A city with a long and distinguished history is about to turn the page and begin a new chapter, as outlined by South Pasadena City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe, the guest speaker during Monday’s WISPPA Cocktail Party at the home of Bill and Mary Urquhart in the city.
While most know it simply as WISPPA, officially it’s Women Involved in South Pasadena Political Action, an organization that continues to push for accountability, integrity, and transparency in South Pasadena government. Members actively encourage strong, well-qualified candidates, especially women, to run for City Council and to serve on city commissions. WISPPA members meet at 8:30 a.m. the first Saturday of each month at the local Senior Center, inviting guest speakers from the city and region.
On this night, WISPPA’s annual big bash of the year, dignitaries, including the City Council and Board of Education, commissioners, key administrators and others in key leadership roles were invited to hear about important issues facing South Pasadena and where the city is headed.
DeWolfe, who came on board last November, told a gathering of about 100 in the estate’s garden that “it’s a really great time for South Pasadena. We are at the beginning of a new chapter in our history -A chapter that starts – at long last – with the death of the 710!”
Her declaration was met with an immediate ovation. In a way, DeWolfe was saying stick a fork in a controversy that has long troubled local residents and freeway fighters.
“For so many years – or decades – our community’s top priority was defeating the 710 extension,” continued the city manager, just warming up. “It had to be. The impacts to our city, and quality of life would have been tremendous.”
She paused before picking back up on the topic. “The 710 expansion had to be stopped – and it was. Let’s give a round of applause for everyone here, and all those not here, who dedicated so much time and effort to stopping the 710. I can’t help thinking about all the energy, all the time, all the effort, and all the money put into the defeating the expansion.”
With the proposed 710 Freeway extension no longer the threat it once was, the city manager added, “At last, we can put our collective energies somewhere else, into something more positive. We get to stop playing defense. We can start envisioning a future beyond the 710.
We can harness that same community spirit that came together to stop the 710, and focus it on moving our city forward.”
Residents can now embrace “a new mission,” she emphasized, “and recognize new opportunities. I think that’s very exciting, don’t you?”
DeWolfe asked, “What is that new mission? Where does South Pasadena go from here?” as audience members listened, anticipating her answer. “It’s important, as we move forward, to respect the traditions that make this city great and, to uphold the values that make our community strong. But at the same time, the city must evolve. We know that change will come – it’s inevitable in all communities.”
With change at the city’s doorstep, she said the key is “to focus on facilitating the change we want to see happen. And not just react to change that will come at us from outside the community. And change doesn’t have to be a bad word – it can be about doing more of what has already made us successful, being stronger at what we already do. It doesn’t mean we let other people change us.
DeWolfe’s covered a lot of ground in her 20 minute speech, talking about city services, major road and other infrastructure improvements, planting new trees, improving communication with residents, being a bike-friendly city, the Strategic and General Plan, the utility users tax place on the November ballot and an important opinion survey involving residents.
DeWolfe thanked those who provided their thoughts on what they appreciated about South Pasadena. “It was extremely valuable. We had a great response. And with a highly reputable research firm leading the survey, we can be very confident that it accurately reflects the sentiments of our community,” she said.
In it, pointed out DeWolfe, the survey indicates that the City of South Pasadena has “gorgeous parks, excellent schools, music and arts festivals, great local businesses and a small-town community spirit that’s hard to find in Southern California,” she said, noting, “It wasn’t a surprise that our residents value those things. The survey gave us direction and insight on the top priorities of our community. Your priorities. What you value. You will see it reflected in our current city budget, our newly adopted five-year Capital Improvement Plan, and the city’s new Strategic Plan.”
Collectively, DeWolfe said the information gathered from residents represents the City Council’s vision for the future of South Pasadena.
And what does that vision look like? For one, she said, top-notch city services in “being able to maintain our own police and fire departments is rare for a city our size, and it gives us a higher level of service, including some of the best response times in the state. We will continue to give our police and fire department the resources they need to protect our community. At the same time, we are also investing in emergency planning to better prepare for a crisis or natural disaster.”
The city’s strategic plan, according to DeWolfe, puts a priority on emergency preparation. Upgrades are being made to its emergency operations center, and local fire department personnel continue to train residents on emergency response in their neighborhoods. In addition, police and fire officials look to improve already solid emergency response systems.
With an aging infrastructure, DeWolfe said the city survey confirmed that the community wants to see greater investments in street and roadway repairs. “And we’ve started doing that,” she said. “This year’s budget allocates significant funding for street repairs, and is one of the top spending category in our capital improvement plan. In total we are putting almost $3 million into streets next year.”
Another priority, insisted DeWolfe, is putting more money into trees next year. “It’s not just the hardscape that matters,” she explained. “Trees are an important part of great streets.”
Maintaining the city’s water and sewer infrastructure is critical, she said, noting, “The city is making investments that upgrade our reservoirs to better withstand a major earthquake and ensure the continuity of water service in the event of a disaster.”
DeWolfe said the city is reexamining the way it communicates with residents, saying: “We’re looking at ways to expand and improve our communications tools to keep you informed and improve transparency. As part of that effort, city staff is working on a relaunch of the city web site that will provide information in a more intuitive and mobile-friendly platform.”
Steps are being made for the city to become and even more bike-friendly city. “The Mission Street bikeway project is nearly complete – and it’s just the beginning of our bikeway improvements,” stressed DeWolfe, pointing out that the city’s long-term vision is to build interconnecting bikeways “on all major thoroughfares throughout the city that will ultimately connect to a regional bike network.”
It’s all part of the city’s big picture to improve public health, and reduce traffic and pollution.
DeWolfe said the city’s General Plan is another important piece of the vision. “We received an extensive amount of participation from across the community over the past two years and economic development was identified as a priority,” she said. “As a result, we will create an economic development plan in the next year that will create a framework for community investment, in alignment with the vision of the General Plan. We will take a more active role in strengthening our local economy by setting our sights on the types of businesses we want to attract and investing in our business districts.”
The city will take a more active role in strengthening its local economy by setting its sights on “the types of businesses we want to attract and investing in our business districts,” she said. “Some examples of the kinds of projects we will be undertaking include, developing a streetscape and urban design plan, creating public art programs, improving special events, and implementing a new focus on branding and marketing.”
In the coming months, DeWolfe said the city would begin the process of shaping an economic development plan and will be looking for community input, especially WISPPA, to help shape the city’s future. “I hope that you will be active champions in promoting that vision and moving the plan forward,” she told the guests.
She also talked about the utility users tax (UTT) that has been placed on the November ballot by an outside interest group. If passed, DeWolfe said it will cut the city’s budget by $3.5 million.
“Legally I am not able to advocate for or against the ballot measure while I am representing the city in forums such as this,” she explained. “But I can tell you, purely on an informational level, that the loss of the UUT would have significant impacts on the level of city services and the quality of life in South Pasadena. It’s a significant amount of money, and no City departments will be spared from the cuts.”
DeWolfe closed by quoting a Native American proverb. “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children,” explaining, “I think it’s a great way to think about the future of our community here in South Pasadena. What steps can we take today, that will create a better tomorrow? What seeds can we plant today, that will grow mighty oaks in the years and decades to come? These are the choices we’ll be making as a community. I value your input, and the council values your input, as we make these important decisions.”
She encouraged everyone to stay involved and engaged “as we create that future for South Pasadena together.”