This coming Tuesday’s voting in South Pasadena on Measure A and Measure C sparked an unusually large volume of Letters to the Editor — so this week, we’re expanding our usual space for letters and letting residents have their say in full.
We’re running the comments on Measure A above those concerning Measure C only by direction of the alphabet — because something has to go first, and alphabetical order seemed as fair an approach as any. We strived to include “for” and “against” positions on both issues. Readers are also invited to go our website — southpasadenareview.com — to peruse previous letters, both pro and con, that we’ve published on the measures in the run-up to Election Day.
For the record, Measure A would impose a three-quarter-cent local sales tax, with the money going to the city’s general fund. Measure C would eliminate the elected City Clerk position and switch to an appointed clerk. (See Page 1 for more details on the two measures.)
— Kevin Kenney / Editor
Every resident of South Pasadena has a reason for living here. We grew up here. We came for the schools. We raised kids here and stayed. The one thing we have in common is our desire to maintain our South Pasadena as the safe, beautiful and vibrant small town it is. As the cost of living increases, pension and salaries rise and the price of maintenance and supplies goes up, we have to find new ways to keep up with these financial demands.
Of the current 9.5 percent sales tax, South Pasadena receives only 1 percent. Yes, that’s right. An increase to the maximum of 10.25% (75 cents per $100) will generate $1.5 million dollars annually. Measure A ensures all of that money will be locally controlled.
Measure A will ensure our investment in our city stays in our city.
South Pasadena answers the call every time through various funding initiatives to meet increasing needs. This is the investment we all need to make, not just to maintain the services that we rely on, but to improve infrastructure and beautification of South Pasadena.
Look around us. We are surrounded by 27 other Los Angeles County cities that have passed similar sales tax measures to keep the funding locally controlled. Other cities will vote this November on sales tax measures; still others will do the same in 2020.
I’ve read the commentary from residents that a “no” vote will force our city leaders to make different choices. The choices we force upon them will be what resources to cut and what improvements won’t happen. In fact, withholding support for Measure A only results in the loss of revenue. It doesn’t lower the cost of anything.
I support Measure A because I support South Pasadena. Measure A is an investment in our city that ensures we keep it local. Isn’t that why we are here?
Saida Staudenmaier, La Senda Place
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South Pasadena enjoys a well-earned reputation for its small-town warmth, style and vibe. I moved to South Pasadena for the schools and the way it reminded me of the small town I grew up in. Things like the trees, parks and overall safe feel of life here make it why I stay.
Even small towns, however, are not immune from the same problems that plague other towns in the San Gabriel Valley and around the state: rising costs, especially for people and materials. On top of this, the state employee pension plan has drastically increased the annual contribution from cities across California, and South Pasadena is no exception.
All of these factors have created a structural deficit in our general-fund budget of $1,000,000 next year, growing to $2,000,000 by 2026. This shortfall cannot be made up for by making small adjustments to the budget — it requires large-scale ongoing cuts. Because over 50 percent of the general fund goes to police and fire, that means cuts that will impact the safety of our town.
This leaves South Pasadena with a simple choice: either raise significant new revenue, or make draconian cuts to staff and services. There simply is no third choice.
Measure A will raise an estimated $1,500,000 per year, which will go directly and ONLY to our general fund. These new funds will solve the deficit for the next few years, allowing time for other revenue streams to increase and for possibly some modest cuts to be made to resolve the increasing pension obligations.
Twenty-seven cities in L.A. County have already voted for their own local sales tax, with four other nearby cities also voting on the same .75 percent increase this November. Several others are already planning for similar measures next year.
Please join me in voting YES on Measure A this Nov. 5.
