First-Ever Commissioners Congress Draws Large Crowd at War Memorial Building

Commissioners, who serve a vital and important role in the City of South Pasadena, are advisory bodies, which make recommendations on policy decisions to the City Council

PHOTO: Bill Glazier | News | Fire Chief Paul Riddle, Chief City Clerk Marc Donohue, Mayor Dr. Marina Khubesrian, Tamara Binns, secretary to the city manager; City Councilmember Robert Joe and City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe gather for a photo.

No awards were presented, but if one were designated for “Best News for South Pasadena” coming out of last week’s first-ever Commissioners Congress, hands down, the winner would have gone to the Freeway & Transportation Commission.

The event last Thursday in the War Memorial Building brought together members of the city’s 13 active commissions, which keep a pulse on a wide assortment of issues in town and assist the South Pasadena City Council as an advisory board in its policy decision-making.

Following dinner, each of the commission chairs gave annual reports while outlining projects they plan to complete in the future.

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PHOTO: Bill Glazier | News | The War Memorial Building was full for last week’s Commissioner’s Congress, where presentations of commission annual reports and work plans were delivered.

First at the podium was Betty Emirhanian, who presented her report on the Animal Commission, followed by Mark Gallatin of the Cultural Heritage Commission, Ellen Wood of the Finance Commission before Joanne Nuckols, chair of the Freeway & Transportation Commission, graciously reminded audience members of the city’s greatest achievement in 2018 – maybe 60 years, for that matter – as she talked about that monumental day last November when state Senator Anthony Portantino officially declared the 710 Freeway extension “finally dead” during a press conference in Pasadena.

California Secretary of transportation Brian Annis and Portantino presented the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) during the hour-long session at Arlington Gardens, an outdoor setting once in the path of the proposed surface route for a freeway that has been on the books since 1947, according to South Pasadena Council member Dr. Richard Schneider, the year the city officially objected to the extension of the freeway.

“For 2018, the big news was November 28th, Nuckols said matter-of-factly. “There was a press conference in Pasadena and the SR-710 EIR (environmental impact report) was released and the state of California did not choose the tunnel.”

Instead Caltrans chose a non-freeway, non-tunnel alternative, essentially a low-build, multi-model approach to moving traffic, or concept the City of South Pasadena has been advocating since the 1990s.

“Finally, Caltrans saw the light and realized they couldn’t build the 710 tunnel or a surface freeway and Metro realized they didn’t have the money,” said Nuckols. “So, this was a major accomplishment. Everybody said, ‘It’s dead, congratulations,’ before cautioning, “Yes, it’s dead, but we don’t have a death certificate yet. It’s really important, because we need something in case in 20 or 30 years somebody decides, ‘Oh, we can still build that tunnel.’”

Nuckols said there’s going to be a lot of work ahead in 2019 to ensure the proposed SR-710 is removed from the Streets and Highway Code for the state of California.

“That will be the death certificate,” stressed Nuckols.

The favorable message for South Pasadenans was applauded as Nuckols yielded to other presenting commission chairs, providing updates on everything from activities at city parks to protecting the publics safety.  Next up was  David Uwins, chair of the Library Board of Trustees, followed by Madeline Di Giorgi, Natural Resources & Environmental Commission; Andrew Vogel, Parks & Recreation Commission; Kelly Kodus, Planning Commission; Jeremy Ding, Public Safety Commission; Alexandria Levitt, Senior Citizen Commission and Cole Chuang, Youth Commission.

Along with all the volunteer commissioners, city department heads and City Council members were invited to the event.

“What initially drove this to create a better venue for the commissioners to give their reports, annual works plans and future plans,” noted South Pasadena City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe. “We wanted to hear about their accomplishments and goals. We also wanted to make it an appreciation event for our commissioners. There are a number of appreciation events around town, but we noticed there wasn’t one for our commissioners. These people put in a lot of time and a lot of effort on behalf of the city. We wanted to show our appreciation for all the time they invest.”

Over the years, chairs of commissions have presented their annual reports as part of a string of regular City Council meetings.

