedness, traffic safety, and police services provided by the Pasadena Police Department’s Safe Schools Team. 

In the fall of 2009, the Pasadena Police Department plans an internship program to help students gain paid work experience. The premise of the program, which may be expanded to other City departments, is that young people who have real experience in the workplace become motivated and more engaged in their education. This benefits the students, our local employers, and the entire community.

As we move forward, cooperation between schools and employers is expected to extend to the private sector. We are recruiting local businesses and non-profit organizations to participate. 

I admire and appreciate Superintendent Edwin Diaz and the Board of Education, and our Council and the City Manager for their leadership in regard to public schools. Our commitment is shared and supported by staff members in both agencies. The progress has been encouraging and impressive.

And now, Superintendent Diaz and PCC President Paulette Profumo are working to establish a new high school on the community college campus. This will allow interested students to continue their traditional high school education while gaining career and technical training that will prepare them for challenging work at good pay – even if they do not pursue a four-year college education.

Local Economy

On the economic front, we are all painfully aware that the nation is in the midst of a crisis. This national economic condition has reverberated around the world, and the situation is not expected to end this calendar year.

Two days ago I had the privilege of attending the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States, and I found the entire experience moving and inspiring. It is estimated that one out of every 150 Americans were present at the time.

As I come to you tonight with details of serious challenges facing Pasadena this year, I believe it is important to maintain the proper perspective. Permit me to read brief excerpts of President Obama’s remarks:

“That we are in the midst of a crisis is now well understood. . .Our economy 
is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of 
some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation 
for a new age. Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered. Our 
health care is too costly, our schools fail too many, and each day brings further 
evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten 
our planet.” 

Since the end of last summer, Pasadena has experienced the adverse effects of the challenges articulated by President Obama, including health care issues and our budget situation. As we address local needs, we must also keep an eye on regional and national impacts of the economic downturn. This is clearly a challenge that requires us to think globally and act locally.

Nearly every year of this decade, the State of the City report has reflected increasing business activity, property values, municipal revenues and overall community trends. Pasadena’s positive performance continued through the end of last summer, but since then, revenues have not matched the budget.

One example of this downturn is that construction activity continued at high levels through the third quarter of 2008, but since then a 45% reduction has been experienced in the issuance of construction permits.

Based on the first six months of this fiscal year, it is expected that the City’s shortfall over the next 18 months will exceed $30 million. The Council and the City Manager have been dealing with this challenging economic situation aggressively, and will continue to do so with monthly reviews of the budget and all City operations. Such reviews enable us to continually assess our fiscal health, and to plan and adjust accordingly.

All City departments have provided the City Manager with their proposals for budget savings that will reduce spending this year without significantly affecting public services. And now the City Manager has invited all of our City employees to submit their most creative ideas for cost savings and potential new revenues. After all, our employees are directly involved in the delivery of services, so they are in the best position to identify solutions to our budget needs.

Environmental Stewardship

In addition to the economic situation, there are other challenges facing our state and our nation that impact our local community. One of these challenges is the global issue of climate change, and Pasadena is responding with local action.

The City Council made a formal commitment in 2006 to comply with the United Nations Urban Environmental Accords. We are aggressively pursuing the goals of our Green City Action Plan, which applies to a wide range of municipal and community activities, including energy, water, transportation, waste reduction, construction and our urban forest.

The Green Team, made up of City staff from a number of departments, continually reviews our Green City practices and recommends ways to make Pasadena more responsive to environmental concerns.

Pasadena’s Green Building Ordinance is a set of mandatory regulations that promote environmental stewardship. It is one of the first in the nation to adopt official green certification standards for privately owned buildings, and it now requires similar standards for large-sized municipal structures.

With respect to electricity, we are on track to use renewable energy sources for over 16% of our needs within the next two years. Pasadena Water and Power has committed to meeting 20% of our electricity needs with renewable energy by the year 2017, and to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by the year 2030.

One of the tools being used to pursue these goals is the Integrated Resource Plan, which will reduce our reliance on coal-power fuel in favor of renewable energy resources. This plan, which is set to be completed in the spring, will lay out Pasadena’s strategy for power supply for the next 20 years. I invite you all to learn more about the Integrated Resource Plan this Saturday at 10 a.m. at Jackie Robinson Community Center.

Water Challenges

The availability of water to serve the needs of our dynamic community is another global issue that requires strong local action.

Six months ago, California officially declared a drought, and current predictions call for a dangerously dry winter. Reservoirs up and down the state are at only 50% capacity, and the effort to protect an endangered species of fish, the delta smelt, has forced a 30% reduction of water pumped out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Add in worldwide climate change and the strong tendency of Californians to resist conservation measures, and we have a perfect storm of water woes that could cripple our urban lifestyle as well as the agricultural industry and the state’s economic growth. 

