With South Pasadena set to host a “convening” of all 88 L.A. County mayors later this month, the City Council on Aug. 21 passed an item allowing Mayor Marina Khubesrian to dip into her discretionary fund to the tune of up to $5,000 to cover costs of the meeting, including breakfast, decorations and promotional materials.
But the city of El Monte, which hosted the previous gathering of mayors — organized twice a year by L.A. City Mayor Eric Garcetti, and rotated around the county – budgeted just $1,500 for its May event, according to a check of that city’s Council minutes.
So the question was asked of Khubesrian: How do the mayor and council justify, in a time of fiscal difficulty for the city, budgeting more than three times what El Monte spent just four months ago for the same event?
“While some are questioning this expense at a time when the city is struggling financially, I believe that it is precisely because of these challenging times that we must solidify and strengthen the regional partnerships that will benefit residents throughout L.A. County and the San Gabriel Valley,’’ Khubesrian wrote in an email, in response to a Review inquiry.
“I would be remiss as mayor if I did not position our city to take advantage of such regional opportunities. I cannot overestimate the importance of regional outreach by our City Council members that resulted in the historic Metro decision in May 2017 that moved us beyond the specter of the 710 expansion and into a time of cooperation with our neighboring cities. Our residents understand that the important issues of the day – such as homelessness, climate change, clean power, clean air, transportation, and public safety — are all regional, and will not be solved without regional cooperation.’’
In a separate interview, Khubesrian said that estimates from local caterers were still being considered, so the final cost of the meeting — to be held at the Library Community Room — was still up in the air.
But, she added, “It will probably come in close to that $5,000 figure.”
One estimate under consideration – released by the city — came in at $4,685. It covered a breakfast buffet, coffee and table centerpieces, among other items.
“To address the question of cost, every host city has different venues and resources available within their city limits,’’ Khubesrian said in her email.
“Some have hosted the event at restaurants, such as El Monte, while others such as Santa Monica have used beachfront venues that require catering.
“We are using the only venue in South Pasadena that can accommodate this event, the Library Community Room, and this venue requires catering, as it is not a restaurant. In compliance with our purchasing policies, we are gathering multiple estimates from qualified caterers. We are still receiving estimates and will make a decision shortly based on cost and qualifications, with special consideration for local businesses.’’
Council member Diana Mahmud added, in an email, “I would only add that a comparison to El Monte’s estimated cost of hosting the Mayor’s Convening is difficult because the city has access to much lower cost vendors.’’
“I called Cielito Lindo to inquire its cost of hosting a breakfast buffet and received a quote of $14/person, including beverage, tax and tip. I believe it’s impossible to identify anywhere in South Pasadena where a venue could host a breakfast buffet for that amount. Cielito Lindo is one of the most popular locations in southern California for mariachi shows and is likely able to subsidize its breakfast buffet cost from revenues from its mariachi shows.’’
When it was first announced last month that the city would host the upcoming event, Khubesrian called it “very exciting news for South Pas,’’ adding, “We’ve never done that before, and it’s exciting to be a regional partner with all these other cities and highlight our city.’’
This week, she continued in that vein in defending the city’s plans regarding spending.
“It is exactly why we have a contingency plan for when such opportunities arise,’’ she said. “Council members’ discretionary funds are designed to be used for unanticipated, one-time expenses and are subject to the approval oversight of the full Council. In this case, the Council unanimously approved the requested allocation with enthusiasm and compliments to the city for securing such an important diplomatic outreach opportunity.
“I would like to emphasize that these funds do not place an additional burden on the General Fund, but are drawn from funds already budgeted through the Council members’ discretionary funds.’’
To cover a budget deficit, the city has proposed a three-quarter-center local sales tax. If approved by voters in November, the tax would raise about $1.5 million per year in local revenue — enough to close the budget gap for the next several years, according to staff reports.
Currently, buyers in South Pasadena pay state and county sales taxes for a combined rate of 9.5 percent, but there is no local sales tax.