Beating the odds

Cancer survivor Gerald Freeny becomes the first black president of the Tournament of Roses

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 2/1/2018

Gerald Freeny of Altadena made history on Jan. 19 when the Tournament of Roses Association announced that Freeny will serve as the first African-American president of the 123-year-old organization, presiding over the 130th Rose Parade and the 105th Rose Bowl Game on Jan. 1 under the theme “The Melody of Life.”

Until recently, the Tournament had long struggled with the image that it was an exclusive organization run almost entirely by white men. An African American had never served in the organization’s senior staff until 2015, when a senior director of community relations position was created, and there have only been four African-American Rose Queens. It took decades of lobbying and protesting for the Tournament to change its diversity and inclusion policies.

Although Freeny’s presidency was announced last week, the Tournament has a seven-year succession path for its presidents and he was actually elected on Jan. 6, 2011 by the 14-member Executive Committee, the Tournament’s decision-making body consisting of seven future presidents, the current president, the immediate past president, and five rotational “at-large” members. These five seats must be held by racial and gender minorities who get a vote but are not in line to become president like the others and only serve for two years.

The at-large members were added to the Executive Committee as a compromise following protests in 1992-93 led by local developer Jim Morris and newspaper publishers Joe Hopkins and Danny Bakewell, who is also a developer. They blocked traffic with vehicles on South Orange Grove Boulevard in front of Tournament House in fall 1993 to protest the organization’s lack of diversity.

Freeny, 57, was one of the first people chosen to be an at-large member when it was created in 1993. He served from 1993-95, having started as a volunteer with the organization in 1988.

“Being one of the early at-large members gave Gerald the opportunity to be seen on the Executive Committee,” said Ronald Okum, who served as president in 2002 and mentored Freeny.

A cancer survivor, Freeny attended Cal State LA and graduated in 1983 with a degree in business administration and a minor in finance. In addition to his lung cancer, Freeny also had two liver transplants and a kidney transplant. He lives in Altadena with his wife Trina and their daughter Erica. Freeny is a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi and Gamma Zeta Boulé of Sigma Pi Phi fraternities and the First Historic Lutheran Church.

Lessons of Little Rock

In the late 1990s, the Tournament hired consultant Dr. Terrence Roberts — one of the Little Rock Nine who was among the first black students to attend an all-white high school in Arkansas in 1957 through the protection of federal troops — to work with its members and staff in helping them “address complaints from various public and private individuals, organizations, corporations, and municipalities that they were essentially a ‘Whites Only’ organization,” according to Roberts’ consulting  business website.

“I told them, ‘Consider this: You’ve got a bunch of old white guys driving around in white suits, now what message does that send? Literally,’” said Roberts, who has lived in Pasadena since 1985, referring to the 935 volunteers who dress in all-white suits on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. “They were a little aghast, as you might expect. I said, ‘What we need to do is help you develop a greater sense of awareness about what’s going on here. You need to have a historical dimension so you understand why people are even considering making noise about you. You’re not just an occasional thorn in the flesh here. You are representative of what this country has stood for, for too long.’”

Volunteers serve on one of 31 operating committees to help organize and pull off the parade and game, such as the Equestrian Committee, the Parade Operations Committee, the Float Construction Committee, and so on. To move up, exemplary volunteers get promoted to vice chair and then chair of a committee. Among the 31 committee chairs, 16 are considered “director-chairs.” Among those 16, about five have seniority, and candidates to become members of the Executive Committee — and thus a future president — are typically chosen from this pool. It usually takes about 20 to 25 years of volunteer service to the organization to reach this level. This is Freeny’s 30th year with the organization.

Once a person is voted onto the Executive Committee, they are considered a vice president. After serving four consecutive years, they ascend to the office of secretary in the fifth year, treasurer in the sixth year, executive vice president in the seventh year, and then president in the eighth year. That person serves one more year on the Executive Committee after their presidency, and then they are rotated off and become known as a “life director.” The organization’s largely ceremonial Board of Directors is made up of all living past presidents/life directors.

A historic moment

Craig Washington, father of 2012 Rose Queen Drew Washington, former chair of the city of Pasadena’s Northwest Commission and director-chair of the Tournament’s Equestrian Committee, served on the Tournament’s Executive Committee as an at-large member from 2009-11, helping to lay the groundwork for Freeny’s election.