This is another case in which Californians – all of us – have been living beyond our means, and we are now at the point of being forced to change our ways.

The Metropolitan Water District has indicated it will impose limits this spring on water service to Pasadena and other member agencies. MWD is urging its water agencies to accomplish extraordinary conservation by adopting and enforcing drought ordinances, accelerating public outreach and education, and developing additional local supplies.

You may be surprised to learn that water use outdoors in residential neighborhoods is the single biggest usage of water in Pasadena. Gardens, lawns and pools represent up to 80% of residential water bills. In March our staff will bring to the Council a proposed water conservation plan, including a new ordinance that will set high standards for water use and impose strict penalties for water waste.

I do have good news to report regarding rehabilitation of four of our water wells in the Upper Arroyo area that were closed some time ago due to contamination. That project will begin this year, and we continue to pursue negotiations with NASA for funding needed for treatment of other local wells that are off-line.

In many other progressive cities throughout the world, recycled water is used for outdoor irrigation purposes. Our proposed budget for 2010 will include funding to complete the design of phase one of a recycled water distribution system for landscape irrigation, using water that has been treated to meet strict governmental safety standards. Completion of the first phase will take five years and will deliver recycled water to irrigate Brookside Park, the golf course, and the Rose Bowl. When all phases are complete, the system could also be used at other parks, school fields, freeway embankments and other public grounds.

These and other water-wise initiatives are helping us gain momentum for the future.

General Plan

Pasadena’s General Plan is another means for achieving our vision. It is a framework for translating broad community values and expectations into specific strategies for managing growth and enhancing the quality of life. The General Plan is reviewed regularly, and updates take place every five years. 

The updates this year include the Housing Element, the Land Use Element, the Mobility Element, and the Open Space and Conservation Element. I am pleased to report that, after considerable community input, the Housing Element is now in Sacramento for final review and comment by state officials. 

The Land Use and Mobility Elements work together to help identify where buildings and parks should be located, and to manage the transportation needs that result from these land uses.

The Open Space and Conservation Element will set goals and priorities for preserving, enhancing and acquiring open space to ensure that future generations will enjoy all the nature that Pasadena has to offer. This element also guides conservation of our energy as well as natural resources such as water and our urban forest.

The City Council is committed to engaging Pasadena residents in the update of the General Plan. We have established a committee of 12 community leaders who will review and comment on the work as it proceeds, and to ensure that all community voices will be heard and thoughtfully considered.

One year ago, I speculated that concern expressed in our community regarding the amount of development might, in fact, relate instead to the appearance, style and context of new structures. I proposed discussions about architectural quality and design, and I urged consensus to be achieved about our expectations.

I continue to believe that such discussion is needed. Detailed design guidelines are currently being created for commercial areas, not including downtown, and for multifamily residential projects. These guidelines will help improve the quality of the built environment in these areas of Pasadena, and will help ensure that our city retains its distinctive and iconic character.

The draft General Plan updates and design guidelines are available for viewing on the city website. I invite you to review them and to post your comments. 

Conclusion

Before I bring my remarks to a close, I must apologize for what some may believe to be carelessness on my part. A Midwestern university recently announced a list of words and phrases that should be banished from the Queen’s English because people are getting sick of hearing them. I must come clean and say that during my remarks tonight, I have used some of these words and phrases, including: green…carbon footprint…iconic…Brookside Park…and delta smelt. 

In all seriousness, with our progress this decade, and the difficult economic times we currently face, it might be tempting to rest on our laurels until things settle down a little. But challenging times require an even stronger effort if we are to move forward. 

At the national level, a massive economic recovery plan is being formulated in Congress, and it is possible that Pasadena will receive funding to help accelerate projects that are approved but unfunded. Our advocacy in shaping this federal legislation continues in an effort to ensure that Pasadena gets its fair share.

At City Hall, we are committed to meeting the expectations of citizens who want to live in safety, go to jobs every day, breathe clean air and have utilities available at the turn of a faucet or the flip of a switch. As we face unprecedented challenges, we are even more dedicated to helping to meet these expectations. 

The components are in place to make this happen: a new city manager…public and private investment in our community…increased or expanded transportation…stronger public schools…sound fiscal management…environmental stewardship…a plan for our community’s future. These are the means for accelerating Pasadena’s momentum – our momentum to succeed.

I look forward to working with each and every one of you during the coming year. Thank you and good night.

 

Posted: 1/22/2009 02:25:00 PM