Before a small but supportive invited audience of city officials and local community leaders, Pasadena Mayor Victor Gordo delivered the second State of the City address of his term, but the first one delivered in person, in the wake of the dwindling daily threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The mayor addressed a masked and socially distanced audience limited to just under 100 in the Westerbeck Recital Hall at Pasadena City College. The speech was also streamed live on YouTube. The event began with the National Anthem and “Oh Sweet Day,” sung by the Pasadena City College Chamber Singers.
Gordo was introduced by Vice-Mayor Andy Wilson, who also acknowledged that he will not run for re-election this year and thanked the community for its support since his election to the council in 2015.
In person audience members included Councilmembers Jessica Rivas and Felicia Williams, along with City Manager Cynthia Kurtz, Fire Chief Chad Augustin, acting Interim Chief of Police Cheryl Moody, former Mayor Bill Bogaard, and numerous City department heads.
Taking an optimistic and cautiously victorious tone, Gordo themed his address, “We are Stronger Together!”and listed a string of accomplishments and achievements that the City has managed over the last year.
“In 2021,” Gordo began, “Our theme for this State of the City was ‘A Time Like No Other.’ At this time last year, along with the rest of the world we struggled in every aspect of our lives: personal, professional, financial, health, and family—with little end in sight.
“Vaccines were just being rolled out, we communicated primarily via Zoom, and we watched as many of our neighbors struggled and mourned for loved ones,” he added. “At that time, I said that by working together, Pasadena would come out stronger than when we entered the pandemic.
“One year later,” he continued, “we have proven that Pasadena is resilient and we are stronger together.”
Gordo cautioned that he was not suggesting that “the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic are completely behind us, as there will always be more trials,” as he spoke to a host of issues and opportunities the City is in the midst of.
He asked for a moment of silence for COVID-19 victims, as well as those who may currently be suffering. He extended the moment of silence for the citizens of Kyiv, Ukraine, currently facing an onslaught from the Russian military.
Gordo first addressed the City’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic acknowledging the work of the Pasadena Public Health Department.
He reminded the in-person and online audience that 99.1% of all Pasadena residents have received at least one vaccine dose, and 92.1% of all eligible residents are fully vaccinated.
He congratulated the Director of Public Health and Health Officer Dr. Ying Ying Goh, Huntington Hospital, Day One, NAACP, and the Pasadena Community Job Center, who assisted in delivering vaccines throughout the city over the past year.
“Our Health Department also provided technical assistance to our schools and business community, which allowed us to bounce back better and stronger,:” he said, adding, “All of this occurred parallel to the “routine” and ongoing work of the Health Department, which continued unabated, and that is no small accomplishment.
‘We must keep in mind the mental health impacts wrought by this global experience,” he said. “I am convinced the pandemic has seared a change in us all—in every aspect of our lives—and we must recognize the effect it has had on the mental health of those most vulnerable, including children and seniors.”
Speaking to the City’s financial condition, Mayor Gordo said, “While the overall picture is positive, the City’s financial forecast will continue to be challenged as some key revenues and related industries will take several years to recover.
“For example,” he said, “the travel industry is expecting a slow recovery and will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2025. Business travel—the sector that brings the majority of travelers to Pasadena during the week—is also of particular interest.
“Inflation, the Consumer Price Index and the Producer Price Index all have tremendous impact on the City’s costs in all sectors,” continued Gordo. “Under the guidance of the Finance Committee—Councilmember Williams, Councilmember Kennedy, Vice Mayor Wilson, and myself—the City will continue to watch national and global economic forecasts as Pasadena’s revenues and expenditures are affected.”
But the overall financial picture for Pasadena is trending in the right direction, said Gordo. With property tax being the City’s largest revenue source, the strong real estate market has provided resiliency to the City’s General Fund, he noted. Both Sales tax and Measure I tax revenue has also realized strong results, he said, and the collection of both sales tax and Measure I on most online sales has been “a saving grace,” he added.
Gordo also acknowledged the work of the Housing Task Force, chaired by former Mayor Bogaard, with former mayor Rick Cole, serving as advisor.
The 17-member group guided two Housing Element submittals to the State, which included stronger policies related to the production of affordable housing, said the mayor, and will work with City staff on any final revisions prior to Council adoption of the Housing Element later this year.
The Task Force continues to focus on the adaptive reuse of commercial buildings, building on the success of the City’s Accessory Dwelling Unit program, prioritization of housing on public land, and investigating alternative finance structures for affordable housing production, he said.
Gordo highlighted the City’s Accessory Dwelling Unit program, saying that nearly 1,000 luxury apartment units have been acquired for low and moderate income rental housing, and construction has begun on over 500 units of affordable housing, including the Salvation Army’s Hope Center, a 64-unit permanent supportive housing development
In addition, the mayor reported, 184 new rental vouchers were secured to provide permanent supportive housing to community members, and over 200 persons experiencing homelessness were provided motel vouchers. Another 500 units are awaiting full funding, including two critically needed permanent supportive housing projects for persons experiencing chronic homelessness.