“My task was in whatever way possible to influence in a positive way Gerald’s ascension as a candidate to be elected,” said Washington. “I made a strong lobbying push by spending time with Executive Committee members, talking with them, listening to them, and getting straight to the point, asking, ‘Why hasn’t Gerald been selected? What are the concerns?’”

Freeny’s name had been brought up as a possible new presidential candidate a few times in the years prior to his actual election, but he had thus far been passed up.

The 14 members of the Executive Committee vote using an electronic tool. Everyone presses a button and the results pop up on a screen as a bar graph. With Freeny and other candidates nominated, the first round of balloting began in early January 2011. Washington expected a split result, and thus subsequent rounds of voting that he feared could last a long time.

The members cast their secret electronic votes and the results popped up on the screen. It was a clear majority for Freeny.

“I looked up at the screen and damn near cried,” said Washington. “It was his time.”

Shutting down Millionaire’s Row

Long before the Tournament did the right thing and elected an African American as a future president for the first time, racial tensions were heating up in early 1990s Los Angeles. The Tournament still did not have diverse leadership at that time, even though the African-American community had been demanding they diversify as early as the 1960s.

“African Americans were in no way positioned to be in leadership because of the structure of the organization,” said Washington. “In order for you to become a member at the time you had to be recommended by existing Tournament members. Well, geez, there were no African-American Tournament members, so the little circle just kept going. You’d never get recommended to come into this association.”

In December 1992, racial tensions were so high that Tournament officials agreed to create a new Ethnic Diversity Committee to recruit minority volunteers, expand cultural diversity and reach out to community and political leaders. The president that year, Gary Hayward, issued a statement saying the committee’s task would be in keeping with “our longstanding tradition of conducting our all-volunteer efforts on the highest order of fairness and equality.”

However, that same week, Hayward said in an interview with the Pasadena Star-News that promoting minorities who did not have seniority would “destroy morale” among the membership. Adding insult to injury, then-Tournament Executive Director John H. B. “Jack” French added, “It will never happen.”

Critics called the comments racist, a characterization that Hayward takes issue with.

“I don’t like getting called a bigot,” he said. “I’m not a bigot. It’s amazing that somebody would call somebody they don’t even know a bigot, and call an organization racial and bigoted. They didn’t even know the organization; they were just making a lot of noise to get their name in the paper. The Tournament wasn’t a good old boys club. That’s what was so funny. The only restrictions Tournament had at the time were to live or work within a 15-mile radius of Tournament House. That was it. There was no restriction on race, color, creed, female, or whatever. Tradition is what it was.”

Members of Pasadena’s African-American community, however, argued that progress was moving too slowly and that they were not receiving the same opportunities that white men were within the organization.

As the Tournament began ramping up activities for the upcoming parade on Jan. 1, 1994, Morris and Bakewell decided it was time to shake things up at the Tournament in a big and visible way.

Shortly before 11 a.m. on Oct. 21, 1993, Morris drove a rented Ryder truck and Bakewell drove a Lincoln Town Car to Wrigley Mansion, home of the Tournament of Roses Association on South Orange Grove Boulevard. They positioned their vehicles across the four lanes so that traffic coming from both directions was blocked, just as Tournament members were attempting to arrive for the coronation ceremonies of Rose Queen Erica Beth Brynes of Arcadia. Chaos ensued.

“It was absolutely fabulous, because at that time we knew that we could really move this forward for change,” said Morris. “If you look at the demonstrations that took place in the South, the only reason why they were able to make progress is because of demonstrations. We felt that if we backed down there would never be a Gerald Freeny.”

Dozens of demonstrators gathered on the sidewalk in front of Tournament House holding signs and demanding the organization diversify its leadership and membership. Tournament members verbally clashed with protesters, with one elderly woman reportedly shouting at protesters, “I could kill you,” according to a Los Angeles Times report at the time. Another member told a pregnant protester, “Shut up, you tramp.”

“We want to transform the Tournament of Roses into something truly representative of the community,” Bakewell told a Times reporter at the scene.

Police eventually called in the S. N. Ward & Son towing company, which was owned by then-Tournament President Michael Ward and contracted with the city, to tow the vehicles away.

Eventually, Tournament officials agreed to add five “at-large” seats to the Executive Committee consisting of minority members of the local community. Critics called it tokenism, because although those five people would have the same voting rights and privileges as the original nine members of the committee, they were not in line to be president of the organization like the others.

