Letter to the Editor | ‘A Tale of Two Cities’

'Last Friday’s press conference wasn’t about transparency. Not a single answer was provided to the actual questions raised by South Pasadena residents over the past weeks'

Letters to the Editor | SouthPasadenan.com News

Over the past few weeks, two very different images of South Pasadena have emerged. City officials characterize our “largely bedroom community,” as a revenue-challenged Mayberry that must work “together in good faith to take advantage of economic development opportunities that are ripe for the picking,” and they have stated that ongoing criticisms from residents could result in a perceived “instability” that will drive much needed investment away. They play on the image of a small-town, Norman Rockwell utopia that, in truth, we are all eager to accept. After all, this tree-lined, walkable, Anywhere USA is the South Pasadena we all moved here for and wish to preserve.

But there is another South Pasadena that was thrust into the social (and now mainstream) media limelight when, in the early hours of October 10th, three police officers showed up to serve a civil warrant at a small home in the Monterey Hills, searching for undisclosed code violations. Over the two weeks since, the community has been quick to raise questions of intimidation, harassment, and abuse of power by the City retaliating against an under-employed, single mother of three who had spoken out at a city council meeting only a few weeks earlier…and who happens to have a civil claim against the City to remediate a significant sewer spill onto her property that occurred January 11, 2018.

The subsequent outcry on social media has called for the City to provide transparency around the mysterious complaints that served as the basis for the warrant issuance. Members on Facebook have called upon the City for transparency regarding the soil samples taken after the sewage eruption, the results of which the City has still failed to release. Residents on Nextdoor have called for transparency into the City’s emergency response plan, or apparent lack thereof. Many have pleaded with the City to “do the right thing” and clean up the mess they left behind. More have raised concerns regarding the apparent weaponization of supposed code violations to silence those critical of the City.

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Meanwhile, the City has adamantly maintained that, due to the ongoing civil litigation, they are unable to discuss any facts involving the sewage claim, nor can they discuss any facts involving the questionable search – despite also stating that the search was purely coincidental and unrelated to the civil claim process.

Or at least that was the City’s official position until it suddenly wasn’t. Last Friday afternoon, and supposedly in response to the increasing public outcry for government transparency, a handful of City officials including the mayor, city manager, and city attorney, held a secret press conference to provide local reporters “their side of the story” which can only be summed up in two short words: Wasn’t me.

Missing from the meeting was any transparency regarding the mysterious inspection warrant, the soil samples, or the emergency response plan that either did not exist or wasn’t followed. Missing from the meeting was Alison Smith or anyone from the public. Missing from the meeting were four of five city council members. Missing from the meeting was a sincere, good faith attempt to do what was right.

So why do these City officials seem so hellbent to railroad a woman who has spent most of the past decade dedicating her life to bring music and dance into the lives and hearts of our children? Perhaps it is because they’ve forgotten they aren’t actually a team. That the City Manager is supposed to steward City administration in the best interests of the people. That the City Attorney is supposed to be independent of the City Council and City Manager, representing the people, not the City. And that the Mayor is a fiduciary, overseeing City officials to ensure they’re acting in the people’s best interests.

Last Friday’s press conference wasn’t about transparency. Not a single answer was provided to the actual questions raised by South Pasadena residents over the past weeks. But it was about pride – City officials publicly throwing a member of the community under the proverbial bus in a vain and poorly executed attempt to save face. Rockwell’s family utopia is quickly being replaced with Dali’s surrealism, and it’s high time we come together as a community to remind the City which South Pasadena we want to live in.

-Stephen Rossi







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  1. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, guess what? It’s most likely A DUCK! City b officials and the SPPD are likely guilty of a lack of bureaucratic transparency, which only serves to fuel the rumor mill. In modern public relations and corporate communications, its generally thought that an organization or person involved in a potentially negatively perceived incident is best served by getting ahead of the story in order to control the narrative to a greater degree. The police department and city officials are reacting ( or not) instead of being proactive and getting their side of the story out there. By continuing to behave in an old fashioned “information guarded” atmosphere, rumors and negative perceptions are perpetuated and the Commentariat goes haywire. Official SP needs to realize it’s not 1946 anymore, and this city’s residents are too media savvy to fall for the silent treatment. Silence on the issues doesn’t lead to re-election very often anymore. Something to ponder at the next non press press conference (and holding it on a late Friday is the oldest trick around; update your playbook, folks).

