Jon Primuth, an estate attorney currently closing out his first term on the South Pasadena School Board and Michelle Hammond, a former executive producer and outgoing owner/operator of South Pasadena’s Munch Company sandwich shop, both said this week they will run for City Council. Each will seek the Third District seat being vacated by Dr. Robert Schneider, who this week confirmed to the South Pasadenan News he does not intend to seek reelection.
“I’m kinda finished,” said Schneider, who has served on the Council since 2007. He sought a seat on board help get rid of the 710 freeway extension through South Pasadena and spent a decade on that. “I’m happy we were successful and now it’s time for me to move on.” Schneider said one of the many factors informing his decision was having to defer travel to attend city meetings. He said he would not make any endorsements.
The Third District, which includes most of the downtown core, is a narrow, north-south strip through the center of town that encompasses virtually every block west of Fair Oaks Ave. and Huntington Dr. and east of Hillside Rd. and Meridian Ave — except a splotch of eight blocks circumscribed by Meridian, El Centro St, Fremont Ave. and Monterey Rd.
The Third District race, along with those for the First and Second District seats held by incumbents Mayor Robert Joe and Dr. Marina Khubesrian respectively, will be the first time voters in those districts will cast ballots since the city was forced to switch from at large, city-wide elections to by-district voting. Additional candidates have until August to declare their intentions for November.
Hammond, who’s owned and operated the Munch Company sandwich shop on Mission Street for three years, said that as part of preparing for the campaign, she completed the sale of Munch Company early this month to South Pasadena residents John Chen and Min Liu. She says she can bring to the Council a small business perspective that it currently lacks — none of the current members run a business. She wants to improve things for small businesses concerned about how the town is going to change as the city seeks to manage growth through the General Plan now being developed, especially how that growth will fit in with existing retail while preserving the town’s storied charms.
“I can offer a different voice. A lot of people have come to me saying they do not feel heard by the city and don’t have time to be at every City Council meeting. They try to voice their concerns through me. I feel I could be more effective” on the Council.
On the city’s budget crisis, Hammond said it won’t be a quick fix. The last time there was a problem the city tacked on a sales tax, she said. This time, “that’s not in play because of the effect of COVID-19.” While believing some outsourcing is appropriate, she says the city’s current approach has gone too far and taken staffing down in a way that has been “very heavy handed.”
A single mother of two, now renting in the home she once owned, Hammond says one of her priorities will be to broaden rent controls. The growth of income is not keeping up with that of property values, she said. While able to see both the renter and owner point-of-view, she says the city needs to put in place a measure that will make things “more sustainable” for renters, rather than waiting to the last minute to adopt emergency ordinances.
Freshly appointed to the city’s newly restructured Mobility and Transportation Infrastructure Commission, Hammond has been active in civic affairs since arriving in town a decade ago. When the city was considering the creation of a community garden, it reached out to her to serve on the citizen committee that created the South Pasadena Community Garden in 2015. She figured the project would take six months but in what she regards as one of her first lessons in city government, it ended up taking three years.
This month Munch matched contributions to provide sandwiches to healthcare workers at the city’s COVID-19-stricken nursing home. An advocate for the city’s dust-gathering bike plan, she pushed the grant for the 196 bike parking stands recently installed around town and has been involved the extended General Plan development, mainly to ensure it provides for growth while preserving the charms that make South Pasadena unique. Last year, Hammond was commended by Mayor Pro Tem Diana Mahmud for Munch’s participation in the Green Leader Program.
Hammond was an executive producer at ColourMovie for 15 years and at Ntropic for two years which, her social posting states, gave her “years of experience driving the development, management and execution of high level live action, animation and design for broadcast, digital media, and other creative branding content.” She cites her strength in client relations and expertise “in leading and motivating creative and production teams across multiple projects from concept to final delivery.”
Jon Primuth was riding with his daughter through Missouri contemplating his career in public service when all at once it hit him that he should run for City Council. Until then he’d been telling friends and colleagues he would stand for a second term on the School Board.
“I love this community and want to preserve our small-town character as we grapple with many challenging trends,” Primuth said in an initial campaign statement. “The pandemic crisis and its impact on the city will be unprecedented and require us to pull together as a team to make smart decisions” he said, articulating his campaign motto: “Let’s solve the problems together.”
Rental and eviction policy, appropriate development guidelines and traffic issues like the ‘hook-ramp’, spending 710 money and congestion on streets like Fremont will all be campaign issues. But Primuth won’t “publish a list of solutions” for the city. “That’s not going to work.”
Instead he’ll enter a “heavy listening mode.”
“We need to run by consensus.” He points to stories told by Fourth District Councilmember Michael Cacciotti that invariably end with, “We brought everyone together and solved the problem.” That’s the way to build trust. “The long-term benefit of being on and working as a team with all the buy-in that brings is a much healthier” way to get decisions made and ensure people feel heard. “Otherwise, creative solutions don’t emerge.”
The efficacy of this model has been borne out during his years on the School Board, he states. While declining to give a specific example, “everything we’ve done has been consistent with solving problems together.”
At SPUSD, “I’ve shared decision making responsibility for a $40 million annual public agency budget” and been on a team that secured 70 percent-plus voter approval for two citywide initiatives to support the schools.
On the city’s budget crisis, Primuth likes the tool the city’s using to gather public input. But leaders will have to carefully explain any trade-offs they make. “Service cuts and anything touching public safety will be extremely sensitive” he said, adding he appreciated the city preserving Meals on Wheels and Dial-a-Ride services as the covid-19 crisis exploded. The city should put together a “ranked priority list of values” to be preserved at all costs.
The City Council’s record on transparency and listening is “mixed but they are trying hard.” He’s heard many views on this but won’t say what if anything about the Council’s record stands out. While transparency is important, explanations for some decisions are barred by litigation or personnel constraints. Unless he knows “the inside story, I cannot pass judgement.”
Fed up with service as a lawyer for developers, Primuth in the 1990s spent four unforgettable years in China where he learned Mandarin. He arrived in South Pasadena in 1998 and been involved in city issues since 2003.
He and his wife Karen have three children who all graduated from SPHS.
Primuth has never served on a city commission but turned down a seat on the Planning Commission. He participated in the charrettes of an earlier phase of the ongoing General Plan process and is a board member of the South Pasadena Senior Citizens Foundation, South Pasadena Prayer Breakfast and South Pasadena Chinese American Club, as well as a member of Women Involved in South Pasadena Political Activism. He served previously as president of the South Pasadena Educational Foundation and as a board member of the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce.
…..stay tuned for updates.