“You were there to voice your opinions with regards to the community, with regards to speaking for the common member,” Freeny said. “At-large members had every right as an individual who was in line to be president, so that means we had a vote on all issues, and we were invited to all events, but we weren’t in line to be president.”

Still, Washington pointed out, “That was a significant change in the organizational structure, in growing this Executive Committee, which created all the policies.”

Progress made

Freeny and Okum recently agreed that the Tournament has progressed in the years since Bakewell, Morris and others shut down Millionaire’s Row. Women and nonblack minorities have served as president in recent years.

“It is a very diversified organization, and I think when that happens you don’t have the sameness we had from years ago where everybody was white, everybody had the same socioeconomic background,” said Okum, adding that several African Americans are moving up through the ranks and that another African American is expected to be voted onto the Executive Committee in the next few years.

“The diversity is not even an issue anymore,” Okum said. “It’s a different organization from the diversity standpoint than it was 20 years ago.”

Saving American democracy

Patrisse Khan-Cullors explains why Black Lives Matter in a powerful memoir with asha bandele, When They Call You a Terrorist

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 1/18/2018

As the city of Pasadena deals with the fallout over the use-of-force incident in which Pasadena police officers beat a young African-American man named Chris Ballew on Nov. 9, Patrisse Khan-Cullors has released her timely and powerful memoir about co-founding Black Lives Matter and, in part, denouncing police brutality and calling for independent, community-led police auditors.

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir is a deeply personal exploration of Khan-Cullors’ life, from her hardscrabble upbringing in Van Nuys and the trauma of watching her pre-teen brothers being arrested for doing nothing to her exploration of her sexuality (she identifies as queer but had a couple of meaningful heterosexual relationships throughout her life). She describes bonding with her father and the pain of losing him too early, first to drugs and jail and then ultimately to death.

The book weaves her often painful personal and family history into the larger class and racial struggles taking place in Los Angeles in the 1980s and ’90s. From an early age, she learned that the police were not looking out for her or her family’s best interests.

“For my brothers, learning that they did not matter, that they were expendable, began in the streets, began while they were hanging out with friends, began while they were literally breathing while Black,” she wrote. “For us, law enforcement had nothing to do with protecting and serving, but controlling and containing the movement of children who had been labeled super-predators simply by virtue of who they were born to and where they were born, not because they were actually doing anything predatory.”

An Unheard Story

The memoir, co-authored by writer and activist asha bandele, with an introduction by activist and scholar Angela Davis, is written poetically, at once calling out the injustices of America while also inspiring hope into a new generation and instilling the fight in those to come. On Friday, Khan-Cullors and bandele launched a 14-city book tour at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles, which was attended by hundreds of people.

“Part of the reason why I wrote this book is because I wanted to have a larger conversation about what it means to grow up black and queer as a woman in Los Angeles, which has been deeply impacted by militant policing and a jail system that is the largest jailor in the world,” said Khan-Cullors. “How does that actually impact black women and young black girls? We haven’t heard a story in that way, because mass incarceration and state violence is so often talked about through the lens of black men. It’s also a coming of age story. It’s about how I became an organizer and eventually how I helped start Black Lives Matter.”

Her work inspired Jasmine Abdullah and Black Lives Matter Pasadena, who have been vocal in opposition to the killings and brutality carried out by the Pasadena Police Department. Khan-Cullors called their work “powerful.”

“Pasadena often reminds me of a small suburb outside of a big city that gets very little attention,” she said. “I remember the very small story about Kendrec McDade’s killing and Reginald Thomas’ killing. Black Lives Matter Pasadena is a lot of young people, 11 year olds and 12 year olds, who are trying to carve out a space for black people in a historically white town.”

The book also lays out the tragedy of Khan-Cullors’ brother Monte, who suffered from schizoaffective disorder but was treated like a criminal and a gang member by the police, who arrested him, charged him with terrorism for yelling after a fender bender, withheld medication from him, beat him and humiliated him in jail, and repeated the process shortly after he was released. His life, like many other young black men before and after him, was never the same, and neither were the lives of his family members, who were forced to be the support network that society denied him.

After reading the 2011 ACLU report detailing the abuse deputies inflicted upon inmates in LA County jails, Khan-Cullors realized that although she and other activists are often called terrorists, it is the police who terrorize black people.

“I am still a teenager when [Monte] is tortured by the LA County Sheriff’s Department,” she wrote. “Torture is planned out and its purpose is to deliberately and systematically dismantle a person’s identity and humanity. It is designed to destroy a sense of community and eliminate leaders and create a climate of fear. Torture is terrorism.”

