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Laura Farber, president of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses, speaks at the WISPPA cocktail party.

It was an evening of community connection as South Pasadena residents and city officials gathered to hear from fellow resident and the 2020 President of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses (TOR) Laura Farber on Monday, June 17, for a cocktail party hosted by the Women Involved in South Pasadena Political Activism (WISPPA). The event was held at the South Pasadena home of Lisa Roe and Dr. Joseph Chen.

In the spirit of WISPPA’s purpose of pushing for accountability, integrity and transparency in local government and encouraging well-qualified candidates, especially women, to run for City council and serve on city commissions, attendees included residents, visitors, WISPPA members, city and county officials, fire and police officials, and members of the League of Women Voters Pasadena Area, among others.

As a South Pasadena resident, Farber shared insight into her life and upcoming tournament events as attendees gathered in the home’s back patio area. Farber and her husband Tomas Lopez have two children, Christopher and Jessica, who have attended Marengo Elementary School and South Pasadena Middle School. Farber has served as a tournament volunteer since 1993 and was elected to the executive committee in 2012. She serves on numerous local boards and is a partner in the Pasadena law firm of Hahn & Hahn, where she practices civil litigation with an emphasis in employment disputes. In addition, Farber is a member of the American Bar Association, where she serves as the State Delegate for California in the House of Delegates, Chair of the Latin America and Caribbean Initiative Council, a member of the Rule of Law Initiative Board, a member of the Steering Committee of the Nominating Committee, former member of the Board of Governors representing the State of California and past chair of the Young Lawyers Division. She earned her bachelor’s degree, cum laude, with departmental highest honors, in 1987 from University of California, Los Angeles and her juris doctor, cum laude, in 1990 from Georgetown University.

Farber shared that one of the duties of president is to select a theme for the tournament. Working with her husband, she selected “The Power of Hope,” as she wanted the theme “to unify our very divided country, our divided world.”

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, she said she was born at a time when the country was experiencing a lack of stability. While her parents were studying at the University of Buenos Aires to receive their doctorates in biochemistry, she said that many students spoke out against the government’s human rights violations and atrocities. At the time, her mother was pregnant with her. One particular day, her father was studying in a lab and was teargassed. In the upheaval and confusion, her father made the decision that it was no longer safe for his family. Through a professor’s recommendation to a colleague at UC Santa Barbara, they received post docs and student visas to continue their studies in California. Leaving their extended family and life behind, Farber said that their courage and idea of hope resonated with her. “They came and they left everyone, everything and their entire way of life to start something new in a country that would give them hope: hope for freedom, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom to pursue economic opportunity, freedom to just be and not be concerned and looking over your shoulder about what was happening next. And so, the idea of hope really resonated and I’m a proud immigrant.”

“For us, this theme had a lot of importance to it but it’s not just about immigrants,” Farber continued. “It’s also about the belief that what is desired can be achieved, from the struggles of those that came before us to those that have yet to achieve their dreams. Hope is more than that though. Hope is dignity and respect, it’s joy and it’s happiness and hope is aspiration and achievement. With hope, we can inspire to do better and we can inspire others to reach higher. With hope, anything in fact everything is possible. Hope never quits. Nobody can take it away from you.”

Farber also shared detail into the tournament’s history with diversity and leadership. In 2013, the TOR had its first Asian-American president in Richard L. Chinen and in 2019, its first African-American president in Gerald Freeny. Farber is the first Latina and third woman to serve in the position. She noted that once someone is elected onto the executive committee, they are required to serve in a variety of roles for eight years until the opportunity arises to be president. The experience gives the president an ability to speak eloquently about the depth of the organization and its mission.

“We don’t just promote folks but we actually make sure that we have a pipeline and that’s what we’ve been spending time building, a pipeline of persons that can reflect our communities so that we can in fact have a leadership that is reflective and it’s taken awhile to make that happen,” explained Farber. The Rose Parade will feature the largest number of international bands to date, as well as the largest number from Latin America. She noted that bands with “compelling, amazing stories” have been selected from Puerto Rico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Mexico, an all-female marching band from Denmark, a composite band from Japan composed of various city residents in celebration of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in addition to local bands such as Alhambra Unified School District Marching Band (her alma mater), Pasadena City College Tournament of Roses Honor Band and Tournament of Roses Salvation Army Band. “We’ve made it a priority to get the know the kids and to answer questions and to help in any way that we can and it’s been really, really amazing,” said Farber.

