Borrowing an old popular phrase, Michael Cacciotti knows, “It takes a village,” to set the City of South Pasadena down a path to success over the next year and beyond.
Getting there, insists the city’s newest mayor, will require the assistance and buy-in from those sitting alongside him on the City Council.
As he settles into the top seat for the fifth time in his 20-plus years on the 5-person panel, actions by he and his colleagues will be made as a result of what Cacciotti calls an “almost annual strategic planning process,” which was started and completed last month.
“Based on a community survey, public input and two days of meetings in October 2021 with my fellow city council members and executive staff, the City Council essentially created our priorities for 2021-2026,” he said, when asked his vision for the city he oversees, while at the same time recognizing these are uneasy times locally, across the nation and throughout the world. “Moreover, whatever profession or business you are involved in, we all know that despite our best efforts to anticipate issues and plan ahead, unanticipated events such as COVID arise which require you to pivot and modify your plans.”
Entering his one-year in office, Cacciotti and those on the council agreed on a new vision statement as they pursue several key goals and priorities: “We are a culturally and economically diverse, and fiercely independent community that cherishes creativity, education and our small-town character, committed to building a more just and environmentally and financially sustainable future.”
With that mindset, the mayor said the council will focus on the following issues in the months ahead:
- Develop and implement strong fiscal policies to ensure a resilient financial future.
- Create a strong economic development strategy to strengthen local businesses.
- Develop a comprehensive emergency preparedness plan to ensure public safety through active response and recovery efforts.
- Enhance community sustainability through investment in infrastructure and environmental management programs.
- Plan for affordable housing to comply with a state mandates and respond to community need.
- Enhance customer service through innovation to more effectively respond to community priorities.
Cost reductions are already in the works, stressed Cacciotti. “Just this past week, our council took significant action toward improving our fiscal position by reducing our CalPERS and OPEB (other post employment benefits) unfunded liability,” he explained. “First, we took the $4.3 million dollars from the recent one-time city cell tower lease payment and combined it with $1million I had proposed to be set aside in a reserve fund over a decade ago for future retirement/medical benefits for employees. With the combined approximately $5.3 million dollars, and in concert with a recommendation from the Finance Commission, we voted to pay the lion’s share to CalPERS to help offset our unfunded pension liability and the remainder to be used to reduce future OPEB liability.”
In an effort to strengthen economic development, the city recently hired a new Deputy City Manager Domenica Megerdichian who has a solid background in economic development “and can begin to develop and launch our economic development program, including a city branding and marketing plan, new city website, a new economic development website, ombudsman services, etc,” noted Cacciotti.
In addition, South Pasadena Councilmember Jack Donovan and Cacciotti have been working over a number of weeks with the Recreation Leased Facility Ad hoc committee to assess the Arroyo Seco Golf Course operations. Part of that effort will be to recommend to the City Council the hiring of a restaurant consultant to guide the city through the Request for Proposal (RFP), negotiation and selection of a restaurant operator at the facility.
The council, comprised of Cacciotti, councilmembers Donovan, Diana Mahmud, Evelyn Zneimer and Mayor Pro Tem Jon Primuth, is working on renewing the city’s Emergency Operation Plan (EOP) and Local Hazard Mitigation Plan (LHMP) “and preparing a needs analysis and implementation schedule to address gaps in disaster coverage and seek appropriate contracts,” said the mayor.
Environmental sustainability programs remain a key focus as the City Council recently approved his proposal to ban polluting, toxic gas-powered leaf blowers, effective October 2022.
“During the next several months we will continue outreach and education to our residents, businesses, commercial gardeners, etc. about the multiple benefits (economic, health), in gardeners converting to non polluting, non toxic battery electric leaf blowers,” Cacciotti, a board member with the South Coast Air Quality Management District, said. “I have been actively involved in personally working with legislators and testifying before state agencies to secure millions of dollars in state funding to subsidize the purchase of battery electric lawn equipment for residents and gardeners.”
Initiated by Cacciotti, the city is actively working with Edison through its “Charge Ready” program – another environmentally sustainable project to electrify the City Hall parking lots and accelerate the transition of the city’s vehicle fleet, including police and fire to battery electric vehicles.