First and foremost, Khan-Cullors wants people who read the book to realize how resilient black people and other people at the margins of society actually are.

“I want people to see more than just the really tragic stories that I talk about in the book, but also that organizing and activism can actually save American democracy,” she said. “And I want people to see the love that I have and that so many of us have for black people.”

Birth of a Movement

Black Lives Matter was founded in 2013 following the tragic acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. In the wake of the verdict, Khan-Cullors responded to a Facebook post by her friend Alicia with a hashtag that would soon go viral. In response to her friend writing, “Stop saying that we are not surprised. That’s a damn shame in itself. I continue to be surprised at how little Black lives matter. Stop giving up on black life,” Khan-Cullors wrote, “#BlackLivesMatter.” And thus, a movement was born. And Khan-Cullors began organizing.

The movement picked up steam in 2014 following the shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old named Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, by a white officer. With each new killing of an unarmed black person by a white officer across the country, the message that black lives do not matter became further ingrained, Khan-Cullors writes in her memoir, and therefore all the more necessary is the message of Black Lives Matter.

Looking ahead, Khan-Cullors said Black Lives Matter is developing a strategic vision and plan for the next five years.

“Black Lives Matter, the organization, and the larger movement for black lives is in a really powerful moment,” she said. “We are taking stock of the last four and a half years and taking the time to really codify the work that we’ve done. We are in a place where much of our work is about what it takes to build strong institutions that can take on administrations like we have right now under 45.”

She added that President Donald Trump’s recent comments referring to Haiti and African countries as “shitholes” is “absolutely disturbing.”

“The fact that he’s the president is disturbing,” she said. “The reality that he is the president for such a marginal part of our population, and that he really represents the underbelly of American society.”

Closing in

Calling Trump the ‘worst president in modern history,’ Congressman Adam Schiff says evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign is mounting

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 11/30/2017

The investigations into whether President Donald Trump and associates in his campaign and administration colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential election is picking up speed.

Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III has convened a grand jury, indicted former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his aide Rick Gates, obtained a guilty plea from Trump foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos and begun interviewing Trump’s top aides in the White House.

Meanwhile, Republican leaders in Congress have said they are aiming to wrap up the congressional investigations in the House and Senate by February. Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), who represents a portion of Pasadena and is the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, thinks that timeframe is much too soon, as there are still more witnesses to interview and evidence to review.

Trump and the White House frequently criticize Schiff for doing many media interviews about the investigation. On July 24, Trump wrote on Twitter, “Sleazy Adam Schiff, the totally biased congressman looking into ‘Russia,’ spends all of his time on television pushing the Dem loss excuse!”

Schiff responded by tweeting, “With respect Mr. President, the problem is how often you watch TV, and that your comments and actions are beneath the dignity of the office.”

On Nov. 1, during a House Intelligence Committee hearing, Schiff laid out the evidence for Trump-Russia collusion so far, saying, “What is clear is this: the Kremlin repeatedly told the campaign it had dirt on Clinton and offered to help it, and at least one top Trump official, the president’s own son, accepted.”

Schiff recently spoke with the Pasadena Weekly about the Russia investigation.

Pasadena Weekly: Where does the House Intelligence Committee investigation stand? Where are you in the process and what’s to come?

Congressman Adam Schiff: We continue to make progress and have multiple witnesses coming in each week. We continue to learn new and important information about what the Russians did and how they did it, and in particular about contacts between the Russians and Trump campaign that bear further investigation. I’m limited in what I can discuss. Donald Trump Jr. revealed some of his direct messages on Twitter to WikiLeaks, and this is significant. Of course, he did it only because they were about to be published, which is similar to when he released his emails about the meeting at Trump Tower. But what is significant about them is if you look at the timetable, on June 9, 2016, Don Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner take a meeting with intermediaries from Russia who have been promising dirt as part of what they describe as a Russian government effort to help the Trump campaign, and there are two messages that the Trump campaign sends back through these intermediaries. The first is they would love to have the help. And the second is, they were very disappointed in the help they got at that meeting. Now, it’s only days later that Julian Assange discloses for the first time that he’s received thousands of stolen Hillary Clinton emails, which we know were stolen by the Russians. So WikiLeaks apparently obtains these emails shortly after the meeting in Trump Tower. It’s sometime later that Donald Jr. is in private communication with WikiLeaks, this cut out the Russians are using to publish this stolen information. We can see the significance of this much better when we look at this broader context.

