Incoming Mayor | First Time Mayor Primuth to Focus on Streets and Seniors

Jon Primuth, the first term District 3 South Pasadena city council member who is expected tonight to be chosen by his colleagues to serve as South Pasadena Mayor during 2023.

PHOTO: Jon Primuth | South Pasadenan.com News | Mayor Pro Tem Jon Primuth

Streets and seniors will be top priorities for Jon Primuth, the first term District 3 South Pasadena city council member who is expected tonight to be chosen by his colleagues to serve as South Pasadena Mayor during 2023.

Primuth, who also served five years on the school board, said he also wants to be a “good facilitative leader…so we have good [council] meetings, great discussion and an orderly way to come to decisions.” It’s not that this has been a problem, he emphasized, but that he is focused on doing as well on that score as possible.

On street, sewer and sidewalk repairs, Primuth wants to accelerate efforts using existing plans with updated technical studies. There’s been a “perhaps unnecessarily long pause” in resurfacing due mainly due to COVID and “a lot of complications” due to both “internal and external factors.” As a result, “we are quite far behind and now we need to play catch up in a big way.” Citizens can expect a ramp up of briefings and requests for input.

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There is for example a grant-funded temporary remodeling of Mission Street that Council’s had in the works for about a year aimed at making Mission more pedestrian friendly. The city also needs to focus on a list of traffic and pedestrian safety “hot spots,” he said.

Primuth said the first priority for funding the street work is grants, noting the city has recently filled a new position in Public Works to identify and help secure such grants.

He acknowledged talk of transferring some of the city’s excess general fund reserves toward resurfacing work and would not be surprised if the council takes such action. The amount available is reportedly about $7 million, though Primuth said estimates depend on “who you ask and how the calculation is run.”

As to whether there are other uses for those funds, Primuth noted that earlier this year the city made major a “down payment” on its $30.7 million in unfunded pension and related liabilities, having allocated $4.4 million from the sale of its cell tower leasing rights and another $1 million from designated reserves toward those obligations. He said the pay down represents “a big lift” compared to what other cities have done on the unfunded actuarial liability issue.

Primuth, 57, said South Pasadena has a great senior center with talented and dedicated staff. He wants to support that, raise the profile of some programs and add new ones to address needs such as getting more engagement from city seniors who are isolated due to physical, mental or family issues. As an elder law attorney, Primuth sees “far too many seniors who fall into crises that I have to handle. There are ways to sensitively, appropriately, and respectfully engage some of the very isolated seniors” who do not utilize the center. He will challenge staff to find ways to reach the most isolated segments of the senior population.

Between 2000 and 2018, the city’s 65-plus age group experienced the largest increase of any age category, from 11.4 percent to 14.3 percent–an increase of 955 people, according to the Southern California Association of Governments. By comparison, the US Census reports the 65-plus segment declined a tenth of a percent to 12.8 percent between the 2010 and 2020 census counts.

Primuth also responded to questions about other issues. These include:

  • Concerns that have been raised about tonight’s agenda item whereby outgoing Mayor Michael Cacciotti is requesting appointments to fill “partial” vacancies on four city commissions—including one on the Arts Commission for three years. Normally such appointments are made by the new mayor.

Primuth said there has been “a lot of community pushback” on that, but said he not concerned about it. “No. I trust Michael. That’s not to say Council will approve them,” he noted. “But I am personally not upset at all that Michael wanted to make these appointments. It’s not the custom, but that doesn’t mean it has to be the rule.”

  • Primuth declined to comment on the status of the City’s lawsuit against Caltrans over its sale of the 12-unit multifamily unit at 626 Prospect to a Pasadena church instead of to the City, which believes it has priority to buy the property under the Roberti law and its amendments. He noted the City has not even publicly acknowledged that a 6-plus hour mediation in the case took place last Friday and declined comment on reports a tentative settlement was reached. Any stipulated settlement would have to be filed before the next scheduled court hearing January 24. Caltrans is set to file a brief in the case within the next week.

The matter is on the Council’s closed agenda for December 21, but the statutory read-out of the closed meeting won’t be heard until the Council’s next meeting January 18 because the closed session is being held after, rather than before, the regular meeting. The unusual sequencing, he noted, will enable new City Council member Janet Braun to participate in the closed session.

  • Primuth also wouldn’t confirm reports the Council’s January 18 meeting will include an agenda item on the future of the city’s outside legal counsel. “We haven’t created that agenda yet.”

At its August 17 meeting, on a motion by Council Member Zneimer and seconded by Mayor Cacciotti, Council voted to agendize an item on whether to issue a request for proposals for city legal services after hearing a recommendation from the city manager. No minutes of the meeting have been published, but a recording of the meeting appears to indicate that while the approved motion called for the city manager recommendation to be brought in December, the intent was to do it in either in December or January after the new Council was seated.

Primuth did not dispute this, but “I just can’t confirm the actual date. It’s not bottom of the agenda. We have a lot of other things to get through, but I am sure it will be addressed within the first couple months of the year” and that “it will be a robust discussion.”

  • Primuth supports having the long-delayed assessment of the city’s Finance Department be carried out in-house by Interim Finance Director Maida Alcantara, who was brought in several months prior to the recent departure of Interim Finance Director Ken Louie, who held the position during a portion of the now 27-month-old vacancy in the Finance Director’s position. The assessment is one of eight City Manager Arminé Chaparyan has undertaken of various city departments, several of which–including the Police Department, Fire Department, and Community Services–were or are set to be completed by outside consultants.

The scope of the finance department assessment has been an ongoing concern of former City Finance Director Josh Betta, who Primuth publicly thanked for helping identify some of the financial management problems that came to light in the summer of 2020, and which Primuth said represented a “crisis” that the city failed to timely address. Betta believes the assessment should include a discussion of one recent and two earlier reports the city commissioned—one by CityGate and another by the Claro Group–examining the practices and making dozens of recommendations for the restructuring of the finance department, but which were never publicly assessed.

Agenda documents for tonight’s meeting state Alcantara has already begun the assessment, that it will be completed “in the next three months,” and will include “a detailed staff report…summarizing previous assessments and reports.”

 


Ben Tansey is a journalist and author. He grew up in the South Bay and is a graduate of Evergreen State College. He worked in Washington State as a reporter in a rural timber community and for many years as an editor for a Western electric energy policy publication based in Seattle. He and his wife Karin, an arts administrator from El Sereno, live in South Pasadena.