It measures a mere 3.42 miles with a population barely over 25,000. Tree-lined streets are a major attraction, joining mom and pop merchants, and a western hospitality to match. An “anywhere in America” feel makes it a unique place, nestled between the cities of San Marino, Alhambra, Pasadena and the major metropolis of Los Angeles.
For Michael Cacciotti, seeking his 4th term on the City Council when he hopes to be re-elected November 6, there are few places offering a better quality of life than South Pasadena.
It’s a town that features the likes of the Fair Oaks Pharmacy and Soda Fountain or historic Rialto Theatre, complimented by a host of signature events in the weekly farmers’ market, an old-fashioned 4th of July, concerts in the park, a family fun “Tiger” Run, almost daily commercial shoots, a classic car show, and movie productions the likes of “La La Land,” all surrounded by kids – a ton of them –taking part in and an abundance of youth and sports activities.
Sensing a push for overdevelopment, Cacciotti tells residents he wants to maintain the city’s small-town character as he goes knocking on doors seeking votes in District 4 against challenger Eric Brady. The incumbent likes the idea of building relationships with neighborhoods as the city moves to council districts for the upcoming election.
His focus is on winning and ensuring South Pasadena continues to be a sought-after community to live and work. “When you look at L.A. County,” noted Cacciotti, “there are few cities like us, maybe LaVerne or Sierra Madre, and it’s important to me we keep it that way.”
When he first came to South Pasadena, Cacciotti says the city quickly reminded him of towns he grew up in upstate New York and outside of Miami. “It had that Mayberry feel about it,” he says, “and I just fell in love with it.”
Cacciotti had one eye on a council seat from afar when he served on the city’s Parks Commission in 1998. At the time, he fought for open space in the area now occupied by the city’s Arroyo Seco Woodland and Wildlife Park, commonly known as the Nature Park, after learning the city was looking to sell the land to a developer. He was joined by a devoted group with the same goal of preserving the 3-acre area directly behind the Arroyo Seco Golf Course driving range in the southwestern tip of the city.
“I said ‘no, we need this open space for future generations,’” recalled Cacciotti, who successfully fought to retain the area for its vast vegetation and wildlife. “It’s such a vital part of our city and it needed to be preserved.”
He’s always been a strong voice for the environment, most notably, perhaps, in September 2016 when South Pasadena became the first American Green Zone Alliance (AGZA) Green Zone City in the United States. AGZA certified that all city parks and fields were maintained by electric lawn equipment. “We no longer have loud, polluting, power lawn mowers that cause respiratory problems and cancer,” said Cacciotti. “We’ve become a model for the region and nation.”
Cacciotti, who drives electric vehicles, wants the same in the City of South Pasadena’s fleet of cars as he watches the transition from gas-powered to compressed natural gas or electric. “We’re making big strides,” said the local councilman, looking forward to the day when the complete conversion will be made. “I like the progress we’re making.”
As advocate in protecting the environment, Cacciotti serves as a board member for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the Gold Line Construction Joint Powers Authority.
“I’m a big proponent of the Gold Line,” said Cacciotti, who was re-elected to the council in 2005, and re-elected in 2009 and 2013. “I take the train pretty much everyday to work after riding my bike to the South Pasadena station. I see what happens on the train as thousands ride it. I’ve raised security issues. I’ve called a meeting with the chair of Metro to ensure there is proper security. It’s important that the people onboard are safe.”
From the time he won a seat on the council 17 years ago, Cacciotti pushed to rebuild the city’s aging 100-year-old water system and sought infrastructure improvements made citywide to reservoirs, sewers, streets, curbs, gutters and sidewalks. “Everything was falling apart, in dilapidated condition, leaking in terrible shape,” he remembers.
To illustrate his point, the councilmember would carry a rusty, corroded water pipe, circa 1890 -1910, into the council chambers to get his message across on how sorely the city needed to take action. “There was a $100 million repair bill facing the city in infrastructure needs,” said Cacciotti. “When you looked at the city from the outside it looked okay, but when you went deeper into the bear bones, it was falling apart, in critical condition.”
He was among those at the forefront in the city’s fight against the 710 Freeway when it was on the books to cut through parts of El Sereno, South Pasadena and Pasadena. “We were in litigation at both the state and federal level,” explained Cacciotti. “All the cities around us had approved it. We were by ourselves. We were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars. We had borrowed millions from the water department to fight the freeway.”