Is there evidence of collusion between Russia and President Trump or his associates in the administration or campaign?

There’s certainly evidence of collusion. Now, whether the evidence is proof beyond a reasonable doubt is a decision that Bob Mueller will have to make. There are certain pieces of the puzzle that we now see come into view. We see in April 2016 George Papadopoulos, one of the other foreign policy advisers for the Trump campaign, meeting with Russians who disclosed to him that they possessed these stolen emails, and the Trump campaign learns even before the Clinton campaign that the Russians are in possession of her emails. The campaign expresses an interest and willingness to work with the Russians. We see this time and time again now. There are still missing pieces of the puzzle that we are looking for. We see a growing web of connections between the campaign and the Russians.

How would the potential second special counsel affect the congressional investigations?

The most significant thing it would do would be to destroy a large part of the independence of the Justice Department. It would really be a complete capitulation to political pressure from the White House. So the most significant impact is not on the investigations but on the integrity of the Justice Department. I served there for six years, and I have to hope that that’s not a path that the attorney general goes down. This was a political call by the president and his surrogates in Congress in urging the Justice Department to investigate his vanquished political opponent. This is what they do in dictatorships and emerging democracies. It’s what we counsel other countries not to do, that is, after you win an election you don’t abuse the levers of power to prosecute your vanquished opponents. That’s the much bigger significance, frankly, than any impact on our investigation. In Congress, they’ve already announced they’re going to do an investigation of this seven-year-old uranium transaction. But you can expect political ploys like that from the majority that brought you the Benghazi Committee. This is a Benghazi Redux.

Is President Trump under investigation?

That’s not something I can comment on one way or the other.

You recently said Trump is the worst modern-day president and that he’s undermining these investigations. How is this going to end?

I say that he’s the worst president in modern history for a variety of reasons. Certainly, his handling of the Russian interference in our election is one proof of that, but his denigration of the press, calling the press the ‘enemy of the people,’ his discussion of pulling the licenses of a network because he doesn’t like their coverage of him, his belittling of federal judges who rule against him and undermining their legitimacy, his erosion of the independence of the Justice Department, his executive order to preclude people from coming into the country on the basis of their faith; these and many other reasons so clearly make him the worst president in modern history. In terms of where our investigations or Bob Mueller’s investigation will end up, I don’t know, but I can say that it’s our obligation in Congress to do a thorough job and make a complete report to the public and if at all possible to do so on a bipartisan basis. That’s certainly the goal that I’m working towards.

If the Democrats were in the majority, and you were chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, how would you have handled the investigation differently?

There are a lot of ways in which our investigation is departing from best investigative practices, in a sense that the majority is scheduling certain witnesses before we’re ready to interview them and before we have the documents to question them with, and other important foundational witnesses have yet to be scheduled. There are lines of inquiry that we need to pursue and there are subpoenas that should be issued that haven’t gone out. There are issues that we continue to urge the majority to take seriously and to pursue. We hope that they will. Certainly, if we were in the majority we’d be using best practices, and it’s my hope that we can persuade the majority to do so.

President Trump and the White House frequently criticize you for doing so much press. Why do you think it is important to get the message out to the American people about what these investigations are doing?

The only lever that we have in the minority to get the majority to do what they should do in terms of the investigation is by exposing the conduct when they err and also to make the case for why this is important to the country. It’s not a case that the president particularly wants made, and so I’m sure they would like to silence anyone who’s talking about the Russia investigation or explaining why it’s integral to our national security. If the Russians can hold something over the president of the United States, that is deeply damaging to our national interests and the country has a right and a need to know. So I’m going to continue to make the case. I would only say to the president who doesn’t like how much I do TV, that he would be a lot better off watching a lot less TV, and we would all be a lot better off if he found other ways to occupy his time.

What can Congress do to prevent Russia or another foreign government from meddling in future elections using social media to influence campaigns?

