Op-Ed | $5 Million for South Pasadena – What Say You

Budget South Pasadena 2021
PHOTO: Justin Wells | SouthPasadenan.com News | Aerial view of Mission Street with Metro Gold Line in South Pasadena

By Care First

The City of South Pasadena has an amazing opportunity—in the form of $5 million from the federal government—to make significant improvements in its residents’ lives. Yet, it is unnecessarily rushing through the process in a very short-sighted way. Unchecked, this approach will cause the city to lose out on opportunities to support South Pasadenans struggling in the aftermath of the pandemic.

The City is proposing to use $5 million in federal COVID relief funds solely for new equipment and infrastructure improvements. We do not seek to block such improvements. But the city has healthy coffers to draw from, with almost $80 million of unspent money collected from taxpayers and from various state grant programs.

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Congress passed the American Rescue Plan in 2021 to help the nation recover from the COVID pandemic, including by providing funds to state and local governments. The final federal rule implementing the COVID recovery funds explains that, despite some economic bounce back, “many Americans remain unemployed, out of the labor force, or unable to pay their bills, with this pain particularly acute among lower-income Americans and communities of color.”

A database compiled by National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties, and Brookings Metro shows that, so far, in aggregate, 151 local governments have allocated 12.5% of the Rescue Plan money to housing initiatives and 12.3% to community aid. These governments have allocated only 11.9% to infrastructure. Many governments have proposed cash aid, rental assistance, eviction defense, free meal programs, utility debt forgiveness, and programs to expand the availability of affordable housing. Nearby Santa Ana will spend $1 million for outreach services to people experiencing homelessness and to redirect 911 calls to mental health workers.

The federal government allocated $6.059 million to South Pasadena.

The City has already spent approximately $1 million on COVID emergency response. It has until 2026 to spend the rest. Small cities have maximum flexibility to spend the money as they see fit. However, in contrast to other cities, South Pasadena is proposing to spend its $5 million on equipment and IT systems, including $70,000 for the Police Department to purchase new tasers.

The City has not considered the needs of the 53% of South Pasadenans who are renters. It has not consulted low- and moderate-income South Pasadenans about how to use the funding, even though a key goal of the American Recovery Act is to assist individuals struggling with economic insecurity.

We don’t know why the City wants to use all the COVID recovery money for infrastructure and IT projects in a year when it is projected to have a general fund cash balance of $23.5 million, plus an additional $56.9 million in unspent reserve funds. For example, the City has offered no explanation as to why the Police Department—budgeted to receive $10.68 million, the most of any City department—cannot purchase new tasers without using COVID recovery funds.

What we do know is that the only thing that will stop City Hall is vocal opposition by South Pasadenans who care about affordable housing, housing insecure renters, homelessness, and shoring up child care options. Speak up at the City Council meeting on June 15, 2022. Tell the City to go back to the drawing board—this time in consultation with residents.