First published in the Oct. 15 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
Two nights in a row, the City Council held candid conversations about the past, present and future of the city and, with help from a facilitator, worked toward shaping the latest strategic plan.
“Many local governments adopt strategic plans,” facilitator Patrick Ibarra of the Mejorando Group said. “It’s sort of like a fitness plan. The less you go to the gym and work out, progress is not made or sustained.”
Council members and City Manager Arminé Chaparyan gathered at a table in City Hall on Oct. 8 and 9 for the study sessions, where they discussed what it means to serve on the council and how to best help the city.
To help guide them, the group assembled a vision statement: “We are a culturally and economically diverse, and fiercely independent community that cherishes creativity, education, and a small-town character committed to building a more just and environmentally and financially sustainable future.”
Using this, they developed additional goals that will serve as the bones of the strategic plan — for example, creating an economic development strategy to strengthen local business.
“Given a lot of the changes that have transpired with COVID, we need a new economic development strategy,” Chaparyan said. “That strategy is no longer relevant. My suggestion in this category is to develop a new economic development strategy.”
Chaparyan suggested creating a city ombudsman service, launching a new website and publishing a guide for doing business in the city. Chaparyan and the council also agreed to explore cultural event programming as part of economic development.
Enhancing sustainability through investment in infrastructure and environment was another objective, showing the environmentally friendly mindset of the council, which recently voted to ban gasoline-powered gardening equipment.
With the city’s climate action plan now completed, Councilman Michael Cacciotti mentioned new environmental goals, like transitioning to electric vehicles for the police fleet, installing more EV chargers throughout the city and exploring solar or renewable energy for city facilities.
He emphasized that sustainable energy could save the city money, as well.
“Not only is sustainability environmental, but financial,” Cacciotti said. “If you’re plugging into the sun, you’re not paying a penny for energy.”
The council discussed the occupancy inspection policy, which protects residents in multifamily buildings from rent surges and unsafe living conditions.
It found that some landlords allowed older buildings in South Pasadena to fall into disrepair, but also have not increased rent for tenants. If a building is sold, new landlords often update and invest in it, causing a rapid rent increase.
To deal with issues like this, Chaparyan, who was hired this year and is helping the council adopt a strategic plan for the first time, encouraged creating a housing division as part of the community development department.
“Housing is just a hot topic and it’s going to remain so,” Mayor Diana Mahmud said. “And it ought to be adequately staffed.”
Issues regarding the homeless and unhoused could fall under this category and, by extension, the implementation of a mental health crisis program.
“The last thing South Pasadena is, is static,” Ibarra said. “It’s highly dynamic, so how we address today’s issues to deal with tomorrow is important for the five of you partnering with staff.”
Prior to these study sessions, the city solicited input from residents via survey and focus group meetings. Though the city currently has no scheduled meetings to add to the discussion, the ideas raised at the session figure to receive further attention as the council engages in budget discussions for the next fiscal year.