[UPDATED] Highlighting similarities as much as differences, mayoral candidates Councilmember Victor Gordo and incumbent Mayor Terry Tornek met in an online candidate forum Monday, co-sponsored by the Madison Heights Association and the Oak Knoll Neighborhood Association.
While the forum was similar to other forums, with candidates appearing virtually and questioned by online moderators, in this case, the candidates did not engage with each other directly.
Following candidate introductions and instructions, Councilmember Gordo appeared online first and took random questions from the 100 meeting participants, a number limited by the ZOOM system capacity. Following his presentation, he was released from the meeting, and Mayor Tornek then appeared before the participants to take questions as well.
Many of the questions posed by the participants were similar, ranging from Pasadena’s membership in the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments (SGVCOG), to the growing problem of local mansionization, to state control of local zoning laws, and the ongoing question of “defunding” the police.
Gordo said with regard to the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments (SGVCOG), an association of local governments, “There are 31 cities in the San Gabriel Valley, together with three Board of Supervisor members, and three water districts. They’re all working together on issues like local control of zoning laws, to address homelessness, to address water quality, and to address transportation, and Pasadena is not there.”
Gordo continued, “My opponent’s view is that those cities are smaller than us, and not relevant. The SGVCOG is not going to solve our problems, that is true, but it is an important tool that can benefit residents of Pasadena, because working with over 2 million neighbors in 30 different municipalities, puts us in a stronger position, and that’s just a fact, to address all of those issues, which are all regional, if not state and national issues.”
Gordo added, “Why would you put any tool down that can benefit residents? It’s dismissive and outrageous.”
Gordo also emphasized the COG’s role in dealing with the State’s recent push to decrease single-family housing with the goal of creating more housing.
“We’re in a stronger position working with our surrounding cities,” Gordo added.
Tornek told the meeting that the cities in the SGVCOG have a “different viewpoint” with a number of Pasadena issues, and were in fact, in favor of pushing through the 710 Freeway extension, which was finally killed in 2018.
As the Pasadena City Council prepares to consider an upcoming ordinance that would regulate the growing problem of “mansionization,” Gordo pointed out that “One of Pasadena’s unique qualities is our neighborhoods, and the scale and the beauty of our homes in our neighborhoods is important.
“I look forward to that issue coming before the full City Council,” he added. “I think it’s an important issue that we need to act upon.”
Gordo said that “out of scale” development has already had an impact on the City, and said that “We need to ensure that we are doing everything we can as residents of the City to avoid out of scale developments in our neighborhoods.”
Tornek told the group that he has been involved with the housing issue since his days as the city’s planning director, and that it has been something that he has worked on ever since.
“I have spent most of my adult life working on the issue of affordable housing as a volunteer,” he said, working first as a board member with Pasadena Neighborhood Housing Services in 1982, and then with a statewide housing organization.
“I am second to none when it comes to Pasadena trying to achieve its housing needs, but the state has overreached,” Tornek said. He explained that the state has proposed a series of legislative measures that would “really be destructive” and “really violate the basic premise of the arrangement that we have worked so hard to do in Pasadena, going back more than 25 years.”
Tornek explained that the City’s plan was to maintain single-family zoning and introduce a series of historic districts, for which he wrote the original ordinance, as planning director. Denser housing would be concentrated along transportation corridors and arterial streets.
Both candidates have also grappled with the national issue of defunding the police department since the killing of Minnesota resident George Floyd in May.
Said Gordo, “Let’s not confuse the issue of transparency and trust with ensuring that our police department has the resources, the staffing and the equipment and training necessary to protect Pasadena residents. Gordo said that the city can ensure that “the police department is well-trained, and has the staffing and resources it needs to protect residents as well as to address the issue of transparency and trust because those are real and important issues not only in our city but throughout the country.”
Tornek called “defunding” the police “some unfortunate terminology.”
‘What it is really re-imagining police departments,” he said. The question that has been posed, and it’s a legitimate question, is, ‘Are there functions that are currently performed by armed uniformed police officers that could be performed by others?’”
Tornek said that Pasadena was “ahead of the curve” on the issue with its HOPE teams which pair trained police officers with mental health professionals who are called to handle mental health emergencies.
Both candidates were also asked if either’s children or grandchildren attended PUSD schools.
Gordo noted that he himself attended PUSD schools as a Spanish-speaking student, eventually graduating from Pasadena High, and that his wife was a public school teacher. He also noted that he and his wife “made the decision to send our children to parochial schools.”
Tornek told the audience that he himself had attended Erasmus Hall High School in New York City, but that his wife was also a teacher in the PUSD, and his children attended PUSD schools along with other schools and that his son was currently a teacher at Marshall Fundamental High School.