A Tale of Two Cities

Over the past few weeks, two very different images of South Pasadena have emerged. City officials characterize our “largely bedroom community,” as a revenue-challenged Mayberry that must work “together in good faith to take advantage of economic development opportunities that are ripe for the picking,” and they have stated that ongoing criticisms from residents could result in a perceived “instability” that will drive much-needed investment away. They play on the image of a small-town, Norman Rockwell utopia that, in truth, we are all eager to accept.  After all, this tree-lined, walkable, Anywhere USA is the South Pasadena we all moved here for and wish to preserve. 

But there is another South Pasadena that was thrust into the social (and now mainstream) media limelight when, in the early hours of Oct. 17, three police officers showed up to serve a civil warrant at a small home in the Monterey Hills, searching for undisclosed code violations. Since then, the community has been quick to raise questions of intimidation, harassment and abuse of power by the city retaliating against an under-employed, single mother of three who had spoken out at a city council meeting only a few weeks earlier … and who happens to have a civil claim against the city to remediate a significant sewer spill onto her property that occurred Jan. 11, 2018.

The subsequent outcry on social media has called for the city to provide transparency around the mysterious complaints that served as the basis for the warrant issuance. Members on Facebook have called upon the city for transparency regarding the soil samples taken after the sewage eruption, the results of which the city has still failed to release. Residents on Nextdoor have called for transparency into the city’s emergency response plan, or apparent lack thereof. Many have pleaded with the city to “do the right thing” and clean up the mess they left behind. More have raised concerns regarding the apparent weaponization of supposed code violations to silence those critical of the city.

Meanwhile, the city has adamantly maintained that, due to the ongoing civil litigation, they are unable to discuss any facts involving the sewage claim, nor can they discuss any facts involving the questionable search — despite also stating that the search was purely coincidental and unrelated to the civil claim process. 

Or at least that was the city’s official position until it suddenly wasn’t. On Oct. 25, and supposedly in response to the increasing public outcry for government transparency, a trio comprised of the mayor, city manager and city attorney, held a secret press conference to provide local reporters “their side of the story,” which can only be summed up in two short words:  Wasn’t me. 

Missing from the meeting was any transparency regarding the mysterious inspection warrant, the soil samples or the emergency response plan that either did not exist or wasn’t followed. Missing from the meeting was Alison Smith or anyone from the public. Missing from the meeting were four of five city council members. Missing from the meeting was a sincere, good faith attempt to do what was right.

So why do these three seem so hell-bent to railroad a woman who has spent most of the past decade dedicating her life to bring music and dance into the lives and hearts of our children? Perhaps it is because they’ve forgotten they actually aren’t a team. That the city manager is supposed to steward city administration in the best interests of the people. That the city attorney is supposed to be independent of the City Council and city manager, representing the people, not the city. And that the mayor isn’t the city personified, but rather a fiduciary, overseeing city officials to ensure they’re acting in the people’s best interests. 

The Oct. 25 press conference wasn’t about transparency.  Not a single question raised by South Pasadena residents was answered. But it was about pride – city officials publicly throwing a member of the community under the proverbial bus in a vain and poorly executed attempt to save face.  Rockwell’s family utopia is quickly being replaced with the Dali’s surrealism, and it’s high time we come together as a community to remind officials which South Pasadena we want to live in.

Stephen E. Rossi, Fairview Avenue