With the new format, DeWolfe said she wanted to create cross-pollination, allowing commissioners an opportunity to get to know one another in a relaxed setting.

“We want them to create those bonds and friendships as they support our city,” said the city manager, explaining that no commissioners were seated together in order for individuals to meet a variety of council members, city staff and others in commissioner roles.

As they presented their annual reports and work plans, commissioners were given an opportunity here from others sharing their thoughts. “Normally, these are done one or two at a time during a City Council meeting and the other commissioners don’t really get a chance to hear what the other commissions are doing,” explained DeWolfe. “This way, they get to hear about the valuable work that all these people are doing for us.”

Along with dinner and presentations from chairs of commissions, the event featured remarks by DeWolfe and South Pasadena Mayor Dr. Marina Khubesrian. Chief City Clerk Marc Donohue introduced each presenter.

Khubesrian pointed out that commissioners make decisions in the best interest of the city. “That’s a tough thing sometimes, because you can’t please everyone,” she said. “Trust me, as council members we are all too aware of that.”

The mayor stressed the importance of commissioners, saying: “The city needs your expertise, your passion and your commitment.” “We must always remember we are public servants. We are here to serve our residents and make our community a better place. Everything we do must put the public’s interests first. We have a chance to make a difference in the lives of many people.”

“So, as we continue through the year,” Khubesrian continued, “I encourage us all to keep in mind the higher calling of public service, and the ongoing need to put the interests of the public ahead of our own.”

The following are accomplishments by each of the 13 city commissions and goals by each commission provided by the City of South Pasadena.

ANIMAL COMMISSION-Chair Betty Emirhanian

PHOTO: Bill Glazier | News | Animal Commission Chair Betty Emirhanian.

2018 Accomplishments

  • In May 2018, the South Pasadena Animal Commission continued its educational outreach by inviting local children and teens to participate in the annual Be Kind to Animals Art exhibition in conjunction with the national campaign – Be Kind to Animals Week.
  • In a continued effort to educate and promote the humane treatment of domestic pets and wildlife, the Animal Commission attended and disseminated information and resources at event booths during “Doggy Day & Cats, Too” in May 2018 and the Police and Fire department open house in September 2018.

2019 Work Plan Goals

Along with presentation on “Coexisting with Coyotes,” held last week, the Animal Commission is planning in 2019 on a mosquito presentation, the Doggy Day and Cats, Too, Be Kind to Animals Week, the commemoration of the 3rd anniversary of Dog Park and a spay and neuter clinic.

The commission continues to push for prohibiting the sale of commercially bred animals.


PHOTO: Bill Glazier | News | Cultural Heritage Commission Chair Mark Gallatin.

2018 Accomplishments

  • Continuing progress on Historic Resources Survey and Inventory of Addresses Update.
  • Recommending landmark status for the Koebig House and the Library Tree.
  • Approving 74% of Certificate of Appropriateness applications on first review, with no denials.

2019 Work Plan Goals

  • Adopt updated Historic Resource Inventory
  • Report / Review ongoing activities
    • Mills Act Contracts.
    • Sub-Committees (Rialto, Apartment District, Rollin Street)
    • Continue to seek training opportunities.



PHOTO: Bill Glazier | News | Design Review Board Vice Chair Mark Smeaton.

2018 Accomplishments

  • The DRB reviewed a total of 37 Design Review applications including 9 conceptual reviews
  • The DRB approved a total of 28 Design Review applications for both residential and commercial projects
  • The DRB Chair conducted 30 Minor Design Reviews, also known as Chair Reviews

2019 Work Plan Goals

  • Reviewing the Adoption and Providing Input of the General Plan Update
  • Reviewing the Adoption and Providing Input of the New Downtown Specific Plan
  • Developing Standardization of Application Submittals in Conjunction with other Planning Commissions Including:
    • 3D Modeling and Presentation Standards.
    • Landscaping Standards



PHOTO: Bill Glazier | News | Finance Commission Chair Ellen Wood.
  • Recommended city use local return grant funds for capital projects, other activities during FY2018-19 and future to preserve general fund.