WISPPA Vice President Ellen Wood, left, moderated last Saturday’s discussion with City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe, right. Photos by Harry Yadav

City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe paid a visit to the Senior Center January 12 to speak with Women Involved in South Pasadena Political Action (WISPPA) and other members of the public about recent changes at City Hall, upcoming challenges regarding the City budget and fiscal policy, the city’s attitude toward its volunteer city commissions and a host of other issues. DeWolfe answered questions for over an hour, first from a moderator, WISPPA Vice President Ellen Wood, and then in a town hall format from members of the audience, which numbered roughly 40 people.

A little more than one year into DeWolfe’s tenure as City Manager, the event functioned as an informal state of the city interview, touching on the most pressing issues and looking ahead to the city’s biggest initiatives.

Prior to DeWolfe’s visit, WISPPA had publicly raised concerns over the availability and responsiveness of the city manager’s office. Speaking on behalf of WISPPA at a recent City Council meeting, WISPPA’s then-president, Bianca Richards, said, “Residents and [city] commissioners commented that they have attempted to speak on the phone or meet with our City Manager and received no possible options to speak directly or to meet. Most received no response at all, and others were asked to leave a message.”

DeWolfe addressed the issue right off the bat Saturday morning.

“I’m proud to talk about our new customer care system,” she began, “because I have heard the complaints that we did have a problem with people calling city council to report issues and not getting a response, which is 100 percent unacceptable. When you call your city hall, you should absolutely get an acknowledgement in 24 hours and an answer in 48 hours. So, the fact that we were dropping some of these things was not right. We had to go in and reengineer the process and look at what was happening.

“What happens now is things come into the clerk, they log every phone call and every request,” DeWolfe said. “They respond to you immediately with a thank you and acknowledgement that the request was received. We also have a staff person dedicated now, in the city clerk’s office, to follow up on every customer care request and make sure the departments respond within the 48-hour period. We print out a status report every week and provide it to our councilmembers, so they know what questions are coming in, how we’re answering, and they know if we don’t live up to our standards of responding because they’re getting a report every week.”

WISPPA’s Bianca Richards, left, and Ellen Woods present South Pasadena City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe with an honorary WISPPA mug.

While recent allegations of gender bias in the appointment of City commissions were not a topic at Saturday’s meeting, the City Manager did discuss at length what she feels has been the underutilization of those commissions by the City over the past year.

“I agree 100 percent that our commissions are not being used appropriately,” DeWolfe said, when asked by Wood how the city can extract the maximum amount of input from its commissions. “I don’t think we have been treating our commissions with the appropriate level of success. I don’t think they have been engaged on high level, important policy issues. I don’t think they’ve been staffed and supported sufficiently. It’s a huge priority for me… In my experience, it’s industry best practice to bring the commissions in on high level policy issues. That’s where we need the input.”

DeWolfe cited improving the quality and consistency of staff reports as one way the City can better support its commissions. 

“We should be taking to our commissions a staff report that has data, analysis, alternatives and recommendations,” she said. “Then, we ask the commissions for the analysis and feedback on the report. Then, it’s up to [the commissioners] what [they] want to do with that ‘homework.’ You might tell us, as commissioners, ‘we need more data, we need more analysis,’ or, ‘your analysis is wrong,’ but we shouldn’t be expecting you to do all the homework in the first place. We haven’t even, in many cases, given our commissions the reference points, the legal precedents, they need to make their decisions. We also have a number of commissions that have received no Brown Act training. That’s inappropriate. All of those are things we’re trying to change and improve.”

DeWolfe cited her own experience as a planning commissioner in Pasadena as one reason she is able to sympathize with South Pasadena’s frustrated commissioners. “I know what it’s like to be a commissioner and come in for a meeting and there be nothing on the agenda, and you think… I want to be used, I volunteered because I want to be helpful. My goal is to fix that and elevate the roles of the commissions. I hope that is clear to you all with the Commission Congress that we will be having on February 28, which is intended to be an opportunity for our commissioners to engage with each other and the City Council in a way we have never provided before.”

Created so that all of the commissions can come together in one place to have their voices heard by City Council and staff, the Commission Congress is an event in which each commission will report out on their annual report before Council with City staff present. DeWolfe called the event both an opportunity for commissions to share information and interact with each other as well as a thank you from the City to its volunteers.

Councilwoman Diana Mahmud, who was in attendance Saturday, followed DeWolfe’s comments by reminding the audience, which was peppered with former and current commissioners, that the most effective way to communicate discontent with the city is through council liaisons.

“Each commission has a council liaison,” Mahmud said. “If you are frustrated, your first option, and, I think, most important option is to talk to this person who is there to act as an interface between the commission and the city.”