Dean Serwin, Via Del Rey
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As a longtime South Pasadena resident, I for one am getting tired, tired of being misled by our elected officials, tired of being taxed at every turn, tired of being taken for a sap. And if my fellow South Pas residents are paying attention, you should feel like I do. Consider:
If you read the title of Measure A on the ballot, you’d think that if we don’t pass it, the apocalypse will come, and we won’t have a fire or police department anymore. After all, the ballot question is phrased:
“To maintain 9-1-1 emergency response times, including to home break-ins and thefts; neighborhood, school and park police patrols, fire/paramedic services, fire station operations, emergency preparedness; retain/attract local businesses; maintain streets/infrastructure; provide other general services and maintain City finances, shall the City of South Pasadena establish a 3/4¢ sales tax providing approximately $1,500,000 annually until ended by voters, all funds remaining in South Pasadena?”
Nonsense. While our city officials like to tout the so-called “3-minute response time” of our fire department, the truth is much different. This is because for years, the South Pasadena Fire Department has participated in a joint powers agreement, with all fire dispatches being handled from a remote location, not within the city. As a result, when we call in a fire department emergency, we are just as likely to have the response come from the fire departments in Alhambra, Los Angeles or San Marino instead of South Pasadena. For example, the San Marino, Alhambra, Pasadena, Los Angeles as well as the South Pasadena Fire Departments all responded to the fire on Charter Oak that burned two homes in August.
There is just no way units from Alhambra, San Marino, Pasadena or Los Angeles can get the call, leave the station, and be at the scene in South Pasadena in 3 minutes. So how do we end up with the now well-worn “3-minute response time” claim? It’s likely because for years, a substantial number of local paramedic calls have been to the convalescent hospital, which is located just 0.4 miles from the South Pasadena fire station, a one-minute drive with lights and sirens. Average all those calls in to the mix, and it’s much easier to cook the books and get an overall 3-minute response time.
It is also suggested that our police force will not be as effective if we don’t pass Measure A. With several scandals hitting the force in recent years, however — from the fatal shooting of actress Vanessa Marquez (a $20 million lawsuit has been filed against the city, while we await the L.A. County District Attorney’s determination whether the shooting was justified), to the wrongful termination of Officer Timothy Green (as reported in the Review in April 2018, a judgment in excess of $2.9 million against the city is on appeal), to an ill-conceived “sting” operation over failing to stop for a bus resulting in the dismissal of more than 150 citations issued — contracting our police services to the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department might not be such a bad thing. But, there’s more.
According to Transparent California (www.transparentcalifornia.com), which makes Public Records Act requests for public employee income information and publishes it on the site, for the 2018 year, 8 of the 10 highest-paid employees in South Pasadena worked for the fire department; the other two were the city manager (3rd highest, total compensation cost: $267,322.50) and a police sergeant (8th highest, total compensation cost: $229,404). For that year, the city reported having 270 full- and part-time paid employees, ranging from the city manager down to a library aide. Yet, those eight fire department personnel in the top 10 income earners cost us taxpayers a total of $2,016,395.90. Our town’s highest-paid firefighter cost $291,932 in wages and benefits, while the firefighter coming in at the No. 10 spot cost $223,886.90. To give you a sense of comparison, the highest-paid firefighter in San Marino is also that city’s second-highest paid employee; he would be the 9th-highest paid employee in South Pasadena by $200, and his salary and benefits cost San Marino $228,303 in 2018.
These numbers are particularly important when you consider that the incomes these people make while employed typically form the basis for their retirement benefits — how much we have to pay them when they no longer work for us. The more they make now, the more they will cost us later when we pay them not to work anymore. In truth, the comparison with San Marino shows that our fiscal house is what is on fire. According to the city’s website, Budget Expenditures for fiscal year 2017-2018 were $26.85 million (if you do the math, that means that we must annually collect almost $1,150 for every person living in town to meet the budget); $17.96 million of the total budget dollars were wages and benefits, meaning those eight firemen accounted for nearly 11.25 percent of the wages and benefits the city paid to its workers and nearly 7.75 percent of the city’s total budget.
This begs the question of how many millionaires do we need to call to get our cat out of a tree? It is simply unsustainable, and passing Measure A will drain more money from our wallets while letting the City Council kick the can down the road instead of facing the real budget problems we face now.
