Dr. Marina Khubesrian likes a catchy phrase attributed to the City of South Pasadena, sharing it to illustrate the community’s feisty spirit during her State of the City address at the War Memorial Building earlier this week.
Before stepping aside as mayor, Khubesrian, who has now handed off the distinguished role to Robert Joe with Diana Mahmud serving as mayor pro-tem, highlighted some major city accomplishments over the past 12 months, opening her remarks by characterizing the town she represents as “a scrappy little city that gets a lot done.”
It sure does, as outlined in her comprehensive message, one bystander witnessing the event quietly telling another when it was all over, “Wow, I didn’t know we did all of that.”
Indeed the city did, as the mayor pulled no punches, coming out swinging with a narrative that kept the crowd of some 200 captivated as she answered the bell with a knockout speech, outlining the city’s achievements with support from a PowerPoint full of photos, suggesting at one point with a laugh: “If you see yourself, it’s okay, give a little applause.”
She opened by telling audience members the city tackles key issues, because “we know how to leverage our resources and our regional partnerships,” as an appreciative crowd took it all in, most sticking around to hear her remarks following the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce’s annual holiday party.
To make the city go, Khubesrian says emphasis has been placed on excellence, professionalism, and inclusivity at the city level over the past year. “When we focus on excellence and professionalism we have the right team to get more done,” she said. “We talk about inclusivity by bringing in more multigenerational perspectives, which allows us to solve problems.”
In her mind, South Pasadena is a city that proudly gives back through activism and volunteerism, leads the region in many areas, is well run, safe, clean, a great place to start a business, and community-driven – all of which she drove home during her reflections on the past year.
Under the theme, “South Pasadena Gives Back Through Activism,” Khubesrian praised the youth of the city, recognizing activism by teens who want to make a difference, and the city’s Youth Commission for engaging in government at an early age.
Through activism, she noted a tradition of tree planting in the memory of loved ones will continue. The project is a reminder of those who have passed and helps to maintain the city’s tree planting canopy in the wake of climate change.
A new group, Transition South Pasadena, was launched and supported South Pasadena Beautiful’s Repair Café event last summer, in which volunteers restored items like household appliances, preventing them from winding up in landfills.
South Pasadena Beautiful was also recognized by the mayor for its efforts to beautify outside the city’s post office by raising $35,000 for new landscaping as volunteers willingly performed the labor.
Regional social activism, including the Armenian National Committee of the Americas, personal to Khubesrian, and generations of 710 Freeway fighters, who ultimately won out ending the 60-year threat of a surface freeway and underground tunnel carrying millions of cars through the city were also cited by the mayor for their courageous efforts.
“Everyone of those folks is a hero in this community,” said Khubesrian of those who make change through activism.
In her next segment, “South Pasadena Gives Back Through Volunteerism,” the mayor thanked a myriad of individuals and organizations helping those at risk, homeless, or in need of a guiding hand. She acknowledged Shower of Hope, which sets up a mobile unit at Holy Family Church every Wednesday, providing showers, clothing, while giving renewed confidence to those receiving care.
Khubesrian expressed her support of the South Pasadena Senior Center, talking about the many volunteers, council members and city staff who engage the elder community at events like the recent Thanksgiving luncheon at the War Memorial Building and dinner for the homeless, hosted by nonprofit Union Station Homeless Services, in neighboring Pasadena.
“We were blessed to be serving this meal and it was very touching,” Khubesrian said about the experience of helping the less fortunate outside the city limits.
Volunteerism runs deep when the mayor talks about the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses, which she serves as a liaison to, noting that the organization was dealt a major blow a couple of months ago with the loss of Paul Abbey, a huge contributor who passed away following a heart attack. “That group of volunteers is really, really special,” she said. “They work long and hard. Paul is a really special person. He’s been instrumental of this float for many, many years.”
Abbey’s passion to help went far beyond the city’s float as he also contributed countless hours to the South Pasadena High Booster Club, Tiger Bingo, the Chamber of Commerce and Kiwanis Club. Cathy Abbey, Paul’s wife, was on hand to accept a certificate of recognition by the City of South Pasadena in memory of her husband.
The mayor also recognized the work of the Institute for the Redesign of Learning Transition and Adult Services as the second largest employer in the City of South Pasadena with about 315 people working for the institution that provides services to people with developmental disabilities such as down syndrome and autism. “Job coaches and instructors work with them in the community and help them work towards self-sufficiency, obtain job skills, and employment to achieve some financial independence,” said Kubesrian, who introduced Shawn Prokopec, Nita Davis, Georgina Hernandez and Karissa Tressa to accept the recognition for the work they do in the South Pasadena community.
In her next segment, “South Pasadena Leads the Region,” Khubesrian talked about regional leadership the city continues to make, again highlighting the effort to eliminate the threat of the 710 Freeway and tunnel extension through the city.
“This year we saw some very significant milestones,” she said, mentioning the certification of the final EIR and two major legislative bills that ultimately delivered the death blow to the 710 Freeway. “These regional partnerships are super important.”
Touching on transportation, Khubesrian said the city has brought in $100 million for traffic mitigation through Measure M, a sales tax measure approved by county voters in 2016 set to generate $120 billion over 40 years for expansion of rail, rapid bus travel, and bike networks.
“We continue to advocate for multi-model transportation in the region,” said Khubesrian.
The South Pasadena City Council recently dealt with the housing crisis plaguing many renters by passing an emergency moratorium on evictions. The council chambers recently filled as many residents were faced with evictions just prior to the holiday season. “The community just came together enmasse to say, ‘We do not want our neighbors to be evicted right before the holidays.’”
