“Dr. Marina,” as she’s known is some circles, is currently in her second term as South Pasadena’s mayor, first serving in the role from 2013-2014.
And not surprising, she’ll tell you guiding the city in the highest leadership role has become a passion because the city means so much to her.
Simply put, Dr. Marina Khubesrian, who was first elected to the City Council in November 2011, is committed to continuing make South Pasadena a special place for the approximate 25,000 inhabitants she serves.
It starts with a solid education. Khubesrian holds a Bachelor of Science degree in biology with emphasis on marine biology from the UCLA School of Life Sciences. According to the City of South Pasadena’s website, she is the recipient of Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, National Golden Key Honor Society, and Regents’ Scholar awards from UCLA. She has an M.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Medicine. Khubesrian is licensed as a physician and surgeon by the Medical Board of California.
In addition, she is a Board Certified Family Physician (American Board of Family Medicine) and a Fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Along with her strong academic background, Khubesrian is a person who cares, responding to concerns, and is “committed to open dialogue and team building with the City Council, staff, and community in addressing all issues,” cited in her city bio. “She is focused on preserving the city’s history and cultural heritage while updating and maintaining the City’s existing infrastructure and facilities, enhancing quality of life, promoting an active lifestyle, and robust community engagement.”
Khubesrian and her husband, Dr. Mark Dreskin, have lived in South Pasadena since 1998. They have two children and have served as volunteers with the Girl Scouts, AYSO, and YMCA organizations.
The South Pasadenan recently asked Dr. Khubesrian to reflect on her role in overseeing the city as mayor, and provide a mid-year update by addressing some key issues on the minds of residents. Here’s what she had to say:
- What do you enjoy most about being the mayor for the City of South Pasadena?
I most enjoy working with public service minded people to get things done and solve complex problems. I enjoy working with city staff, commissioners and residents to make our community healthier, to bring in more Arts and culture, and improve upon all the things we love about life in South Pasadena. As the City’s representative and liaison with elected officials, I enjoy working directly with our elected officials in the CA State Senate and Assembly on statewide issues, as well as my counterparts in neighboring cities on regional issues like transportation and mobility.
- Economic development is a key issue in town. Can you please talk about what it’s going to take to put South Pasadena on stable ground?
The business districts in our City are wonderful but could be doing better. The City is exploring various ways to help existing businesses grow and bring in new businesses that will add to the vibrancy of the city. In most retail categories, everything expect grocery stores, we export our spending dollars, meaning that our residents go outside the city for much of their spending. Our goal is to capture more of that spending here in South Pas. It’s good for the local economy and the environment when people don’t travel as far to shop. When we held community workshops in the spring on the budget, we heard a lot of support for strategic economic development, and new projects like a small hotel. Development is certainly an important issue, but not the only issue when it comes to city finances. We recently adopted a Financial Sustainability Plan that outlines several initiatives that will help the City thrive and maintain the full range of services we provide.
- What will raising the sales tax three quarters of a cent do for the city?
The local sales tax measure would bring in about $1.5 million a year, which would go a long way toward fixing the structural deficit we are now facing. The deficit is estimated at about $1 million this year, and will increase to $2 million a year in the next several years. The sales tax measure would be a huge step toward addressing the budget deficit in the short term, and then we can take additional actions, such as economic development, to close the remaining gap. Through the outreach work we’ve done on the budget and the UUT in 2018, the community has told us that they don’t want to see cuts in city services. They really appreciate having our own full-service police and fire departments, senior programs, library etc. – it’s a big part of why people move here and stay here. So the local sales tax would help ensure we are able to maintain those services long-term. I should note that South Pasadena does not currently have a sales tax, so most of our sales tax revenue goes to the state and county. The proposed increase would be a 100% local return.
- What are the other key issues facing the city?
I’ve been very engaged this year on environmental issues. Of course this is not unique to South Pas, but I want the city to be seen as a leader on the environment, and I believe we are. We addressed foam packaging ahead of the state. We have instituted a strong tree policy to protect and enhance our tree canopy. We were one of a small handful of early regional adopters for the 100% default clean energy option for our power supplier, Clean Power Alliance, so that most of the residential energy used in our city now comes from clean sources. That’s a huge step toward combating climate change and exercising local control over our energy consumption. Our environmental commission is looking at how to reduce the use of single-use plastics and the diversion of organic waste, among other issues. I’ve enjoyed engaging on these issues, getting the youth of our city involved, and building community coalitions such as Transitions South Pasadena that will create meaningful change.
I’m thrilled that we were able to reach agreements with the City’s three labor unions last month in a very efficient and respectful way. This was a tremendous accomplishment by our City Manager, Stephanie DeWolfe, and her team, to negotiate with the unions in a productive and constructive manner and reach three-year agreements. Labor negotiations are often a lengthy distraction that divides teams, and that didn’t happen this time thanks to the tone of data-driven transparency set by the City Council and embraced by staff. The more focused and aligned our team is, the more we can accomplish for our residents. We have a strong employee team at the City that’s getting even stronger.
- What makes South Pasadena special?
First and foremost it’s our strong sense of community and the fact that our residents are so engaged and involved. I see the engagement most through our city commissions. This year we’ve had a tremendous influx of new people and new energy. The Council has made the commissions more diverse; we now have a mix of men and women that represents the population. We’ve created a new commission, the Public Arts Commission, specifically to focus on public arts projects.
When I think of what makes us special, I have to mention our traditions like the Tournament of Roses float and 4th of July Festival of Balloons. Those are entirely volunteer operations and they only happen because volunteers are willing to step up. Some of the long-time volunteers are getting older and can’t put in the time they once did, so I’ve been encouraging our younger residents to get involved. It’s a rewarding way to give back to the community and help these beautiful traditions continue for the next generation.
- What would enhance the city even more?
Even though the City has made a lot of progress on environmental issues, there’s much more to be done. We are working on a Climate Action Plan to help identify priorities moving forward. I want to expand our partnerships with businesses and create recognition programs for our green business leaders. We can do even more when it comes to water conservation. Even though we are a small city, we can be a regional and state example of a city that’s addressing environmental issues in a sustainable way.
- Perhaps the biggest complaint heard from residents is the condition of the roads. How are you doing on that front?
This was certainly a key concern several years ago, but I don’t hear it as much anymore. And there’s a good reason for that: About a decade ago the Council began making strategic investments to improve our roads, streets, sidewalks and other infrastructure. In addition to grants spending, we’ve invested $2 million a year from our general fund for the past several years to bring up the condition of our roads. I think you can really see the difference. We’ve invested more in the roads in the past 10 years than in the previous 30 years.
I’d say the biggest complaints I’ve heard is related to roadways involve traffic. But there’s good news: Now that the 710 battle is behind us, we will be getting funds from Caltrans for projects to improve traffic flow and mobility. At the top of the list is a new and improved 110 interchange at Fair Oaks Ave that will alleviate congestion in that area, and projects to improve the flow of traffic on Fremont Ave.
- Is there anything you’d like to say to the residents of South Pasadena?
Just a thank you. Thank you to our residents for creating and supporting an engaged community that values diversity, education, the environment, the arts and our youth. I’m grateful to live here where neighbors understand that it really does “take a village” and grateful for the honor to represent the residents of this great city.