Recommend city continue to alternate sources of funding to offset anticipated general fund deficits.

Recommended city continue to pay for retiree health care benefits on pay-as-go as opposed to establishing irrevocable trust in consideration of future financial challenges.

Work Plan and Goals

Review and provide input and feedback for the following:

  • Budget Outreach Plan.
  • Comprehensive User Fee Study
  • Budget Fiscal Year 2019-20



PHOTO: Bill Glazier | News | Freeway & Transportation Commission Chair Joanne Nuckols.

2018 Accomplishments

  • California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) selected the Transportation Demand Management/Transportation Demand Management (TSM/TDM) Alternative as the Preferred Alternative for the State Route 710 (SR-710) North Project.
  • Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) reallocated the SR-710 Project to fund the TSM/TDM Alternative.

2019 Work Plan Goals

  • Cross-jurisdictional coordination of the SR-710 Early Action Projects
  • Support legislation to remove the SR-710 freeway stubs from the State Highway Code.
  • Transportation and mobility policies



PHOTO: Bill Glazier | News | Library Board of Trustees Chair David Uwins.

2018 Accomplishments

  • The library accomplished or was in progress to complete 40 of the 56 goals contained in the “Library Operations Study” (LOS).
  • Many of the LOS accomplishments are technological and include email patron notifications, social media utilization, an improved website, an updated online catalog interface, and more public computers. These augmentations build upon the implementation of high-speed broadband connectivity, improved W-Fi speed and coverage, and a server upgrade from the preceding year.
  • The city’s unique cultural and historical identity was explored and celebrated with major events on South Pasadenans including actors William Holden, Joel McCrea, and Lissa Reynolds; filmmaker and author Greg Sestero; musicians Calvin Joe, Dave Kinnoin, and David Plenn, poets Ron Koertge and Dana Gioia; and Mark Langill and Joe Davis from the LA Dodgers. The digital stories of longstanding ‘No on 710’ Freeway Fighters were also developed and recorded for an upcoming showcase and for posterity.

2019 Work Plan Goals

  • Implement ‘Mobile Circ’ to register new patrons for library cards and check out materials to them from remote locations and events like the Farmers Market, classrooms, community meetings, Health Fair, Clean Air Car Show/Green Living Expo, Festival of Balloons, etc.
  • Conduct a ‘One City, One Book’ citywide reading project after forming a community committee and conduct and promote events and programs related to the selected work. These could include an author night, a live performance, a Read-In, book discussions, etc. –and the filming and broadcast of 3 or so on community cable TV and from the website.
  • Institute the ability to accept credit card payments for library fines and fees as part of the City’s integrated credit card system to improve customer service and to reduce cash acceptance. The City’s integrated credit card system goal is under Finance in its Draft Strategic Plan for FY 2019/20.



PHOTO: Bill Glazier | News | Natural Resources & Environmental Commission Chair Madeline Di Giorgi.

2018 Accomplishments

  • Tree Ordinance Update
  • Established New Process for Tree Removals for Development Projects
  • Recommended a Grey Water Stub Out Ordinance and the Enforcement of the Cool Roofs State requirement.

2019 Work Plan Goals

  • List all Programs/Initiatives to be undertaken.
  • Gather information by researching city Programs/Initiatives being done by other cities.
  • Prioritize New Programs/Initiatives list.



PHOTO: Bill Glazier | News | Parks & Recreation Commission Chair Andrew Vogel.

2018 Accomplishments

  • Completion and Ribbon Cutting of the Arroyo Seco Bicycle and Pedestrian Trail – October 2018
  • Held Community Meetings at Grevelia and Berkshire Pocket Park locations to collect input from area residents on the future amenities and design of the parks.
  • To approve and recommended the design titled “Spread the Word, Conserve” to be painted as a mural on the Community Demonstration Garden wall facing Magnolia Street by Cub Scout Pack 7.

