Candidates’ Forum Focuses on Issues, Newcomer in the Race

From left, Linda Wah, Betty Emirhanian, Diana Mahmud, Michael Cacciotti, Laurie Wheeler, Bianca Richards, Eric Brady and John Vandercook. Photo by Steve Whitmore

A candidates’ forum this week that was otherwise informative and enlightening seemed to spotlight the only non-incumbent in the race, Eric Brady, who was publicly queried about his community involvement.

After the forum, Brady remarked that he felt “like an outsider” but was more resolved than ever before that he is “capable and qualified to do this job.”

The forum, sponsored by the So Pas Chamber of Commerce and the Women Involved in South Pasadena Political Action (WISSPA), lasted about 90 minutes and was moderated by Linda Wah. The questions were wide-ranging including issues dealing with drinking water, utility users tax, budgets, clean energy, homelessness, the arts and civic involvement, to name just a few of the topics.

And this year the race is being held in a different manner. For the first time, the council race is broken into five districts throughout the city. Instead of being voted on by registered voters throughout the city, which is about 16,017, incumbent Michael Cacciotti is facing newcomer Brady to represent District 4, which has about 2,831 registered voters, according to city officials. Councilwoman Diana Mahmud also is seeking re-election to District 5, which has 3,527 registered voters. Mahmud is running unopposed.

The exact boundaries for the districts are difficult to define because they are in an odd shape, according to Chief City Clerk Marc Donohue.

“I would say that District 4 is east of Fair Oaks Avenue and north of a large portion of Monterey Road; District 5 is south of a large portion of Monterey Road and east of Huntington Drive,” Donohue has explained in earlier interviews.

Meanwhile, the main portion of the forum was prepared questions that the candidates reviewed 15 minutes prior to the discussion. The last portion was comprised of questions from members of the audience, about 30 people, and then closing statements.

It was during the public portion of the questioning that Brady was spotlighted.

Brady was asked how many council meetings and commission meetings he’d attended over the last year or two. His answer was more than a half-dozen. After saying he had spoken to management at Whole Foods about filling the spot where OSH now sits but is vacating next month, he was asked who “specifically” did he contact. His answer was “management at local ownership level and they directed me to corporate.” He was asked to elaborate on his approval of moving the council race away from a citywide vote to a districtwide vote. He said he thought it was a good idea because District 4 was underrepresented. Both Cacciotti and Mahmud disagreed with Brady, saying South Pasadena is too small to have districts.

The questions from the public were so focused on Brady that at one juncture moderator Wah told Brady to not take the line of questioning personally.

“I think it’s because you’re new so don’t take this personally,” she told him in a conciliatory tone.

Brady, 56, has said it’s time to build a better South Pasadena through ideas and solid initiatives. He has lived in South Pasadena since 2004. He said it’s time to bring the decision-making process into the 21st Century. Brady, who is married with four children, said his platform is simple.

“Like many of those in our … community here, my wife and I relocated here because of the allure of the school district and the excellent character that it presented,” Brady said during his opening remarks at the forum. “We knew immediately that we wanted to raise our family here…I believe I offer new ideas, novel intuitive representation as well as real world business experience of problem-solving ability that we need. Stagnation is the enemy of progress. And our honorable City Council has had no change of representation in almost two decades. Let’s make the shift together. The time for new leadership is now.”

Meanwhile, Cacciotti touted his record as progressive and ongoing. Cacciotti was first elected to the council in 2001, re-elected in 2005, 2009, and 2013. Cacciotti touted his specific accomplishments during his opening statement.

“I’m running for the same reason I ran for election back in 2001,” Cacciotti said during his opening remarks at the forum. “First, to protect and preserve our small town community. Back in 1998, the majority of our prior City Council tried to sell a beautiful four acres of city property…(I joined) to stop that sale and then I wrote a letter … and got a quarter-million dollars to beautify today’s Nature Park. Here’s a snapshot of the city in 2001. A water system in critical condition in need of $50 million in replacement, city streets and sidewalks crumbling at a cost of $40 million to rehabilitate. Sewer system spills, century-old pipes, millions of dollars to replace and expensive freeway litigation, immanent threat of a surface freeway through our city. Fast forward to 2018, 17 years later, working together… I played a significant role in the snapshot of the city we have today… This is why Sunset magazine named South Pasadena one of the most desirable places to live in the West.”

In his remarks, Cacciotti also cited his involvement in the rehabilitation of Graves Reservoir and the new filtration system that will help with the water issues, the Nature Park, the bicycle path, the successful battle to stop the 710 Freeway extension, street and sidewalk improvements, among others.

Cacciotti also is a deputy attorney general with the California Department of Justice. In early 2015, through Cacciotti’s initiative, Garfield Park became the first municipal park in the United States to be maintained entirely by gas free, electric commercial lawn equipment.

One of the hot-button issues facing South Pasadena is the repeal of the Utility Users Tax (UUT), which is on the November ballot. Cacciotti and Brady agree on this: Don’t repeal the UUT.

Mahmud participated in the forum but she’s running unopposed and there were even some early talks about her not participating in the forum because of the lack of a challenger. That idea was scuttled, however, in the spirit of inclusion.

The City Clerk and City Treasurer also are up for re-election but those two are voted at-large basis and are facing no opposition. Evelyn Zneimer has filed to seek re-election to City Clerk, while incumbent Gary Pia also has pulled papers to run again for City Treasurer. There were no other candidates on file with the City Clerk’s office as of Aug. 8.

Prior to this election, councilmembers were elected at-large, meaning every registered voter in South Pasadena could vote for whomever they chose. That changed with the threat of litigation last year. In June of last year, the city received a letter from the law firm of Shenkman & Hughes, alleging the city was in violation of the California Voting Rights Act because city councilmembers are elected at-large rather than by district. Dozens of local governments in California have faced similar legal challenges in recent years, according to the city’s website,

On July 19, 2017, the South Pasadena City Council officially approved its intent to transition to district elections, taking advantage of a legal protection that enables cities to transition to district elections voluntarily and avoid costly litigation, according to city officials.

There are several lawsuits pending now that are challenging the change to a district vote, according to Mahmud.

The candidate filing period started on Monday, July 16, and ran to August 10. Candidates for council need to submit at least 20 signatures, no more than 30, from registered voters in their district, Donohue said. The City Clerk and City Treasurer candidates can obtain signatures from any registered voter in the city.

The general election is Nov. 6. All the terms are for four years.