Cacciotti has long advocated the effort he believes will ultimately save the city “hundreds of thousands of dollars over time” and is now moving forward with City Council support, adding: “These and many other programs by our city are implementing our Green Action Plan and Climate Action Plan.”
Strides are being made, according to Cacciotti, to create a Housing Division in the Community Development Department, focusing on housing related matters including grants and funding opportunities – working with government and private partners – to provide affordable housing in the city.
“Moreover, we will also continue our efforts working with Senator Portantino’s Senate office and Caltrans to effectuate the sale of unoccupied Caltrans surplus properties,” he offered.
Cacciotti said the council is engaged in the improving customer service efforts at City Hall by establishing and implementing a targeted community outreach program. He said recommendations for an automated customer care application process are among a variety of proposals that will be addressed.
Not lost on the new mayor is the surge of coronavirus cases, just surpassing million mark in California since the pandemic began. Health officials say the Omicron’s variant is thought to be two to four times more contagious than its predecessor – Delta.
“Ever since we have been impacted by COVID-19 nearly two years ago, the city has been actively engaged with our governmental partners in planning, coordinating and implementing measures to protect our community,” said Cacciotti. “We have closely followed federal, state and county science based health orders and recommended guidelines, while prepared to pivot as guidelines and policies frequently changed with a better understanding of the pandemic and the variants. Again, anticipating the Omicron surge a few weeks ago, we closely monitored the daily numbers of cases, and revised our policies and practices, with regard to City Council/commission meetings, city services, classes, and work schedules so as to protect our citizens and employees and reduce the impact on our the LA County Health care system – particularly hospitalizations, admissions to ICU.”
Before being elected to his first term on the council back in 2001, Cacciotti said he was committed and actively engaged in advocating and fighting to protect the small town environment from what he calls “irresponsible development, and was determined to rebuild our infrastructure (water, sewer, roads, sidewalks and city facilities), create a safe, financially and environmentally sustainable community.”
Many settle in South Pasadena for the same reasons he has called it home, appreciating it as “a safe, healthy and diverse community with excellent municipal services/amenities and a great school district in which to raise our families, live, work, play and/or retire,” he pointed out. “It is rare to find this type of a community with so many dedicated residents committed to serving on various volunteer commissions, the Senior Center, library, and many other ways to create a real sense of community in the middle of a metropolis such as Southern California.”
South Pasadena, one of the state’s most desirable places to live as a result of its small town atmosphere, reminding Cacciotti of communities where he grew up in central New York (Auburn) and in South Florida (Miami Shores).
“We have beautiful, well-maintained, tree-lined neighborhoods, beautiful parks, hiking trails and sports fields and active recreational programs (including AYSO soccer and Little League baseball/softball) for kids and residents of all ages,” he said. “We have many great amenities such as a local municipal golf course, driving range, miniature golf, tennis/squash courts, city-owned and private equestrian stables/facilities, and small mom and pop businesses and restaurants supported by a dedicated chamber of commerce and loyal patrons. We also have an outstanding school system enthusiastically supported by the entire community.”
And, it doesn’t stop there.
“Our local public library provides a variety of educational and cultural programs and events for all of our residents to enjoy,” he continued. “Our local police and fire department provide superior public safety services.”
With all its good, the mayor says South Pasadena faces numerous ongoing challenges, touching on a few that will be worked on sooner than later.
One in particular, “seems to be the effort of the state to take away our local control in guiding our future responsible and sustainable residential development,” he explained. “However, local municipalities in the state are coming together to oppose such efforts whether by advocacy or the ballot initiative. For many years, the city was actively engaged in an unprecedented effort and ultimately successful in our battle to defeat the state’s plan to build the SR 710 freeway. As a result of financial resources directed at that effort, for several decades the city’s infrastructure experienced substantial deferred maintenance.”
Cacciotti said the city has been “trying to play catch up with my fellow councilmember’s over the years ever since I was elected in 2001,” he said. “As a matter of fact, in those 20 years we have replaced four out of five water reservoirs that store and provide drinking water to our citizens. What previously took the city nearly 100 years to complete, we did in 20. We have been repairing and repaving roads, sidewalks and repairing/rebuilding our aging sewer system. Although we still have a long way to go and significant improvements to complete, with respect to infrastructure, through our 2021-2026 Strategic Plan, we are organized, focused and are well-positioned financially to continue rebuilding our city to 21st century standards and beyond!”