Separately, much of Saturday morning’s discussion centered around economic development as the primary means of generating income for the city. South Pasadena, like cities across California, is facing large economic liability in its near future. Due to the underperformance of the state employee pension investment fund, Calpers, the city will have to make large incremental contributions to make up for the shortfall over the next five years.

According to DeWolfe, the city has three options for balancing the budget. Those are, slashing services, raising taxes, or opening up the city to more economic development.

“Economic development, I think, is really our best option,” DeWolfe said. “We had little economic development (previously) because of the battle over the 710 (freeway extension). People were cautious about starting a business here, or buying property, or even investing in something they already had because they didn’t know what was going to happen. They didn’t know whether the freeway was going to come through and blow our city into two pieces, and really have economic impacts. Now, we have a lot of interest in South Pasadena – the freeway is dead. I want to be very careful to say this doesn’t mean we swing the doors open and bring developers in and build a lot of ugly buildings. We need to hold the line where anybody that invests here invests in a way that strengthens what we already have.”

The City Manager was quick to point out, however, that increasing economic development is much more complicated than simply resolving the issue of the 710 freeway extension.

“We need to do some things to facilitate [growth],” she said. “We now have an interim planning director (David Bergman) with expertise in economic development as well as urban planning. And, we are building a team, we are reallocating resources within the city to be able to focus better on some of these things.”

DeWolfe also said that the City would be preparing an economic development plan and strategy over the next six months that will require compiling a large amount of data. “We need to be strategic about our economic development,” DeWolfe said in response to Wood’s question about the type of businesses the City is looking to attract. “We need to gather data. What’s our mix of businesses? What kind of shoppers are we attracting or not attracting? Where are they coming from? How long are they staying?  Get all this data, then analyze the data and find out what are the opportunities that the market will support. We want to be careful that there is science behind what will be successful here. We can say, for example, we are leaking hardware customers because we don’t offer that. So, we need to make sure the market will support our strategy.”

This means, said DeWolfe, that city staff “will be knocking on [residents’] doors a lot over the next six months” to compile public input on the preferred direction of the South Pasadena economy.

“Ultimately, that document (compiling all of the information) will be adopted by council as part of the budget process,” DeWolfe said.

The mention of a public input survey elicited a number of murmurs from the crowd. One of WISPPA’s founding members, South Pasadena resident Mary Urquhart, asked DeWolfe if she was aware that in recent years, residents and City staff have spent a great deal of time and resources compiling information regarding economic development and wishes for the city’s future.

“Our city went through a huge survey, and our residents spent a huge amount of time, to come up with these answers,” Urquhart said. “I mean, a tremendous amount of time. How can this information that we have already be utilized?”

DeWolfe said that yes, she was aware of the previous information compiled and that it will be used, but that the City is looking to expand upon its current data to come to a consensus.

“Some of this work was done as part of the general plan,” DeWolfe said. “But, an economic development strategy is a very different animal from a general plan. An economic development strategy builds upon a general plan. It’s really considered an implementation tool of the general plan. So, yes the work that has been done in the focus groups and the charrettes and there was some consultant work done, all of that information we have and that will serve as the basis of where can move on. I think though, there is still some additional input and some additional data that we can get from the community because there is not a draft strategy put forward for feedback from the community.”

DeWolfe also said the information gathered so far provides no consensus. “Frankly, we heard a lot of different opinions from a lot of different perspectives, there was no consensus. So, we need to come back to the community and say, here’s what we think is the right balance… is this right? Is this the best compromise, because clearly it’s going to be a compromise.”

South Pasadena resident and locally based architect, Becky Thompson, raised a more general concern to DeWolfe regarding the practicality of plans for economic development.

Said Thompson, “In my business, dealing with the planning and building department a lot, I have noticed there are a lot of changes going on, I’m concerned about the way the community responds to change. I’m worried about pushback in the community… I’ve seen them kill development projects that would have been great – not only for our economic base but also for our community’s quality of living. Is there any way you guys can help buffer between the change in the community that needs to happen, I feel, and the pushback from people who want no change?”

In response, DeWolfe said that improved support and management of the City’s commission process is the most effective tool the City has.

“The land use process, for example, involves the use of a number of commissions,” DeWolfe said. “You’ve got input from the Cultural Heritage Commission, the Planning Commission, the Design Review Commission, and others… It’s really critical from an economic development perspective that we create a path through the commissions that is open and transparent so that our community can see what’s going on, what we’re talking about, why decisions are being made, but also that we are supporting good projects that want to come through.”

To read more of what was discussed during the city manager’s visit, in which she also addressed the issues of affordable housing, public art, and more, visit www.southpasadenareview.com for a full transcript of the morning’s meeting.