Moving on to the Rose Bowl, Gordo pointed out that, following a troubled 2020, the stadium became the number one drive-in location for entertainment in Southern California while other venues of its size remained dormant, and also served as a COVID testing site during the height of the pandemic, performing over 9,500 tests for Pasadena residents and essential workers.
The Rose Bowl Legacy Foundation also raised funds to provide 75,000 meals to PUSD families, the Stadium hosted local high school graduations when only outdoor large-gathering activities were permitted, and became the home football stadium to both Pasadena High School and John Muir High School.
The Rose Bowl Legacy Foundation has also improved its financial position by more than $25 million in the past nine months, said Gordo.
Noting that the Rose Bowl is celebrating its 100th year, Gordo said,
“I am confident that in the next 100 years the Rose Bowl will transition from ‘America’s Stadium’ to the ‘World’s Stadium.’
Gordo effusively praised the work of the City’s public library system, reporting that the library system “brought us back together” through virtual programs that greeted over 49,000 attendees, and welcomed an increase in website hits that exceeded 430,000 visitors. Over 38,000 research sessions were conducted on our Library databases, more than 3,000 individuals obtained a new library card, and dedicated library staff kept us informed, educated and entertained with the circulation of nearly 615,000 books, DVDs and other collections.
Gordo also praised the work of the police and fire departments, noting:
During the last year, the Fire Department responded to over 17,000 emergency calls for service, of which nearly 3,200 were fire-related, and a little over 13,000 were medical-related. The Department assisted in 16 statewide mutual aid incidents during the second half of 2021, implemented a Professional Standards Unit, and the Department’s vacancy rate is the lowest it has been in 15 years.
The Police Department’s Dispatch Center responded to 235,000 calls; 62,000 of which were to 911, and 115,000 calls for service. The PD made nearly 3,000 homeless outreach efforts, and removed 336 firearms from streets.
Pasadena will also be welcoming new investments from new businesses in the coming year, he said, with the re-opening of the Constance Hotel under new ownership in May, as well the arrival of Motiv Space Systems, designers and builders of robotic arms, motor controllers and mechanisms for NASA and JPL, and Miso Robotics, a developer of artificial intelligence-driven robots to assist chefs in food preparation.
Xencor, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company which is developing engineered monoclonal antibodies and proteins to combat cancer and autoimmune diseases, will also be moving to Pasadena, he said, as well as electric vehicle manufacturer Lucid Motors.
Gordo said he is also recommending the formation of a task force to work with City staff to review the current implementation of Early Child Development policy. Task Force members will represent a broad cross-section of Early Childhood experts, community advocates, leaders in Public Health, and parents from across Pasadena representing diverse parental needs, providing its first update to the City Council by June of this year.
In addition, bringing City resources, such as PCC, PUSD, and Labor partners together, Gordo aims to create an ad hoc committee of the City Council—Councilmembers Hampton, Rivas and Kennedy—to spearhead an effort to increase vocational training opportunities for young people in Pasadena.
“You can expect to hear more about this effort in the coming weeks,” he said.
Moving to the future of the 710 “stub,” the city also successfully completed its Technical Feasibility Analysis in 2021, said Gordo, and has now initiated the process for Caltrans’ relinquishment of the SR 710 northern stub to Pasadena.
“Once the relinquishment process is complete,” said Gordo, “the next challenge is to reimagine this portion of our City. The corridor is not only an important gateway to West Pasadena, but also to Old Pasadena, to Huntington Hospital for ambulances and first responders, and for traffic.”
Before the construction of the 710 into Pasadena decades ago, the area had been a thriving residential neighborhood, and the reconstruction of the area has been a hot topic since the 710 extension project was killed in 2018.
Gordo also introduced the idea of a revamped City budget process, explaining that the 2022 budget process will be different, as council committees with subject matter responsibility over a department will review respective budgets and be able to dig into their programs.
The Public Safety Committee, for example, will review Police and Fire Department budgets, and the Municipal Services Committee will review the Pasadena Water and Power budget, he explained.
Gordo said he hoped the new process would “allow for improved oversight by Pasadena’s elected officials of precious City dollars and resources, and provide the public a better opportunity to review not only budgetary numbers, but also the effectiveness and efficiency of our programs and related expenditures.”
Concluding his address, Mayor Gordo said, “While we have much to improve and much work to do, today Pasadena is “stronger together because we have worked and grown together during the most difficult of times. Be assured that your City Council is committed to continuing to build our community, and hopefully next year’s theme will be recovery and moving forward from the pandemic, together.”