First of all, we need to make sure the social media companies disclose any political advertising with the same kind of disclaimers we see in advertising in other media, and I think that’s going to happen. Some of the companies are already moving in that direction. More than that, we need to be sure that they’re devoting the resources to ferreting out ‘interference,’ foreign efforts to manipulate public opinion in the United States, or divide us against each other. We now have a tremendous volume of content the Russians were pushing, but they’ll be more sophisticated about hiding their hand next time. And even this time they successfully hid it until after the election. The tech companies are certainly going to have to step up their efforts. We’re going to need the intelligence community to work more closely with them and let them know when we’ve identified foreign bad actors that are abusing their platforms that they may not recognize, or foreign state actors rather than what they purport to be: individual Californians and Texans and people from all over the country. And we’re all going to have to be a great deal more skeptical about what we see pop up on our social media in terms of its veracity. We’re going to have to be much more skeptical consumers than we have been and we’re going to have to place a greater reliance on journalistic standards and insisting upon them, which is why the president’s denigration of the mainstream media is so singularly destructive to the country.

New vision

‘One Arroyo Day’ Saturday seeks input from the community on its vision for the Arroyo Seco

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 11/16/2017

After Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek called for a new vision for the Arroyo Seco during his State of the City address last January, the Arroyo Advisory Group (AAG) that he established will be presenting its initial report to the Pasadena City Council this January.

“During 2017, the city will consider the entire Arroyo Seco in a comprehensive way, not just as a site for a huge variety of user-driven functions, but as the living, beautiful, natural heart of our city,” Tornek said in his Jan. 18 speech.

In a recent interview, Tornek said his goal of getting people to refocus on the Arroyo as a total, integrated ecosystem was the product of the AAG.

“If we could get people to think about the arroyo in a comprehensive and holistic way, I thought we could get people excited about it and have them recognize the tremendous value that it provides to the city, and maybe write a check, since the city doesn’t have the capacity to fund everything,” said Tornek. “As I traveled around the country and looked at best practices in urban parks, I realized that the ones that are most successful are ones that have a high degree of citizen, community participation, both in terms of governance and funding.”


Earlier this year, Tornek appointed former Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard and current Rose Bowl Operating Co. board member Doug Kranwinkle to co-chair the AAG, a citizen committee of 20 Pasadena residents. They have been tasked with soliciting input from the community as well as rebranding the Arroyo Seco as “One Arroyo,” rather than the three distinct parts that most people see it as now: Hahamongna Watershed Park, Central Arroyo and Lower Arroyo.

“The purpose of the Arroyo Advisory Group is to spotlight the Arroyo Seco as the natural resource that it is, to develop a stronger public interest and support for the Arroyo Seco and to seek funding that will allow the city to maintain and improve the Arroyo Seco in a way that hasn’t occurred in recent years,” said Bogaard, who added that he is delighted to be able to serve the city again.

The AAG is currently in the second of three phases. The first phase was internal organization and an initial announcement of the effort. The AAG divided itself into four subcommittees: Vision, Funding, Outreach and Projects and Priorities. The Vision Committee drafted a vision statement for the One Arroyo project: “Pasadena’s great outdoor space, the historic Arroyo Seco, will become One Arroyo. From the headwaters in the north to the tributaries in the south, its natural habitats, resources and historic sites will be preserved, enhanced and connected by an extraordinary end-to-end trail system, all anchored by a central hub.”

The second phase involves heavy emphasis on public outreach, including presenting their project at community meetings and neighborhood associations for the past several months. They have also posted an online survey available at, which ends Nov. 30. More than 1,300 people have already filled out the survey.


A major element of the project is a single, unifying “One Arroyo Trail” that will connect and circumnavigate the entire Arroyo Seco, which currently does not exist, as well as restoring and connecting the approximately 20 miles of trails that exist on the banks of the Arroyo. The AAG’s report to the council in January will lay out the priorities identified so far, including the trails project.

“We’re moving very cautiously and carefully because all of it depends upon the response from the outreach program,” said Tom Seifert, who chairs the AAG’s Projects and Priorities Committee. “We’re very concerned about how people feel about the arroyo. We’re sensitive to what the community is going to be interested in. Behind the scenes, we’ve been developing our potential projects list, and the one that we’ve identified so far that everyone has enthusiastically embraced is the trails project.”

The AAG and the city are also hosting One Arroyo Day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Brookside Park, 360 N. Arroyo Blvd. Many of the organizations who are involved in the arroyo will have exhibitor booths where residents can learn more about them. There will be a trail clean-up, a nature scavenger hunt for kids, a native wildlife reptile station, lawn games and crafts, raffles and a hot dog cookout by the Pasadena Firefighters Association Local 809. Officials will be on hand to answer questions. And most importantly, the survey will be available.

Tornek held three “Walk the Arroyo with the Mayor” events in September and October, which he said taught him a lot about what the community wants for the Arroyo.