From left, Patrick Wang, Sgt. Shannon Robledo, Geng Nie and Wang Ning hold backpacks. Photo by Steve Whitmore

In a show of communitywide support, South Pasadena is coming together to present the local homeless population with new backpacks filled with everyday necessities during the upcoming regional count.

So Pas police, along with Women Involved in South Pasadena Political Action (WISPPA), are going to be stuffing new backpacks with toiletries, blankets, hats, socks and other items for the local homeless population. The new backpacks are going to be presented to the homeless during the annual homeless count in a couple weeks in South Pasadena, according to So Pas Police Sgt. Shannon Robledo.

“On Jan. 22 of this year, we are going to do the annual homeless count,” Robledo said during a recent interview. “It’s a regional homeless count that L.A. County is putting together. And we are doing it at a specific time and a specific date.”

The count will begin in So Pas at 7 p.m. and end at 11 p.m. on Jan 22, according to Robledo.

“It’s a visual count, so we drive around and we cover the city with a couple of officers, and we basically do a head count,” Robledo said. “We know more or less where our homeless congregate or live because we are so familiar with their living arrangements.” That homeless count becomes part of the official record for 2019.

Robledo is leading the homeless count in South Pasadena, and the backpacks are just a way to help the homeless with daily necessities. It gives them a taste of hope, Robledo said.

Robledo also said they give out the backpacks as a way to offer them the referral services available to help get them off the streets.

“That’s always the goal,” Robledo said. “We want them to have a  home.”

The new backpacks and blankets for So Pas homeless donated by Koala Know and Purists. Photo by Steve Whitmore

Robledo does not do this alone. WISPPA came forward and offered to fill the backpacks, which are being donated by Koala Know, a Chinese language institute, and Purist, a car enthusiast club, out of the City of Industry.

Many of the backpacks are valued at about $125 each because the volunteers wanted the materials to last through any type of inclement weather conditions.

“The backpacks are donated by a car enthusiasts’ club called the Purist group,” Robledo explained. “They do toy drives and do blanket

giveaways. They are in the City of Industry. This will be the third year that they have given us the backpacks. In the backpacks we put supplies such as hats, socks, clothing, bottled water, granola bars – whatever we can get that’s donated.”

That’s where WISPPA members come in because they provide the hats, socks, clothing, bottled water, granola bars and the other supplies that go inside the backpacks.

Meanwhile, Patrick Wang, co-founder of Koala Know and the Purist car club, explained why the City of Industry-based organizations are donating brand new backpacks still in their plastic bags to the South Pasadena homeless. In no small measure, Wang said, it’s because of their “deep respect” for the South Pasadena Police Department.

“South Pasadena Police Department has been a role model police department as far as we are concerned,” Wang said. “They have been doing such good work for so many years. Shannon is also a good personal friend of ours. When we reached out to the community we wanted to provide support back to South Pasadena. And this is the least we can do for a city we respect.”

The count, sponsored by the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count (GLAHC), is scheduled to take place in the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and San Gabriel valleys on Jan. 22 between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. Robledo said he anticipates the So Pas count will be about the same as last year between 10-15.

The Los Angeles Countywide results from the 2018 count tallied 52,765 people experiencing homelessness, which is a 4 percent drop from 2017, according to data provide by GLAHC.

Bianca Richards, Women Involved in South Pasadena Political Action president, speaks at council. Photo by Sally Kilby

Bianca Richards spoke about three perceived problems in the city’s administration at the Nov. 7 City Council meeting. She did so during the public comment period on behalf of Women Involved in South Pasadena Political Action (WISPPA). Richards is the group’s current president. Some half-dozen members of her 80-member organization expressed concerns to her over the past three months, as well as at the organization’s Nov. 3 meeting, Richards said after the council adjourned.

“Residents and [city] commissioners commented that they have attempted to speak on the phone or meet with our City Manager and received no possible options to speak directly or to meet,” she said during her public comments.

“Most received no response at all, and others were asked to leave a message,” she said.

In response to an email of Nov. 8, John Pope, city Public Information Officer (PIO), replied by email on Nov. 11.

“City staff was unaware of the concerns expressed by WISPPA prior to the Nov. 7 Council meeting,” he said. “We are more than happy to meet with WISPPA members to address these and any other issues.”

“The City management team has the highest respect for WISPPA and the organization’s goals,” he added, “so it is important to us to keep the lines of communication open.”

Richards raised a second concern about the role of commissions and boards. WISPPA members serve on 10 out of 12 of these in the city, Richards said after the meeting. Some are also on ad hoc committees, according to the city’s website.

