City Planning Session Held April 13

Chart sheets filled with additional goals, ideas, objectives and observations from city councilmembers and management staff at the end of the two-hour strategic planning session. Photo by Sally Kilby

Planning usually precedes the city’s annual budgeting process. This occurs just prior to the start of each fiscal year, which begins July 1.

This year is different. This is because the city will soon face a financial crisis, said City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe at a strategic-planning session held April 13.

This scenario demands more analysis than usual and a five-year financial plan, she said.   

“This type of session is needed,” said Mayor Richard Schneider, “to develop a more comprehensive approach.”

“Strategic planning is very important,” said Councilmember Robert Joe, “because we are really looking at our financial concerns for the next four to five years.”

The session was held at the city’s Water Distribution Facility at the newly constructed Garfield Reservoir north of Garfield Park. All five councilmembers and approximately 15 management staff participated.

City Councilmembers & management staff pose for a photograph during a strategic-planning session held prior to the budget-finalization process. Left-right are Teresa Highsmith, city attorney; Robert Joe, city councilmember; Michael Cacciotti, city councilmember; Betty Emirhanian, resident; Steve Fjeldsted, director of library, arts, and culture; and Marina Khubesrian, mayor pro tem. Photos by Sally Kilby

“A number of things have changed over the past few years,” DeWolfe told the group, which included a handful of citizens. “The 710 freeway is dead, and the city is facing a financial crisis.”

  “We have a new General Plan,” she continued, “and there is a new city manager.” DeWolfe started in November 2017.

The fiscal crisis is the same faced by hundreds of California cities, she said. Additional costs that the California Public Employees’ Retirement System is levying on cities to fund public employee pensions is the cause.

Beginning with the fiscal year starting July 1, 2019, DeWolfe said, such increases will result in significant revenue deficits for the next three years. 

In addition, the city is facing the potential loss of tax funds. Voters will decide in November to retain or repeal the Utility Users’ Tax, a 7.5 percent tax residents now pay on five utilities. The revenue from it currently accounts for 13 percent of the city’s General Fund, or $3.4 million annually, according to a recent city document.

William Kelly of the Kelly Associates Management Group of Fullerton facilitated the two-hour strategic-planning process. A former City of Arcadia city manager, Kelly said he has worked in local government for 48 years.

Prior to the session, Kelly interviewed DeWolfe’s team to elicit their views of the city’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The results were displayed on charts taped along one entire wall.

The group also reviewed six previously established goals. These focused on improving financial policies, business districts, emergency preparedness, community sustainability, affordable housing and customer service.

City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe (center) meets informally with City Councilmember Diana Mahmud (left) and Mayor Richard Schneider (right) during the two-hour city strategic planning session held at the Water Distribution Facility located at Garfield Reservoir.

By the session’s end, charts taped to the wall were filled with additional perspectives, new goals and more ways to meet their aims.

In spite of the city’s challenges, DeWolfe said that South Pasadena’s small size makes it possible to implement change to avert the anticipated budget shortfall.

“South Pasadena is nimble, creative and better than larger cities at partnering,” she said. “Just because we’re small, we can do big things.”

DeWolfe said the five-year planning process will “provide a roadmap for us going forward.”

This will “determine how to spend resources and to make all accountable,” she said.

Facilitator Kelly advised the team, “Make no small plans.”

He said the group will reconvene in June, prior to the fiscal year’s budget approval.