  2. I understand that this was written by a resident, and not a journalist, but there are certain sections of this letter that I am having a hard time accepting being allowed into the paper. Particularly since an earlier article about this issue had similar sentiments that were indeed written by a newspaper reporter, and that article carried serious bias against city officials of South Pasadena.

    It feels like one slam after the other against the officials of SP, when no one really knows what’s going on except Smith and the City. People writing comments and letters to the editor have already made up their mind that some vindictive event occurred, when in reality, we don’t know what caused the sewage leakage, nor what remedies were offered, accepted, rejected, or not even given.

    It’s being spun like she is a pauper; a single mom making a poverty type income. When in reality, she’s living in a $750k home that she owns with her ex-husband (ex?). Nobody knows what her financial and custodial arrangements are with her ex-husband. It’s suggested in this letter that the City is taking advantage of someone that can barely support herself and her family. I don’t believe that’s a fair assumption, and not fair to the City to be characterized that way.

    Regarding three officers serving the civil search warrant, how come no one can possibly understand that the City may be trying to protect themself as much as possible? Concurrently, the City is being sued for $20M from Vanessa’s Marquez’s family because of whatever transpired at her house. Perhaps the City wanted as many eyes as possible to corroborate that they were professional during the warrant. Having three officers may have insured that they all were following proper protocol; especially since this type of event is atypical for police in SP. How come no one thought of that possibility?

    These are my last two cents:

    A year ago we had asked the City to trim an oak tree that is partly on our property, and partly in the City alley. We took copious notes about City representatives stating the tree belonged to the City and the City is responsible for trimming the tree. Fast forward a year later, we were finally ready to actually set up the tree trimming (I don’t remember why we lagged with getting the trimming done. Maybe because I just had baby #2). The City said they had to come out again and inspect the tree. This time, the City said the tree belonged to us and WE were responsible. We hemmed and hawed and showed them notes that Mr. X and Mr. Y said the tree belonged to the City, and the City should trim it. Long story short, we had to pay $1,000 to trim OUR tree.

    Were we annoyed? Yes.

    Does the City have the best notekeeping? Didn’t seem that way. Hopefully, it’s improved.

    However….. all the city officials were professional and courteous and accommodating. They offered to waive the permit fees for the tree trimming. I also mentioned our alley had many potholes that are dangerous for the kids that live here and ride their scooters/bikes. They sent someone the next day to fill in the holes. The next day! When our tree trimmer called in, the permit fee was waved and everything went smoothly.

    I’m a homemaker, who does chair massage occasionally. We could’ve spun the story that a mother of two, who makes $5,000 a year, gets jilted by the City of South Pasadena and has to pay 20% of her salary to trim her tree. But, that’s not quite accurate is it?

    We all have a responsibility to try to look at every angle and see everyone’s side of the story in stories that are reported on. I hope whatever is transpiring between Smith and the City is resolved and everyone is reasonably satisfied. I’m sure the situation has been such a headache to deal with.

    I love living in South Pasadena. We’ve been here 15 years. I walk everywhere, as much as I can. I notice places and things that need improvement all the time. I’ve chosen to team up with South Pasadena Beautiful and help out where I can. I pick up trash as often as I can when I walk. I try to shop local if I can. I do small things and I try to have empathy for others. My hopes are in this polarizing issue that we can empathize with each side and try to help out where we can.

  3. Amen. The city is treating Ms. Smith like she’s living in a run-down hovel populated by squatters and running a meth lab in the basement. But she just a nice single lady with three children trying to live her life who happened to have a sewage spill in her yard. The city’s response to her request to cover the costs of the massive sewage spill that she was told by the city workers at the time was the result of a clog in the city’s line, has been mean, vicious, dishonest, and outrageous. This is not a systemic problem. This is the result of people in charge abusing the power of the city to accomplish objectives that make no sense. As a very prominent member of the community recently said in a public meeting, this won’t change until these people are removed.