“They have reported some frustrations regarding means of communication from city staff to commissions,” she said to the City Council. “Changes and decisions have been made without clear consensus from [commission] members.”

In addition, she said some members expressed “vacancy concerns of senior-staff levels.”

Interim or acting heads are serving in three of the eight city departments. These are Planning and Building, Police and Public Works. This is according to an internal phone list for city staff dated Oct 10. Some support staff positions are also vacant, Richards said after the meeting.

“We encourage the city to find replacements as quickly as possible,” she told the City Council.

Richards said she hoped these topics will appear on a future City Council agenda.

Meanwhile, Pope said the city is investigating new software systems that would allow staff to track requests from residents better.

Regarding vacancies, Pope said, “In the first quarter of 2019, we expect to fill several key positions that are now vacant, including the Police Chief and Public Works Director.”

“City staff is working very hard to find the best possible employees to fill critical positions,” he said. “In the case of the Police Chief, we are seeking community input on the values, skills and qualities the ideal candidate should possess.”

Interim Police Chief Brian Solinsky (left), WISPPA President Bianca Richards (center), and Corporal Avick Manukian at Solinsky’s presentation to WISPPA members at the Senior Center.  Photo by Sally Kilby

Interim Police Chief Brian Solinsky is well acquainted with So Pas.

“I have grown up here,” Solinsky said recently about his 25 years with the South Pasadena Police Department (SPPD) to members of Women Involved in South Pasadena Political Action (WISSPA). Solinsky was the guest speaker at the group’s meeting on Nov. 3 at the So Pas Senior Center. Solinsky gave a 20-minute presentation to an audience of almost two dozen people. So Pas Police Corporal Avick Manukian also attended the meeting.

Solinsky, who has been interim chief since August, said he’s had just about every assignment in the department.

“I worked my way up through patrol, different supervisory levels, and then specialized in emergency management,” he said. “Then I targeted the Office of Professional Standards.” This covers grants, personnel and hiring, he said. He was promoted to detective, corporal, sergeant and captain.

“I worked as a captain for almost the entire time Chief Miller was here,” he said. He was referring to Art Miller, the city’s former police chief who left in August after five years to take a similar job in Arizona.

“For all of the programs that Chief Miller put into place,” Solinsky said in an interview prior to his presentation, “I had direct knowledge by working on those projects or from implementing them.” Examples are Coffee with a Cop and women’s self-defense training, he said.

“The transition was seamless,” he said.

Meanwhile, Solinsky has created a number of committees to address specific issues. “I started one to address strategic planning,” he said. “We want to look at where we want to be in three to five years.”

Next, he wants to prepare the next generation of leaders.

“We have a lot of people getting ready to retire,” he said. “Who will take their place?” To address this, he created a committee for succession planning.

Solinsky has also established an information technology committee.

“A major update is needed to the Police Department’s computer dispatch system,” he said. “We bought ours in the early 1990s and haven’t updated since.” The cost to purchase a paperless system is between $700,000 and $1 million, he said.

Solinsky is also responding to the community’s concern with traffic.

“I get six to seven emails a day from people requesting extra traffic patrol,” he said.

Currently the department has two motorcycle officers. He is replacing one officer who is retiring.

“With rescheduling,” he said, “we can have a third motor officer.” He is also part of a city multi-department neighborhood traffic-calming committee. This group is examining specific neighborhoods to see how to address traffic, he said, “not just in the short term but long term.”

In addition, Solinsky said an officer has just been assigned to the Foothill Air Support Team. This partnership of 10 cities with the City of Pasadena provides airborne law enforcement.

“The benefit to South Pas is that we use the helicopter partnership pretty regularly, and it provides extra patrol for the city,” he said. “It’s a lot different when looking for a suspicious person to see the city from a birds-eye view and see the city as a whole.” Even better, he said, the city is reimbursed for the officer’s time through the contract with Pasadena.

Solinsky is a second-generation law enforcement officer. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice and is working on a master’s degree.

Mary Urquhart (left), who hosted Monday’s event with her husband Bill, questions featured speaker Stephanie DeWolfe, South Pasadena’s city manager, about the consequences of losing the Utility Users’ Tax in November. Photos by Sally Kilby

“The city’s goal is to provide the best possible public safety,” said City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe at Monday’s cocktail party sponsored by the community organization known as WISPPA.  Bill and Mary Urquhart hosted the group at their home on Chelten Way. 

“That’s our no. 1 commitment to our community,” DeWolfe said.