It was hard fought over the years, and Cacciotti says efforts to construct the 710 Freeway – surface and a tunnel concept – have been stopped in favor of other alternative measures to improve the traffic flow through region. Locally, he likes the idea of the city making an effort to build a new on-ramp and widening of the off-ramp to relieve traffic congestion at the 110 Freeway interchange on Fair Oaks Avenue.
Consequently, during the on-going 710 Freeway fight, Cacciotti said South Pasadena’s water system had gone unnoticed for nearly a half century.
“The Grand Reservoir had been out of service for 10 to 15 years because of neglect,” remembers Cacciotti, glad to see it rebuilt and working well today. “When I first saw it, a eucalyptus tree had fallen into it. The reservoir was in really bad shape, just like the others. We’ve made great strides since then.”
To date, Cacciotti says about 70 percent of the city’s water system has been repaired, including the largest infrastructure project – the 6 million gallon Garfield Reservoir and pump station completed earlier this year. The city’s water department offices, an idea coming from Cacciotti, are also at the site, adding more efficiency.
With Grand, Wilson and Garfield reservoirs now all in operation, the Graves in San Marino is next on the list for a renovation. Following that effort, the city will start work on the Westside reservoir, built in the 1960s.
Since Cacciotti has been in office, the city’s reserves have tripled to $10 million, after watching them fall to as low as $3 million. “We were spending all our money on the freeway fight and had a hard time keeping our reserves level up,” he said.
Franchise leases with those operating the San Pascual Stables and Arroyo Seco Golf Course have seen improvements while Cacciotti has been in office. “I wanted to examine the leases for both because I didn’t think the city was getting enough,” he said. “We’re just about ready to sign a new contract with the stables and seems to be running very professionally,” he said. “Before it was being run like a private equestrian center. Now there are programs for kids in horsemanship. On the golf course we earn anywhere from $150,000 to $300,000.”
In addition, Cacciotti says the iTennis, adjacent the city’s golf course with its nine lighted tennis courts and three racquetball courts, brings in about $84,000 to the city.
He also likes the idea that crime has fallen and police and fire departments continue to show quick response times. In addition, he’d like to see new Neighborhood Watch programs to further improve on public safety.
Cacciotti, outside much of time when he’s not working as a deputy attorney general with the State of California Department of Justice, often walks or rides his bike around town and residents might find him using the city’s newest amenities to get a workout. One of his major accomplishments, he was instrumental in securing funding for the Arroyo Seco Pedestrian and Bicycle Trail, which officially opened earlier this month.
During the ribbon cutting ceremony for the project, South Pasadena Mayor Dr. Richard Schneider praised the efforts of Cacciotti for making the six tenths of a mile trail come to fruition.
“Kids, joggers, bird watchers, bicyclists and people walking their dogs can all use it,” said Cacciotti, who watched as support came over the years from the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the Mobile Source Air Pollution Reduction Committee and the Los Angeles Regional Parks & Open Space District. “It’s another wonderful addition to our city.”
There’s still much work to be done and Cacciotti is looking forward to addressing ballooning pensions facing all cities, but specifically South Pasadena. He recognizes that pension debt problem in the U.S. is at a critical juncture.
He would also wants to continue working on the city’s general plan, a roadmap for the future over the next 20 to 25 years. “We’re looking at reasonable, appropriate development in commercial areas and protecting our residential areas from overdevelopment,” said Cacciotti, who despite a busy schedule is in top shape as he nears the age of 60.
During his down time, he enjoys walking his dog, taking a hike in the Arroyo, going to the gym, cycling with a group of South Pasadena friends, attending Holy Family Church and coaching AYSO soccer – a passion going back more than 20 years.
“I really like their philosophy of player development, good sportsmanship, and letting kids have fun,” he said of the latter.
Another of Cacciotti’s on-going passions is to continue to make South Pasadena a place people like to call home and come to visit.
“As Sunset Magazine said two years ago, this is one of the most desirable places to raise a family, to work and play in the western United States,” he said. “So I’m passionate about protecting that character.”
Why? Oh, that’s easy, Cacciotti noting: “Because I love this town.”