In her own words, Elaine Aguilar “left a pretty good thing,” talking about coming out of retirement to serve in an interim role as South Pasadena’s city manager.
Aguilar said that South Pasadena’s solid reputation of being a well-run and well-managed city lured her back to city government, replacing former city manager Sergio Gonzalez. Gonzalez held down the post for the past five years, but worked in various roles for the city for 13.
While Gonzalez stepped down to assume the city manager position in the City of Hermosa Beach, Aguilar moved in to make what appears to be a seamless transition.
“I knew coming in I wasn’t tackling a big mess, needing something to be fixed,” explained Aguilar, noting there are a number of key issues she’ll be focusing on while a search for a permanent city manager is underway.
The decades-old fight against the 710 Freeway tunnel, improving roadways and infrastructure, along with efforts to update the city’s general plan and seeing that the 2017-18 budget gets approved are high on her list of current projects.
“The City Council wants to make sure we continue the momentum on those items,” said Aguilar. “I have a real passion for local government. I would not have been doing it for 33 years if I didn’t have that passion. The ability to bring my expertise and experiences for a period of time to help such a wonderful city, I couldn’t pass it up.”
Most of her professional career has been spent in the San Gabriel Valley. She served as Sierra Madre’s city manager prior to her retirement. “I have a lot contacts at the local, state and federal level, so I’m familiar with who is who,” she said. “I have built relationships with other city managers in the area, so coming over here was just a natural fit. It wasn’t a situation where I was going into an area that was totally foreign, an unknown. It was a perfect opportunity at a great time.”
Aguilar was born and raised in nearby El Sereno, just off Huntington Drive, and lived there until she was 24. In her youth, she attended a private middle school in South Pasadena before moving on to Woodrow Wilson High School in Los Angeles, followed by Cal State L.A., and USC.
Aguilar initially was on the path to become a certified public accountant until she took on a six-month internship at the City of Paramount while at USC “and just fell in love with the profession and realized this is where my skills were a better match,” explained Aguilar. She discovered that being a “people person” was a real asset in “finding consensus on things, and solving problems” when taking on tough issues.
It was suggested she just might want to stay on permanently and oversee the city government in South Pasadena. “Oh no, no, no, I’m ready for retirement when that day comes,” she said with a laugh. “I have three grandchildren who are greatly disappointed. They’re looking forward to grandma being much more available. I told them, ‘just a little six month delay and I’ll be back.’”