She was the guest speaker at the 9th annual cocktail party sponsored by Women Involved in South Pasadena Political Action. More than 100 community members attended.

The event took place on the spacious grounds of the Urquhart estate, which includes a pool, gardens and outdoor dining structure. The décor was patriotic, with red, white and blue tablecloths and table arrangements.

Bianca Richards, the president of WISPPA, reports on the group’s recent accomplishments at its 9th annual WISPPA Cocktail Party.

The annual cocktail party has become an event attended by many elected officials and community leaders. California State Senator Anthony Portantino and Assemblymember Chris Holden sent representatives. Some South Pasadena city council, board of education, and PTA members attended. The city treasurer and the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce were there, as well. Members of the Pasadena City College Board of Trustees and the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District Board were also guests. Representatives of utilities, real estate companies, city commissions and the League of Women Voters, among others, were also present.

DeWolfe, who has been in office since November 2017, used the WISPPA event to announce the city’s priorities for the coming fiscal year beginning July 1. 

“Being able to maintain our own police and fire department is rare for a city our size,” she said, continuing her focus on public safety. “And it gives us a higher level of service and some of the best response times in the state.”

“The city wants to make sure the public safety departments have the resources they need to protect the community,” she added.

City Police Chief Art Miller, Fire Chief Paul Riddle, and a number of uniformed police and firefighters were in the audience.

Another priority is planning for emergencies, DeWolfe said. “We are upgrading the emergency operations center and continuing to prepare citizens for disaster,” she said.

A third one, the city manager continued, is road repair. This is based on a recent city-commissioned survey. “More than $3 million will be spent on this in the coming year,” she said. “Even Pasadena isn’t spending this much on their streets.”

Investing in the urban tree canopy is another goal, she said. Also extremely important, she said, is maintaining the water and sewer system.

“The city is unique in that it has its own water utility and has had this for more than 100 years,” she said.

Finally, she said, the city is looking at ways of expanding its communication with residents.

One example of this is the city’s upcoming website relaunch. “It will be more intuitive and on a mobile-friendly platform,” she said.

DeWolfe used the event to warn residents of an upcoming financial threat.

“A challenge to the Utility Users’ Tax [UUT] has been placed on the ballot for this fall by a group outside the city,” she said. If passed, this would cut $3.5 million from the annual budget, she said.

“The loss of the UUT would have significant impacts on the level of city services and the quality of life,” she said. “It’s a significant amount of money for a city our size, and no department will be spared from the cuts that will be required.” She said in July she and her staff will present recommendations to city council.

DeWolfe responded to three questions following her talk. All were on finances. She addressed one about specific cutbacks if the UUT was repealed posed by Mary Urquhart, who is a founding member of WISPPA. She responded that this will be determined shortly.

She also responded to a question about the city’s efforts to address the ongoing statewide pension issues, which has been reported on previously by this publication. She said that this would also be included in the upcoming report. When asked how much residents pay in Utility Users’ Taxes, she checked with a staff member and then answered, “about $60 a year.”

For more information about WISPPA, go to www.wisppa.org. For information on upcoming city agendas, go to www.southpasadenaca.gov.

Woman Involved in South Pasadena Political Action (WISPPA) invites the community to its new meeting place at the Senior Center (1102 Oxley Street) with a special program – “South Pasadena’s Hispanic Heritage and Its Influences Upon Local Architecture and Art.”

WISPPA’s monthly meeting day and Cinco de Mayo happen to coincide this year. Taking this into consideration, the organization planned the May 5 program to celebrate the Cinco de Mayo holiday.

WISPPA is delighted that the speakers will be John Lesak, a well-known local architect who has served the city as both a member of the Cultural Heritage Commission and who currently serves on the Planning Commission, and Jolino Beserra, or, “Jolino,” a widely known artist whose works have been installed in the South Pasadena Public Library.   

After the meeting adjourns, audience members will be welcome to visit the library, immediately next door to WISPPA’s new meeting location to view Jolino’s works.

As always, there will be a social half hour with refreshments from 8:30 to 9 a.m. and in keeping with the celebration of Cinco de Mayo, WISPPA will provide pastries from La Monarca Bakery. Local SPHS musicians Kenny Schultz, baritone saxophone and tenor saxophone; Matthew Son, trumpet; Ian Wang, piano; Frank Figueroa, guitar; Max Meszaros, bass; and Ben Fogel, drums will perform some jazz pieces prior to the start of a brief business meeting.

After this, the speakers will present, and there will be a short Q & A session moderated by Judith Harris, WISPPA Secretary. The meeting will be adjourned at approximately 10:30 a.m. WISPPA welcomes everyone from South Pasadena and surrounding communities interested in issues that affect local communities.