A first, the City of South Pasadena was the host city for the 17th Convening of Mayors in Los Angeles County. Every six months a city is chosen to be a host, and areas of regional concern – like earthquake preparedness – were discussed. Khubesrian gave a talk on employee wellness, taking in consideration the merits of the City of South Pasadena’s four-day work week, a supportive workplace and seeking good health as a means of focusing on employee’s well-being.
Building strong relationships with regional partners, including state legislative leaders like State Senator Anthony Portantino and Assemblyman Chris Holden, Congresswoman Judy Chu and L.A. County Board of Supervisor Kathryn Barger are also key to a successful local government said the mayor during her city address.
In talking about the area regarding South Pasadena being well-run, Khubesrian thanked committee members who helped the passage of Measure A, the three-quarter of a cent sales tax increase approved at the ballot box in November. Increased dollars will allow for competitive salaries to employees and maintain programs and services in every city department.
In February, the city switched to 100 percent renewable power for residential customers, Khubesrian thanking South Pasadena City Councilmemer Diana Mahmud for her efforts to launch Clean Power Alliance service in the city. In addition the city installed its first Evgo fast charger station, the mayor noting she’s now driving an electric Volt car around town.
A $2.5 million water treatment facility has been built, providing “cleaner water,” said Khubesrian, before saying that the city has invested in $15 million in street repairs this year and adopted a Green Action Plan and launched Climate Action Plan, paying strict attention to the environment.
Khubesrian said the city has built a strong leadership team and invested in employee morale. A employee leadership program has been established at city hall. “Staff from one department will spend some time, a half of day, at another department,” she said. “It’s good crosstraining for them so they understand how other departments work. They love it and want to do more of it.”
She then shifted gears, showing a slide indicating: South Pasadena is a Great Place to Run a Business, before showing pictures of numerous grand opening ribbon cutting pictures, along with new and important organizations in town, including Ace Hardware, Mamma’s Brick Oven Pizza, Berry Opera, V Spa, Jones Coffee, Dual Crossroads, the Institute of the Redesign of Learning Transition and Adult Services, Clean Bubbles Laundromat, Lost Parrot Café, Square Deal Barbershop, Adobe Design.
A special salute was made to singer/songwriter Brad Colerick for hosting Wine & Song performances now for 10 years, Khubesrian noting with a laugh that he’s “the nighttime mayor of South Pasadena,” adding, “he deserves it.”
The mayor also recognized David Plenn for his 25 years of operating the Dinosaur Farm on Mission Street. “I hope the store will be around for another 25 years,” said Khubesrian. “Super proud of the Dinosaur Farm. Not easy to keep a brick and mortar shop going for that long.”
Some big projects are in the pipeline, Khubesrian telling the gathering that a mixed-use housing and retail project is in the works at Mission Street and Fairview Avenue; revovation of an intersection where Citizen Bank was once located is currently underway; a new restaurant is under construction at 625 Fair Oaks Avenue; Carrows has been sold for a record price and a new residential project is slated on El Centro Street.
The gateway to South Pasadena City Hall is now full of art as part of gallery featuring artists in and outside the city. The city also has its own poet laureatte as Ron Koetge wrote the “Ode to South Pasadena.” Arts and culture are in full bloom city wide through the Eclectic Music Festival, which drew about 15,000 people to the city last spring, along with three successful Arts Crawls throughout the year.
In her final section, “South Pasadena is a Safe, Clean and Community-Driven City,” is where residents go out have “fun and feel safe doing it,” she said.
New leadership saw more gender equity and inclusiveness of women, going from 32 percent to 52 percent on commissions in 2019. A Commissioners Congress was held, bringing all commissions together under one room on one night to highlight each one’s achievements.
Community outreach efforts were made as the mayor and city manager held events where members of the community were invited to join them for coffee and share their thoughts on various topics going on in the city.
Stressing that “we take public health seriously,” the city held a mosquito abatement outreach effort – “South Pasadena Bites Back” – as a threat of disease from invasive aedes species were present, leaving many residents found themselves doing plenty of scratching scratching.
Not a nuisance were a large number of goats to a South Pasadena hillside that helped to eat away a fire hazard.
“It’s all about the kids,” continued Khubesrian, talking about the array of recreational opportunities provided to children through Little League and AYSO and YMCA basketball. National Night Out, an evening of fun and games involving members of the South Pasadena police and fire departments at Orange Grove Park was recognized by the mayor, along with the July 4th pancake breakfast hosted by the local Kiwanis Club.
“We keep these traditons going because it’s important to us,” said the mayor, who gave her State of the City twice, the first time on Tuesday after the chamber holiday mixer and again as part of Wednesday’s regularly scheduled council meeting at City Hall when Joe and Mahmud were selected by their peers to guide the city as mayor and mayor pro tem, respectively.
Showing a slide of South Pasadena Police and Fire Department officials, Khubesrian let the roomful of guests know that “we take safety seriously,’ noting that the SPPD and SPFD are at full staff.
Ending her State of the City, the mayor said, “Thank you to everyone who participates, who volunteers, represents, works hard for this community because that’s how we make this small city do so much and be able to lead the region. It’s through partnerships internally, externally, through cooperation and it’s really tapping as much variety and diversity and talent as we possible can. I am just so fortunate to have this opportunity to be the mayor of South Pasadena this past year. It has been a year of transitions, for sure. We’ve had some ups and downs. When you step back and look at where we’ve been, where we’re going, we are making a difference every single day, not only in the lives of our community members but leading the region so that can help other cities on things we know are important to do.”