District 2 Council candidate Kevin Litwin had the perfect answer for the troubled Pasadena Unified School District’s ongoing fiscal crisis and decreasing attendance. Leaning into the microphone, he told the packed crowd in the Donald Wright Auditorium at the Pasadena Central Library Wednesday, “We all need to make more babies!”
Litwin’s whimsical rhetoric was one of several practical answers to a host of questions posed to four hopefuls for Councilmember Margaret McAustin’s open seat. McAustin decided not to run for reelection to help her ill husband.
Four candidates—Litwin, Patricia Keane, Felicia Williams and Bo Patatian—took the library stage for the event, which was hosted by Councilmember McAustin and moderated by Pat Coulter, president of the League of Women Voters Pasadena Area.
The event came on the heels of a mayoral forum held at the library Tuesday evening.
Candidate Keane, who is endorsed by McAustin, proposed solving Pasadena’s intransigent homeless problem with a simple economic strategy.
“What we don’t do is prevention, and prevention is the only way to stem the pipeline into homelessness,” Keane said.
Keane said that prevention can be as simple as “a couple months rent when you have that medical emergency or car accident that you weren’t expecting.” She noted that a number of organizations in Pasadena are, “for just a couple hundred thousand dollars a year, are keeping people housed.
“That creates stability in our communities. We need to focus on prevention.”
Patatian told the audience that Pasadena was far too over-developed and said there should be “no more monstrosities and behemoth buildings that just don’t fit in to the character of our neighborhoods.”
Candidate Williams, a municipal financing expert, said that “the City needs to preserve what we have for affordable housing.”
Williams said the City could support Pasadena Unified and save the District $1 million a year by leasing the now-vacant YWCA building in the Civic Center to PUSD for $1 a year.
Most of the candidates shared similar opinions on a range of subjects from supporting the PUSD, to overdevelopment, and on the need to fight homelessness.
But Litwin drew the line at banning single-use plastic bags in the city, saying, “What will be next?”
Litwin also opposed projects which seemed to lessen the city’s dependence on automobiles, a key tenet for decades of the City’s General Plan.
“I take the Gold Line,” said Litwin, a parking company executive, “But I drive. You’ll have to pry my cold, dead hands off the steering wheel to get me out of my car.”
All four candidates wholeheartedly agreed that PUSD suffers from a “PR” or “perception problem.” The school district has been buffeted by years of budget battles, and is suffering from a lack of attendance, due to low birth rates and the rising cost of local housing.
Patatian lamented the rise of private schools in Pasadena, calling it “unconscionable.”
“PUSD is great,” he said. “It just needs more outreach.”
“Don’t close PUSD schools and replace them with charter schools,” said Litwin.
Asked about the most pressing issues the City and the District 2 face, Litwin said public safety is key, along with improving small businesses and supporting the PUSD.
Williams cited overdevelopment in Pasadena and the lack of affordable housing. She also cited the need for more mental health support and an emphasis on the environment, including creating community solar projects, and a new solid waste processing plant program with Burbank and Glendale.
Patatian hailed District 2 as “the most secure and safe” in the City,” and called for more support of local businesses in the district.
“We need to do whatever we can,” he said, “to make sure we keep those businesses open.”
Keane cited housing affordability, solving homelessness, and “helping to create healthy, walkable neighborhoods” as primary issues. Keane said the City should remove obstacles to building housing that is affordable to all income levels.
While there were no observable pockets of support for any one candidate, audience members seemed pleased with the wide range of candidates and opinions.
“The one who seemed the most knowledgeable and the most qualified was Felicia Williams, but the one who seemed the most down-to-earth and the most in-touch with the common voter was Kevin Litwin,” said local observer Mike Pashistoran.
Acknowledging the significance of the event, resident Brian Vaughan said, “I’ve lived in Pasadena for almost thirty years now, and this is the best place I’ve ever lived. This is important to me to find the best candidate to represent me and what I believe in.”
McAustin was ebullient following the event, and acknowledged that running for office “is a very difficult job.”
She thanked the candidates and noted happily that the forum “drew more people than the mayoral event” held the previous night.