Parking for WISPPA’s monthly meetings is usually available in the SPUSD parking lot. The club warns those interested to beware of 2-hour parking restrictions on neighboring streets.

For the February 24 South Pasadena Winter Arts Crawl, Actress Lissa Reynolds, Co-Owner of the Fremont Centre Theatre with her husband Jim Reynolds, gave a scintillating concert reading of a half hour excerpt from “Woman of Independent Means.” Photo courtesy of South Pasadena Public Library

Woman Involved in South Pasadena Political Action (WISPPA) is inviting the community to inaugurate its new meeting place at the Senior Center, 1102 Oxley St. with a special program, ‘Celebrating the Arts’.   

Lissa Reynolds will be performing her long running role as Bess in “A Woman of Independent Means” with a 45-minute concert reading based on the best-selling novel by Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey. 

After several WISPPA members attended the Winter Arts Crawl and watched Reynolds reprise her role in “A Woman of Independent Means”, staged inside the Library, all unanimously agreed that Reynolds had to be the main presenter for the special ‘Celebrating the Arts’ meeting. 

Several WISPPA members attended the Winter Arts Crawl and watched Reynolds reprise her role in “A Woman of Independent Means”, staged inside the Library. Photo courtesy of South Pasadena Public Library

The South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce’s web page says that “South Pasadena has been identified as being in the Top Ten list of Creative Communities in LA that are havens for ‘the Creative Class’. This, according to Richard Florida, Co-Founder and Editor at Large at The Atlantic Cities, results in a burgeoning gallery scene, live concerts, Art Walks and Eclectic Music Festival.”

Reynolds, the founding Director of SPARC (The South Pasadena Arts Council), is a member of this Creative Class. She and her husband, James Reynolds, both accomplished actors and producers, are the owners of the Fremont Centre Theatre.

SPARC believes that the arts enrich lives and are vital to the social, educational and economic well-being of South Pasadena. Everyone is welcome to attend Reynolds’ performance on Saturday, April 7 and participate in the creative community.

WISPPA is inviting the community to inaugurate its new meeting place at the Senior Center, 1102 Oxley St. with a special program, ‘Celebrating the Arts’. Photo by Harry Yadav

Come for coffee and refreshments beginning at 8:30 a.m., followed by a brief business meeting. Guest speakers/presenters usually start around 9:30 a.m.

Notice about parking: the SPUSD lot is usually available for public parking. WISPPA thanks the school district for the use of the lot. In general, please be aware of the 2-hour parking restrictions around the Library and Senior Center. The further away from the Library and Center, parking restrictions become 3 hours.

WISPPA’s purpose is to push for accountability, integrity, and transparency in South Pasadena government and seeks to offer opinions and advocate for positions concerning the well being of the City of South Pasadena, and to provide information to the electorate regarding city issues. WISPPA encourages qualified candidates, especially women, to develop their leadership skills and to run for office. Visit the WISPPA website at www.wisppa.org for more information.

Next Session March 14 at 10:30 a.m.

wisppa holds first homelessness strategic plan input session
South Pasadena Police Sergeant Shannon Robledo showed WISPPA a list of aid services that he routinely distributes to homeless individuals to help educate them about opportunities to receive help. Photo by Harry Yadav

Last Saturday morning’s monthly Women in South Pasadena Political Action (WISPPA) meeting was highlighted by the first in a series of City-sponsored community input sessions regarding ways to address homelessness in South Pasadena.

Winnie Fong, the consultant hired by the county as a result of the $30,000 grant from Los Angeles County and United Way of Greater Los Angeles, said that collecting input from the community is an important step toward developing and implementing a tangible strategy to combat homelessness in the city.

“We want to develop key action steps for achieving our goals and will look at associated policy changes the city could implement in order to realize those goals,” Fong said, while laying out her timeline.

Fong and her consulting team will be working with the City to conduct more input sessions in March, the next of which will be take place on March 14 at 10:30 a.m., at the Chamber of Commerce Office, 1121 Mission St. Fong said the team will draft a strategic plan to address homelessness between April and May before presenting the draft to City Council. The deadline to submit the plan to the County is June 30. 

Joining Fong Saturday were South Pasadena’s Management Analyst Karen Aceves, SPPD Sergeant Shannon Robledo, Union Station Homeless Services Manager Keith Hendrikson, and Marlene Moore, the Director of Community Services at Holy Family Church St. Joseph Center. The panel was moderated by WISPPA Secretary Judith Harris.