2019 Work Plan Goals

  • Review land survey and conceptual plans for the pocket park and hold community meetings to obtain feedback
  • Periodic review of the City leased / management agreements such as the San Pascual Stables, Arroyo Seco Golf Course, Arroyo Seco Racquet Club and All Star Batting Cages.
  • Review and recommend approval by City Council department policies and take stands on legislation pertaining to Parks and Recreation



PHOTO: Bill Glazier | News | Planning Commission Chair Kelly Koldus.

2018 Accomplishments

In 2018 the Commission heard 45 items

  • 25 were approved without conditions
  • 20 were approved with conditions.
  • No items were rejected
  • Worked with community and Mosaic Church to establish a sustainable use for the Rialto Theater
  • Approved a reuse plan for the Citizens Business Bank building at Mission and Fair Oaks to allow multi tenant retail

2019 Work Plan Goals

  • Adopt General Plan and Downtown Specific Plan
  • Working with consultant 2nd Admin Draft – Receiving input – Adoption this fall
  • Revise ADU ordinance and make recommendations to council on inclusionary housing
  • Move towards standardization and communication of expectations for Planning Commission applications



PHOTO: Bill Glazier | News | Public Safety Commission Chair Jeremy Ding.

2018 Accomplishments

  • Emergency Operations Center Remodel / EOC Training.
  • Homeless – Measure H Funds.
  • CERT and Neighborhood Watch Programs.

2019 Work Plan Goals

  • Crossing Guard Policy.
  • Disaster Preparedness (Complete EOC Remodel/ Training; Recruitment for Community Volunteers for EOC).
  • Homeless Housing/Bed Space Policy.



PHOTO: Bill Glazier | News | Public Works Commission Chair Gayle Clauz.

2018 Accomplishments

  • Recommended Priorities for the FY 2018-19 Street Rehabilitation and Preventative Maintenance Projects List
  • Recommended the installation of a New Traffic Signal on Monterey Road at Orange Grove Avenue & addressed resident and Commission concerns
  • Developed Projects List for the SR 710 TSM/TDM Alternatives including Traffic Signal Modifications on Fremont Avenue, Columbia Street, Pasadena Ave, and Garfield Avenue & “Hook Ramp” on Fair Oaks Avenue @ Arroyo Seco Parkway

2019 Work Plan Goals

  • Make Recommendations for FY 2019-20 Street Rehabilitation and Preventative Maintenance Projects List.
  • Continue to provide Input and Recommendations on Measure M MSP Projects & SR 710 Measure R Early Action Projects.
  • Provide Input and Recommendations on the upcoming Stop Sign Study, Neighborhood Traffic Management Program, & Speed Hump Policy.



PHOTO: Bill Glazier | News | Senior Citizen Commissioner Chair Alexandria Levitt.

2018 Accomplishments

  • Provided the first community workshop -“What to do About Mom or Dad”-to assist families and caregivers with handling aging matters.
  • Created awareness on South Pasadena Senior Center programs and services through articles that were published in local newspapers and social media.
  • The Senior Commission organized the 18th Holiday Cheer program where care packages were delivered to home bound elderly filled with sweets and gift cards to bring a little holiday cheer during the season.

2019 Work Plan Goals

  • Organize and coordinate two community workshops to assist families/caregivers in handling aging matters.
  • Create and implement Senior Citizen Registry program to identify and manage a list of home bound persons to reach out in the event of a disaster through the South Pasadena Senior Center.
  • Update policies and procedures for the South Pasadena Senior Center and the Dial-A-Ride program.



PHOTO: Bill Glazier | News | Youth Commission Chair Cole Chuang.

2018 Accomplishments

  • Volunteer support to Community Services events.
  • Giving back to the community-Outreach at the South Pasadena Convalescent Home during the holidays.
  • Intergenerational program with South Pasadena Senior Center to host monthly Tech Days and the annual Senior Prom.

2019 Work Plan Goals

  • Spring Programs (Senior Prom, Eggstravaganza, Doggy Day).
  • Summer Programs (Concerts, Movies, Fourth of July).
  • Fall Programs (Halloween, Breakfast with Santa, Snow Day).