A forum on environmental issues for Pasadena’s mayoral candidates Tuesday night contrasted three candidates who support varied green platforms and one who said environmental issues are not a priority.
At “How Green Should Pasadena Be?” presented by the Arroyo Seco Foundation, Mayor Terry Tornek, Councilmember Victor Gordo and former City Commissioner Jason Hardin outlined their commitments to the environment.
Newcomer Major Williams, however, said the environment “is not an issue that is a priority to me.”
The event at the Pasadena Central Library was moderated by Arroyo Seco Foundation Managing Director Tim Brick. Sequoyah High School student and activist Ozzy Simpson, attorney Bill Christian, former City Environmental Advisory Commissioner Edwina Travis-Chin, and longtime environmental activist Christle Balvin served as the panelists and tossed a wide range of environmental issues at the four hopefuls.
Asked directly by Balvin why the City of Pasadena had opted not to sign on to the “Mayor’s Climate Action Pledge” as part of the Paris Accord and had not committed the item to an agenda, Tornek explained he is often asked to participate with other city mayors in the U.S. on positions related to a national issue.
“And I don’t,” he said.
“The reason for that,” he continued, “is that when you run for office, you’re elected to deal with local issues. The national issues are often framed in a way that don’t apply to Pasadena, they are very much in excess of what we deal with, they are frequently very divisive, and they really don’t speak to the local issues.”
Gordo disagreed, saying, “This goes back to our long leadership in Pasadena. What else could be more important locally than the environment? We need to reclaim our role as a leader and be involved. I don’t think that’s the decision of one person.”
Attorney Christian then asked all the candidates to weigh in on plans for the Arroyo Seco, in light of the formation of the One Arroyo project, which seeks to revitalize some of the park area, beginning with restoring a number of trails.
“Leave it alone,” said Hardin. “It’s a treasure. That area needs to be protected because we don’t want to damage anything there. The wildlife, the water, the children’s areas…It’s beautiful just the way it is.”
Gordo agreed that the City should be careful about commercialization in the Arroyo, but saw a need for the trails to be restored and then protected. He also saw a need for less commercialization and fewer parking lots.
“One Arroyo is restoration, not commercialization,” said Tornek.
Williams said he would look at the issue “from the collective voices of the actual people.”
“With me not having the ins-and-outs of understanding all the nuances of it, in regards to that particular section,” Williams continued, “that would give me the advantage to be able to talk to the community, to be able to put together workshops and brainstorming activities, to where we can actually materialize through our imagination, and to create something that is beneficial for the actual community.”
Panelist Simpson noted that of the four candidates, only Hardin had signed a petition demanding that the City support a “Green New Deal” for Pasadena that would commit the City to 100% renewable energy by 2030.
“I am open to that,” said Williams. “It’s not a far-fetched idea.”
Tornek responded that he would not sign the petition because the agreement goals are not attainable. He said he would much rather support the City’s own Climate Action Plan, which he said goes further in environmental protection than does the Green Deal.
Gordo said the goals of the Green Deal might not be reachable by 2030 but committed to one of the tenets of the deal, saying he would not accept any campaign funds from any developer or any fossil fuel company.
“This is a community conversation,” he added.
Hardin acknowledged that he had signed the petition, and, like Gordo, said that he would not accept money from developers. He also said he supports the City’s own Climate Action Plan.
The candidates were asked to define their versions of “environment” and “sustainability.”
Gordo said, “The environment means not just the natural environment, but the built environment.”
Gordo explained that he often hears discussions regarding the “changing fabric of our city, and that’s an environmental issue of mine. The built environment is very important, and I think we need to take a step back and revisit how we are evolving as a city. We need to revisit the impact of overdevelopment of our city.”
Tornek, meanwhile, said, “The environment to me is what is around us, and sustains life, and sustainability has to do with the ability of the environment to sustain life, and the quality of life that it produces.”
“The environment is the home in which we all live together,” said Hardin. “And, just like any other home, it takes all of us to take care of it. Sustainability is our ability to have access to our natural resources.”
Hardin added, “We’re all part of the problem, so we can all be part of the solution, and I know that the mayor has to set the tempo in how the City is run.” Hardin explained that he is overly cautious in his own home with using lights and electrical appliances.
“Just like any father,” Hardin joked, “I’m the person who cuts off the lights in my house, sometimes even when people are using them.”
Williams declined to address the question.
“I want to use my time, and pass it over to one of these gentlemen here. I just want to say honestly that I don’t feel naturally comfortable with any of us giving a lot of great input on this. I’m not a professional, I don’t see any professionals that are sitting up here. These are all candidates and City officials, et cetera.”
“I don’t really have a true answer to that,” Williams said.
The candidates also discussed the City’s urban forest, as well as the issue of water reclamation. On the issue of micro-transport, most were supportive of the idea, but Mayor Tornek said that scooters were a “bad idea” in Pasadena.
Following the forum, audience member Myra Booker, a Tornek supporter, said, “The questions were very good. They were diverse, and they were provocative. It brought to light what the City Council should be concerned about, and it also revealed that these were matters that they were already dealing with.”
Terri Ashley-Macquarie added that she thought her councilmember Victor Gordo was “strong,” and “really demonstrated his achievements over the years.”
Council District 2 candidates will meet in a forum at the same location tonight, at 6:30 p.m. The forum will be moderated by Second District Councilmember Margaret McAustin, who is not running for re-election.