“The walks stimulated a lot of discussion and confirmed my notion that people don’t have a comprehensive understanding of the thousand acres that comprise the Arroyo and the very different kind of environments, opportunities and challenges that it offers,” said Tornek. “I learned a lot, too. It wasn’t a lecture tour. It was a conversational tour. I enjoyed the hell out of it.”


Bogaard said the response from the community to the project has so far been mixed. On the one hand, everyone loves the arroyo and wants to see it improved. On the other, there was some initial suspicion that the purpose of the AAG was to create new, commercial activities in the arroyo, which many people oppose.

Mic Hansen, who serves as the vice chair of the Projects and Priorities Committee, said that many people would prefer for the arroyo to remain natural.

“It’s very important that the community tell the AAG what their perspective regarding the arroyo is,” she said. “How do they want the arroyo to look and feel now? How do they want it to look and feel in five years, 10 years, 15 years? This is not a project for and by the AAG principals. It is a project for and by the community. It’s a group designed to elicit and then make sense of what the community wants.”

It is a complicated endeavor for many reasons, not least of which is funding and governance issues. There is $80 million worth of approved but unfunded projects already on the books. And the number of stakeholders in the arroyo is staggering. JPL, the Rose Bowl, Tom Sawyer Camp, the Pasadena Roving Archers, the casting pond, the Audubon Society, the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center, Kidspace Children’s Museum, the Rose Bowl Riders, Brookside Golf Course, the bird sanctuary, the Arroyo Foothills Conservancy, Arroyo Seco Foundation, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Rose Bowl Flea Market, UCLA football, Arroyo Seco Weekend, the Frisbee golf course, AYSO and the horse stables are just a partial list.

“The issues that we’re coming to grips with in the arroyo are not strictly issues of, ‘Do we build a trail or not,’ and, ‘What should the signage look like?’” said Tornek. “It’s not just physical alterations or improvements; it’s also the issue of governance. We have three different city departments doing it, which is not an efficient or effective way to do it.”

Bogaard and Hansen pointed out that the AAG is primarily looking to the four existing master plans for the arroyo that were developed and adopted by City Council in 2004. The funding sources they will soon begin looking at include foundation grants, donations and public funds. The state Legislature has approved a ballot measure for November 2018 that will provide $4 billion worth of support for parks, open space and waterways statewide.

“If it’s approved by the voters in the fall of 2018, we will be prepared to seek funding under that program through the work that’s being done right now,” said Bogaard.


After the report to city council in January, the AAG’s work will not be completed. At that point, the committee will turn its attention to the issues of funding and governance.

“We have not yet fully identified funding sources, which is really one of our more important missions,” said Kranwinkle. “Until we really know what we’re funding, it’s hard to go to John Q. Public and say, ‘Hey, we’d like a thousand dollars.’ We also have some charge to look at better coordination or management of activities in the arroyo. I’m expecting that there will be an additional phase after the report to the City Council.”

Kranwinkle pointed out that the arroyo has fallen into a state of disrepair due to strained city budgets.

“If you walk down there, it’s a mess,” he said. “It’s a bit of a fire hazard right now. I think that’s what brought our group about.”

Seifert agreed that the deferred maintenance is one of the major issues facing the arroyo. The Lower Arroyo in particular, he said, is in dire need of brush clearance for fire hazard considerations.

“The arroyo is such a treasure,” said Seifert. “I’m so happy to be part of this undertaking because it’s so sorely needed, to really concentrate major attention on what a wonderful natural resource we have.”

Tornek said that the city and the community are in it for the long haul.

“This project won’t be completed in my lifetime,” he said. “If this works right, if we set some things in motion and make some organizational changes in how we manage all this stuff, the actual improvements should be going on over generations. So this is intended as a legacy project, not as a quick hit. If we can score some early wins and demonstrate to people this is not just conversation and a random idea, but rather a sea change in terms of how we manage and think about this resource, I think we can have some real success both in the short term and in the much longer term.”

Learn more about the Arroyo Advisory Group and One Arroyo Day at

The Constant Gardeners

Arlington Garden gets a new name and new management as the city attempts to purchase the property from Caltrans

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 11/9/2017

Arlington Garden in southwest Pasadena is undergoing branding and leadership changes.

Betty McKenney, who along with her late husband and former Pasadena City Council member Charles “Kicker” McKenney founded and cared for the garden since 2005, has retired. The garden’s board of directors is expanding and has hired a new executive director, Michelle Matthews, who started July 1. And it has been given a new name: The McKenney Family Arlington Garden in Pasadena.