One other thing. The Measure A ballot question suggests that the tax money will also be used to repair our streets and infrastructure. In 2018, California voters were fooled into keeping the unpopular gas tax when they voted against Proposition 6, which would have repealed it. Attorney General Xavier Becerra dishonestly described the initiative when he gave it the ballot title:
“Eliminates Recently Enacted Road Repair and Transportation Funding by Repealing Revenues Dedicated for those Purposes.”
There was no mention in the title that Prop 6 would repeal the gas tax, hence the dishonesty, but no one thinks our roads wouldn’t be fixed without the tax. In spite of this title, designed to assure the measure’s defeat, it was reported in the Sacramento Bee on Oct. 8 that last month, Gov. Newsom signed an executive order that he will use to take millions in gas tax dollars from road repair projects to use for mass transit projects, effectively doing by executive order what the voters were voting against when they voted down Proposition 6. Not to be outdone, in 2018, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors convinced us all to add an average of $80 to our property tax bills by adopting Measure W, aka the Clean Safe Water Program, although neither the measure nor the supervisors mentioned any specific clean water programs that the money —about $300 million a year — would be used for, thus creating another massive tax source for the politicians to access at will.
Similarly, Measure A gives us voters no assurance that our City Council won’t engage in the same type of bait and switch. In effect, Measure A will give the City Council a slush fund to use as it pleases with no assurance that the money will be used for what the ballot question suggests. What could possibly go wrong? By now, I think we all know. That’s why I am voting NO on Measure A.
Ray White, Prospect Avenue
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I am voting No on Measure C. As a longtime resident of South Pasadena, I have known practically all of our elected city clerks as well as the appointed ones. Our elected clerks have been excellent public servants and extremely helpful when seeking information. What I find concerning about the appointed city clerk is the fact that we’ve had four in the last six years. The stability of a resident as a city official for an elected term is necessary to have some institutional memory and provide continuity at City Hall.
The newer bifurcation of an elected and professional appointed clerks works, and I don’t understand why elimination of the elected position is on the ballot for a vote. The principle of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’’ applies to Measure C. Vote no!
Joanne Nuckols, Ramona Avenue
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Measure C proposes to eliminate an elected representative who serves the people of South Pasadena. Why would we do that? The cost savings, $3,600 a year, are dwarfed by the price tag of, say for example, a single mayoral breakfast, or the $25,000 contract for a consultant to poll local voters on a sales tax measure.
It’s true that the role of the elected city clerk is largely ceremonial, and the value of the role has been limited. This has been especially true in the last two years, as the city manager has forbidden professional staff in the Office of the City Clerk to meet with our elected representative in that office. But we can reconfigure the role if we save it, making it more clearly a liaison between the community and City Hall, with clear oversight authority.
Don’t vote against yourself, eliminating your own elected representative in the office that has primary responsibility for providing information to the community.
Chris Bray, Grace Drive
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Just last year, our elected city clerk, Evelyn Zneimer, received an unprecedented number of votes for an elected office in the City of South Pasadena. She was elected by 8,610 residents, or one-third of our population. That amounts to 6,560 more votes than any City Council person has received, on average. She is barely a year into her second term, and without much more than a whisper of debate or media attention, may have her office eliminated in this upcoming special election.
The city’s explanations for wanting to do away with this 131-year-old elected office were not included on the sample ballot. The sample ballot literally has but a single sentence next to Measure C. If you were to write your City Council person today and ask them why this ballot measure is urgent, they will say things like we can’t afford it, it’s only ceremonial, other cities do it this way and that an appointed city clerk is a highly specialized and certified profession.
Stop right there!
1.) The city clerk monthly salary is $300 per month. Placing the measure on a special election ballot (which ensures low voter turnout) had estimated costs of $11,000. I’m no math whiz, but how is this saving us money? We are also being told that if Measure C passes, that several City Council people will immediately put forth an ordinance to transfer authority of appointing a City Clerk from the City Council to the city manager. This will cost more staff time and precious City Council attention. These are resources that should be better spent dealing with the myriad of more critical issues facing our community.
