Though he had not planned on seeking the seat long-term, Stephen Rossi admitted that the change in perspective from local resident to having a City Council seat influenced his write-in candidacy for the Nov. 3 election.
Rossi had been appointed to finish out Marina Khubesrian’s term in District 2 after the councilwoman resigned in August, largely on the basis that his financial acumen would help steer the city through a myriad fiscal problems for the remainder of the year. Now, he says the problems require a longer look.
“I knew there was a lot to get done, but once I got on the council, I realized just how much more there was to do,” Rossi said in a phone interview. “I was anticipating a lot, but once I actually got into the chair and started having conversations, I just realized how much each department had been impacted by the city’s leadership in the last three years, that a lot of turnaround needed to happen and that it was going to take longer than 90 days.”
An Oakland native, Rossi and his family moved to South Pasadena from Altadena in 2007. When he was growing up, Rossi said his family repeatedly moved between northern and southern California and for a time he lived right across city limits in San Marino.
“I grew up coming to the Rialto when they actually played movies and going to Fair Oaks Pharmacy,” he said. “[When my family moved here] we definitely planted ourselves pretty firmly into the community. Most of the time, we’ve worked to support the schools, and then this summer my wife and I found the budget issues.”
Rossi and his wife, Sheila, would frequently highlight issues they identified in the then-proposed budget to the City Council, issues that ultimately resulted in a continuing appropriations resolution that essentially paused budget adoption. The city still awaits an audit of the 2018-19 fiscal year, which logjams putting the most recent fiscal year to bed; fallout from these structural issues has ousted both the city manager and finance director in recent weeks.
One of his first actions as a councilman was pushing for the formation of an ad hoc committee to dive into the weeds with regards to these accounting problems.
“The focus was really on getting the financials fixed, getting the finance ad hoc and getting a handle on things before the election,” Rossi said.
If elected to a full term, Rossi said he also hopes to tackle issues related to affordable housing requirements, a local government reliance on consultants or contractors and just generally improving the political culture of City Hall.
“Over the last three years, the closed-door policies and systemic attrition across all departments has led to low morale among staff,” he said, “but on top of that, because they don’t have the resources to respond effectively and efficiently, they’re getting a lot of angst from the city and the community.”
District 2 voters will have to write in Rossi’s name on their ballots for this election, while candidate Jack Donovan’s name formally appears as an option on ballots.