I meet the Mayor at the Gold Line as he gets off the train with his bicycle, as he does every day. It’s a familiar sight; our Mayor, Michael Cacciotti, riding his bike through town. He works full time as the Deputy Attorney General in the State Attorney General’s office downtown while simultaneously serving on the South Coast Air Quality Management District board and as our incredibly active Mayor. But how many of us really know who our Council Members are? We decided to dig a little deeper with our Mayor in a SouthPasadenan three part series.
Although Mayor Michael Cacciotti was actually born in Santa Monica, he grew up in upstate New York in an Italian neighborhood where his grandparents lived. His father was a struggling actor as well as a dancer on Broadway (see? Who knew?). After his parents divorced, his mother raised Michael and his two brothers as a single Mom in Miami, Florida and Michael helped raise his younger siblings. Cacciotti attended Catholic high school and college where initially he majored in religious studies at St. Thomas University as he considered the priesthood. Instead he became one of the youngest high school teachers in the United States and one of the youngest high school and college soccer coaches in the nation at age 20. His senior year of college he went to school at night and during the day he taught theology, meditation, prayer and coached football and soccer at the local Catholic high school. He then became the soccer coach at his University for four years.
Fulfilling a desire to reconnect with his father, Cacciotti came back to his birthplace in California after completing his masters degree in sports administration with the idea of being a national league soccer coach. He then went to law school at Whittier College School of Law and finally passed the California bar exam after several attempts (California’s bar is notoriously difficult). On his first try, he says “only 23% passed and I was among the 77% who didn’t. The year I passed there was a 50% passage rate and happily, I was among them.” During that time, Cacciotti began to get into the political arena by working as an assistant to the Speaker Pro-Tem, Mike Roos, in the State Assembly, where they worked on the 710 issues among other things. After Roos resigned, Cacciotti then became the Deputy Attorney for CalTrans for ten years.
Which brings us to Cacciotti moving to South Pasadena in 1992 when he became even more aware of how the 710 and other environmental issues impacted our city. He has lived in a few different areas of South Pas through the years going from renting to home ownership and moving a few times. He was involved with Parks and Rec as well as coaching AYSO and while searching for more practice space, Cacciotti stumbled on what is now the Pasadena Arroyo Seco Wildlife and Woodland Park. At the time it was just a big, four acre space that was just an unused “dump” of an area. He found out the city was planning on selling it to a company that was going to build on it and Cacciotti decided he couldn’t allow that to happen.
“I told them, ‘you can’t do this. It’s a beautiful open space on the banks of the Arroyo.’ I was still relatively new to the city so I started talking to people and got close to Ellen Daigle and Yvonne Pine and we organized to protect and save that park.” He goes on to say “we organized for two years, marched on City Hall, testified at City Hall and wrote letters to then State Senator, Adam Schiff, asking for money.
“Adam came through with a ¼ million dollar grant to fix up the park and create what we have now, a four acre nature park where people can walk their dogs, people can birdwatch, school kids can come down and observe nature. We have everything that grows along water; oak woodland, beautiful chaparral and sycamore trees, little animals and birds.”
The fight to create and preserve the Arroyo Seco Wildlife and Woodland Park is what led friends to talk to Cacciotti about running for City Council saying they wanted and needed someone who would fight for preservation of the historic parts of our city and open spaces. “So that’s why I ran for City Council. I wanted to preserve what I loved about this small town. It reminded me of the small towns where I grew up in Florida and upstate New York,” says Cacciotti.
He says his passion for being a steward of the environment is just something he seems to have been born with. He remembers, as a child, re-using his lunchbags over and over because “I just felt guilty about using a bag and throwing it away. Even though I’m a Roman Catholic, I’m open to all faiths and something that I think pervades all faiths is respect for the world, nature and our resources. I feel we’re stewards for the next generation.”
Watch this space for part 2, where we get into Mayor Cacciotti’s continued personal green trajectory as well as South Pasadena’s journey to becoming the nation’s first AGZA Green Zone City.