Robledo, who specializes in working with the local homeless population, emphasized that sharing resources with those in need is one of the most effective actions residents can take. “In addition to interacting with the homeless on a normal level, treating them as human beings, I frequently find myself providing individuals with a list of shelters and services available to them,” Robledo said. “You can’t force people to get help, but you can equip them with the resources they need.”

The Sergeant often distributes backpacks full of hygiene essentials to the homeless. One of the main sources of those aid packages is St. Joseph’s Food Bank, run in part by Moore, who sat next to Robledo Saturday. Moore outlined to WISPPA the different services Holy Family provides and highlighted a relatively new program, called Bicycles and Burgers, which was begun in an effort to address the issue of transportation for the homeless.

Hendrikson, who represented Union Station Services, spoke about the importance of creating more transitional housing. Union Station Board Chair and South Pasadena resident Alan Maltun, in attendance at the meeting, joined the panel briefly to talk about his organization’s efforts in Pasadena, as well.

The grant was the result of Measure H, a quarter-cent sales tax implemented throughout Los Angeles County to raise funds to prevent and fight homelessness that passed in March 2017.

Council Member Diana Mahmud, who was present at the meeting, said, “with such scarce resources and an overwhelming need to address homelessness, it’s so important that cities know what other cities are doing so that we can maximize the efficacy of all of those dollars. Again, thank you so much for supporting Measure H, because without that this would not be possible.”

The panel posed the following questions to the audience to spark discussion: what is being done to address homelessness in the city? What plans to address homelessness in the county are in the works? What can residents do to address homelessness in the community? What can the City do to enhance and expand current services?

Those same questions will face community members Wednesday morning at the second community input session.

BOE president addresses district's finances at WISPPA
From left, Jon Primuth, Bianca Richards, Rick Schneider, Sheila Pautsch and Steve Fjeldsted. Photo by Harry Yadav

During his visit to WISPPA’s Community Challenges Forum last Saturday morning, School Board President Jon Primuth spoke in depth about the financial challenges currently facing South Pasadena Unified School District.

Primuth identified three major “moving pieces” as the most influential factors affecting the District’s budget.

The first, he said, is the amount of money the District receives from the State based on the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). The Board of Education President said the LCFF provides “roughly 80 to 90 percent of [the District’s] budget.” 

Primuth’s concern is that while the amount of money South Pasadena Unified receives from the state is increasing annually, “the formula actually disadvantages South Pasadena relative to other districts,” especially when pension obligations are taken into account.

Primuth was quick to add that the disproportionate funding certain school districts receive is “for some very good reasons. We don’t have as many kids that need extra services, that is a legitimate reason.”

However, he said, that doesn’t change the fact “that we are resource-challenged compared to other districts.”

“The tide is rising,” Primuth continued, “and our boat is not going up as fast.”

This, combined with personnel obligations, makes it difficult for the District to push for new initiatives and even meet the needs of existing ones, such as the push to improve South Pasadena’s Special Needs education.   

“Special Ed, for which we have to provide more and more to create a continuum of services for all the different types of special needs children, is a huge challenge. We have an amazing team but it’s an expensive proposition,” Primuth said.

The second huge challenge for the District, continued the President, is pension contributions, which are projected to more than double in the next ten years. 58 percent of school districts in the state have started using their reserves to meet their pension obligations.

Staff funding, such as salary, benefits, and pension liabilities account for around 80 percent of the District’s nearly $47 million budget, Primuth said.

“Last year alone,” he said, “we paid nearly $2.8 million in pension obligations to the state.”

“This is a mandate, we don’t have a choice in this,” Primuth emphasized. “We have to pay 12.5 percent of all of our compensation to CalPERS or CalSTRS this year and it goes up another two percent next year.”

One important demographic this affects, Primuth said, are teachers and administrators.

“This year we couldn’t afford to give teachers an ongoing pay raise,” he said, “so we gave them a one-time pay raise,” meaning that this year’s increase will not be included in the employee’s base salary going forward.

The third factor that contributes to the District’s budget, said Primuth, is local funding, especially money brought in by the South Pasadena Educational Foundation and the local Parcel Tax, which is up for renewal on Feb. 27. “Other districts have a much wealthier demographic and they get a lot more money, but SPEF does an amazing job for what they have, putting in hundreds if not thousands of hours into local fundraising,” he said.

Last week, ballots were sent to residences of registered voters to decide whether or not the District will renew the Parcel Tax. Also known as Measure S, if renewed, the tax will bring in $2.3 million in funds annually. “Now that I am off District grounds, I can say, ‘Please continue to support the Parcel Tax’,” Primuth concluded.