2.) If the notion of checks and balances in our government has been reduced to “ceremony,” then why even bother having an election? The mayor and council should just hand down a decree as is all the rage in Washington, these days.
Prior to the departure of the former city manager, Evelyn reviewed public record requests and met with staff of the City Clerks Division in something called “accountability reporting.” As an elected official, the City Clerk is accountable to the people. She does not answer to a city employee, or even the City Council. She answers to us. Again, we live in a democracy. We are a government by the people for the people. The council has spent $11,000 of our money to ask that we vote away the right to choose our city clerk.
3.) How many times have you heard, “We aren’t like other cities?” It seems when it’s convenient for City Hall to get what it wants, lately, we are like other cities.
Last week, I called a family friend who is the mayor of Cerritos to get his take on all of this. He told me that Cerritos has an appointed city clerk, but he would be thrilled if they could also have an elected city clerk. The Cerritos City Clerk reports to the City Council, not the city manager. When I asked why, he said because a city clerk needs to answer to the people. The Cerritos city manager also reports to the City Council for the same reason. The two positions are unrelated, and one does not have control over the other. Sounds entirely reasonable to me.
So, which is it this month? Is South Pasadena not like other cities, or are we more like other cities that fit City Hall’s current narrative?
4.) Curious about why Measure C could not wait until the March 5 ballot, I took a closer look at Evelyn Zneimer’s credentials. What I discovered, again, is that she is probably one of the most accomplished and credentialed members of our elected government.
Evelyn Zneimer is a 30-year resident of our community. She is a Judge Pro-Tem of the Los Angeles County Superior Court, where she hears cases in traffic, small claims and unlawful detention. She has sat on many commissions and is active in various regional and national service organizations. In 2012, she was appointed to serve as a liaison in the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Armed Forces Committee while providing pro bono legal services to the U.S. veterans and active military personnel. Her curricula vitae are filled with a list of admirable professional accomplishments which, to my knowledge, no other elected official or the appointed city clerk, can currently boast.
To suggest that Evelyn Zneimer is not up to the task because it requires some sort of specialized NASA-level training, is not only preposterous, it’s insulting to her, to the office and to the people who elected her.
Most recently, I submitted a public records request for permits between the dates of 12/17/17 and 10/21/19. I was given documents dated from 1928 to 2002. In a city so strapped for cash that it had to raise the senior parking permit fee over 30 percent, how fiscally efficient was it for a city staff to reply to my request in that manner? Now it will cost more in city resources because the reply I received was nonresponsive.
If Evelyn Zneimer was allowed to retain her authority, this type of inefficiency could have been prevented.
Measure C is a horribly unnecessary and ill-conceived piece of legislation. If it passes, it will ultimately cost us more than it already has. If you value common sense in government and want to preserve your representation at City Hall, then please, vote No on Measure C.
Anne Bagasao, Mission Street
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What is Measure C really about? Why is it on the special ballot at this time? Hasn’t the city had an elected city clerk since its founding in 1888 or soon thereafter? What’s the rush behind this change now as opposed to when the bifurcation between appointed and elected city clerks occurred in 2013? Why are there no detailed and sensible arguments for and against it on the ballot? Why did the city (financially strapped) pay approximately $11,000 to have Measure C placed on the special ballot when the annual stipend for the elected city clerk is $3,600? Why is the measure’s text so ambiguous that, upon passage, a proposed ordinance will be needed as “clean up’’ to ensure that the new chief city clerk will answer to the city manager and not the City Council? South Pasadena has been a wonderful community where citizens expect to engage in an open dialogue on matters that concern them with their elected officials and City Hall administrators — except I guess in the case of Measure C. Until more detailed and reasoned answers are provided, I’m voting No on Measure C.
Delaine Shane, Meridian Avenue