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City Council Candidates Think ‘Small’ at Monday Forum

Political hopefuls stress local businesses in Chamber-sponsored forum

Published on Tuesday, February 14, 2017 | 6:23 am

The subject was business, and each of the candidates in Monday evening’s candidate forum sponsored by the Old Pasadena Management District, Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, Playhouse District Association and South Lake Avenue Business Association, tried their best to think small.

The forum, moderated by Ishmael Trone, chair of the Board of Directors of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, featured incumbent Victor Gordo, education activist Aida Morales and writer Krystal Lopez Padley, all vying for the District 5 council seat; and incumbent Andy Wilson, attorney Phil Hosp, attorney Alejandro “Alex” Menchaca, and Amtrak operations supervisor Bryan Witt, all running for the District 7 council seat.

Candidate Sheena Tahilramani did not attend the event.

The forum focused on issues related to the local economy, such as jobs and employment, along with workforce development, economic vitality, and downtown development. In their opening statements, each of the candidates emphasized two things—their longtime ties to Pasadena and their support of local businesses—with varying results. Most of the hopefuls discussed rising crime, homelessness, and the increasing number of empty storefronts in various neighborhoods, although none offered specific examples, and in some cases, cited incorrect information.

Candidate Menchaca described moving to a condo at Lake Avenue and Green Street after earning his law degree and forming one of the largest local Latino business networks, eventually bringing together more than a thousand members. Said Menchaca, “This is the kind of community skill and involvement that I will bring to the council office.”

Phil Hosp, a securities lawyer in Downtown Los Angeles, discussed growing up in Pasadena before moving to Boston to attend school and then becoming a tank officer in the US Army, earning a Bronze Star in two tours of Iraq.

“Residents need a bigger voice,” said Hosp, and “the Council is not listening.”

Bryan Witt is also a long time Pasadena resident, as well as a former Marine and South Pasadena reserve police officer. His Amtrak background, he said, makes him a “strong advocate for public transportation.” Witt also called the current City Council “shortsighted,” and decried the influx of “‘Big Box’ businesses running small businesses out of town,” although he cited no examples.

Incumbent Wilson talked about moving from Chicago to Pasadena more than twenty years ago, calling it the “best place in America.” Wilson mentioned his work with the Heritage Trust and the Gamble House, as well as with his work creating Innovate Pasadena, a networking association of local school and tech firms. Noted Wilson, “Every high-tech job we create, creates an additional five jobs, all of them with above minimum-wage salaries.”

Councilmember Gordo called Pasadena “a regional destination,” and described his work helping to revitalize the Pasadena Playhouse District, as well as the Rose Bowl renovation. Gordo also noted that he owns his own small business in Downtown LA, which he said provides him with a “business owners’ perspective.” Gordo also discussed revitalization opportunities in the East Colorado, North Lake Avenue, and the Lincoln Corridor neighborhoods.

Lopez-Padley, who grew up in Santa Ana, also emphasized her ties to Pasadena citing her husband’s family’s involvement with the Huntington Library, noted that she was “not an attorney, but a writer,” and described herself as a “grassroots candidate” for the office.

Morales, a former member of several local commissions, including the Commission on the Status of Women, along with various local committees, talked about crime in the city, saying “I don’t like what I see,” and cited the need for more affordable housing, a subject she returned to often during the evening.

The candidates were asked about “alternative” opportunities for economic growth, as well as obstacles to creating successful local business. Menchaca said he was “familiar with the area” and walks to most of his appointments in the area, which led to a a discussion on the values of walking to local businesses in the community. Menchaca also said he would work to create a “new generation of small business owners,” as well as work to create more shared office spaces, similar to Epic Spaces and Working Spaces, relatively new businesses in the Playhouse District and in Old Pasadena.

Hosp said the City should “return to the basics,” adding that “this is a city of neighborhoods, it’s an oasis.” Hosp said he would work to “protect the City’s neighborhoods,” but cited no examples.

Wilson noted that only 30 percent of people who live in Pasadena work here, a fact that he hoped to change, noting the need for new businesses as well as making it possible for more local employees to actually live in the city.

Gordo agreed with Wilson, noting that more than 100,000 people arrive to work in Pasadena every day, and talked about his own support for small businesses, as well as the need for those who attend colleges and universities in Pasadena to actually live here.

Lopez-Padley cited what she called the “poor economy” in Northwest Pasadena, and said that she would “bring jobs to the community,” and would work to bring small businesses who work at home, into empty storefronts in her district.

Morales said she would “develop local culture” and work closely with small businesses.

Witt promised to provide “access to capital” for local small businesses, saying, “If they can pay these criminals on Wall Street the money we have paid them, we can find the money to support small local businesses.” Witt also proposed creating a local co-op bank, specific to Pasadena, to help finance local businesses.

Wilson, a high-tech entrepreneur, noted the success of online businesses, saying that “e-commerce is a challenge,” and noted that he himself is “guilty of shopping on Amazon,” but said he would work to “re-brand the city” to make it more of a destination for shoppers and local residents.

Gordo, however, minimized the number of empty storefronts in the city, saying that Pasadena was on par with many US cities in that area, and doing better than a lot of similar-sized cities. He also said that the various business districts in Pasadena should work more closely with each other, instead of working separately.

“There is capital available,” said Lopez-Padley, who said that making budget cuts to reduce deficits was an “old way of thinking,” although, like others, she gave no alternatives to budget cuts, or examples of different approaches to deficit reduction.

“We can’t just rely on developers to create revenue,” she said.

Morales said she would work closely with the Chamber of Commerce to create jobs. “We need the will to do things,” she said.

Menchaca also cited the need for innovative thinking, and gave an example of a group he worked with which worked with restaurant owners to mentor and create jobs for new and upcoming young chefs. “Restaurants are the new anchor tenants in this community,” he said.

All the candidates also called for more youth employment programs, mentoring and volunteering in the community.

“We have graduates coming out of college here, who are driving for Uber and Lyft,” said Menchaca. “They need good, high quality jobs, and not just coding jobs.”

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