SPEF | Editorial: PartiGras Event in The Crosshairs of The City Council

Unprecedented: City Council initially voted to charge SPEF $20,000 for the use of the Golf Course, then reduced the fee for this year only.

PHOTO: South Pasadena City Council Meeting Live Feed | SPEF President Emilia Aldana giving public comment March 20, 2024 about how the PartiGras event benefits the city, residents, businesses, parents, and students.
PHOTO: South Pasadena City Council Meeting Live Feed | SPEF President Emilia Aldana giving public comment March 20, 2024 about how the PartiGras event benefits the city, residents, businesses, parents, and students.

The City of South Pasadena is now operating with a structural deficit, re-confirmed by finance reports given at the last City Council meeting by what is now the 7th contracted finance consultant: NHA Advisors.  The city is short about $2 Million Dollars – yearly.  The reason and the correction for the systemic spending issues is still being hotly debated – pathways to solutions are being hammered out.

Now: City Hall is aiming a substantial fee schedule at nonprofits & sports organizations.

It started at the Feb.21, 2024 City Council Meeting with councilmembers abruptly, after discussion, approving a $20,000 Golf Course use fee for a one-day event, that includes 1/2-day of setup and 1/2-day of breakdown of the PartiGras; South Pasadena Educational Foundation’s largest fundraising event of the year.

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The City of South Pasadena has been a partnered sponsor of the event, providing the South Pasadena Golf Course as a venue for many years, until now.

PHOTO: South Pasadena City Council Meeting Live Feed | City Manager Arminé Chaparyan informs the city council that there will be an exploration and assessment of all public city services and venue fees coming up.

Longtime councilmember Michael Cacciotti, while a supporter of SPEF, did argue and push for a fee that is comparable to the size of the event, at least to cover cover the costs to the city in the way of labor and lost Golf Course business.

SPEF leadership is quick to note that the driving range and put-put golf areas are not apart of the event, and open for business. Also, the SPEF leadership is not opposed to the idea of a fee, as long as it’s fair, manageable, and there is time to integrate the additional expense into the planning.

Nevertheless, the $20,000 fee decision came as a shock to SPEF and the community.

After the Feb.21 council decision, SPEF leadership, as well as many concerned residents, urged city hall to revisit the decision. The reconsideration was put back on the agenda. At the city council meeting on March 20, 2024 – four weeks later, the fee was ultimately reduced to $5,000 after 40 minutes of discussion and public comments.

Not all agreed with the decision.

The fee was passed through by Michael Cacciotti, Dist. 4, Mayor Evelyn Zneimer, Dist. 1, and Jack Donovan, Dist. 2.

Councilmember Jon Primuth moved to waive the fee for this year, seconded by Councilmember Janet Braun.  Both pointed out that a $5,000 fee is a somewhat random amount not based on proper analysis, and would barely make any difference to the city’s multi-million dollar deficit, and the funds would be best left to SPEF to fund programs, at least for this year.  Braun went further to remind the council that there are ballot measures coming, and this was a “…charge poorly thought through…”  Braun and Primuth voted ‘no’ on the fee.

Emilia Adana, President of S.P.E.F., give public comment at the Mar.20, 2024 city council meeting.

Councilmember Jack Donovan proposed the $5,000 fee.  “…A one time shot, this year then reviewed on a yearly basis…”.  Then – it might be $20,000 later.  After pushback from Braun and Primuth, Donovan responded that this year’s fee is important “…to send a message…”

Jack Donovan, Councilmember and Mayor Pro-tem, proposing a $5,000 for the SPEF PartiGras event.

Some in the community have argued that SPEF “…would do a lot more to benefit the students of South Pasadena than the city could do at the golf course with the fee amount of any size.”

There was feedback form several community members to The South Pasadenan that this kind of a fee amounts to a ‘hidden tax’, due to the non-profit/donations nature of the event.  Also, that “…it doesn’t seem fair to make the SPEF event pay for the city’s mismanaged finances that caused the finance crisis to begin with.”

About the organization: SPEF is a volunteer 501(c)3 non-profit that relies on this yearly event, donations from South Pasadena businesses, services providers, and most importantly: thousands of residents.  The funds raised go directly to support the South Pasadena Unified School District (SPUSD). Thousands of students have directly benefited from the community driven work of SPEF over the years.  According to GuidStar, SPEF has an efficiency rating that averages about 85%, meaning only 15% of funds are used on the administration of the programs.

The March 20, 2024 council meeting can be viewed online on the City of South Pasadena’s web site: CLICK HERE



More about SPEF: (from their official reporting profile – on GuideStar)

“In 1979, in response to educational budget conditions not unlike those faced today, a group of concerned parents and community leaders formed SPEF. Incorporated as a 501(c)(3) charity in 1980, SPEF was designated by the South Pasadena Unified School District (SPUSD) as the official private fund-raising organization for the support of the district’s educational programs.

Over three decades, SPEF has raised over $12 million to provide much-needed support to South Pasadena students in educational areas including academics, books and technology, library support, visual and performing arts, foreign languages, science, character education, critical thinking, career center, staff development, counseling, and athletics.

Donations to SPEF support all five of South Pasadena’s public schools: Arroyo Vista, Marengo, Monterey Hills, South Pasadena Middle School, and South Pasadena High School. SPEF works to bridge the gap between what SPUSD students need and what they receive from the state.”

SPEF programs include: Afterschool, Summer School, 5th Grade Musical, Camps, Food for Thought, Parti Gras, Fall Fund Drive, the Business Alliance.