The three-acre Mediterranean climate, water-wise garden is located in the infamous 710 Corridor and owned by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), which leases the property to the city. That lease expires in December 2018. The city, in turn, entrusts the property to Arlington Garden in Pasadena, a nonprofit corporation, which was established by the McKenneys.

Betty and Kicker were known as the “constant gardeners” and spent countless volunteer hours turning the ugly empty lot into the vibrant and colorful space it is today.

The city is currently attempting to purchase the property from Caltrans through the state agency’s ongoing surplus sales process, according to Assistant City Manager Julie Gutierrez, who sits on the garden’s board of directors as the city’s representative.

“We’ve had a couple meeting dates that Caltrans unfortunately canceled,” said Gutierrez. “Our goal is to chat with them about the property and several other properties that the city would like to look at acquiring. We are trying every other day to get a hold of Caltrans. We have quite a few issues with them.”

Back to its Roots

The property was originally the site of the historic Durand House, “one of the most elegant homes on South Orange Grove Boulevard,” according to Kirk Myers of the Pasadena Museum of History. In April 1902, John Durand purchased 10 acres known as Arlington Heights. The existing Victorian home was removed and “a team of skilled workmen spent more than three years executing architect F. L. Roehrig’s reconstruction of a chateau in France admired by Mr. Durand. With 17,000 square feet of floor space — 50 rooms in three stories — the home was said to be the largest in Southern California, if not the entire Southwest. A setback of more than 600 feet from South Orange Grove Boulevard allowed landscape architects to create a ‘tropical paradise’ in front of the mansion, with palms, cacti and century plants besides hundreds of varieties of flowering bushes, including roses and chrysanthemums. A hedge of Cherokee roses extended along Arlington Drive, toward the Busch home on the opposite side of Orange Grove. A small orange grove was set out in the rear of the home, along Pasadena Avenue.”

The year after John M. Durand III died in 1960, the furnishings and art objects were sold at public auction and the home was demolished. Three remaining acres became an empty lot with seven palm trees, two oaks, a jacaranda, a pepper tree and lots of weeds for nearly a half-century. After a rainstorm, high school kids would spin donuts with their cars and knock down trees, McKenney said. Just about every Fourth of July there would be a fire.

Caltrans acquired the property in the 1960s along with about 460 properties with the intention of razing the houses and building a freeway connecting the 710 and 210 freeways. Caltrans originally purchased the property for $330,000. After the city recently rezoned the property as open space, their appraisal set the price at $125,000.

“Our concern was that Caltrans would want the property for market housing, and we probably couldn’t afford that,” said Gutierrez. “As open space land, we could. Because it’s been rezoned, Caltrans shouldn’t be able to sell it as residential. We rezoned it in an open, public hearing process, so they did have an opportunity to speak up and they did not.”

Shortly after the McKenneys moved next door in 2002, District 6 City Councilmember Steve Madison reached out to neighbors to see what they would like the property to become. The McKenneys volunteered to come up with a good use for the site.

“It was pretty clear people wanted something passive,” said McKenney. “They didn’t want buildings or tennis courts or soccer fields or parking lots. I said if they want something passive it needs to be a garden.”

McKenney read Jan Smithen’s book “Sun-Drenched Gardens: The Mediterranean Style” and took notes at her lectures. They worked with Mayita Dinos, who designed the garden featuring drought-tolerant plants, and with Cal Poly students who drew up concept plans. In 2003, the city acquired a lease from Caltrans and approved the plans. The nonprofit Arlington Garden in Pasadena, along with the city’s Public Works and Water and Power departments and Pasadena Beautiful, then brought the garden to life.

The garden has become so successful, Matthews said, that “it looks like it’s been here for 30 years, instead of 10. Primarily it’s been a volunteer community labor of love.”

Conscious Expansion

Other changes have either been made or are in the works, as well. An electrical panel has been installed in anticipation of a new fountain in the orange grove. They are partnering with Theodore Payne to put in a native garden. The irrigation system is being improved. In the early years, the McKenneys hand-watered the young garden.

The garden now has security patrol at night, as well as security cameras and motion sensor lights. They are also looking at pricing a security fence.

“The garden is supposed to be closed when it’s dark, but people are here,” said McKenney. “We’ve also found things gone missing — plants, wheelbarrows, rain barrels — so people are coming with good intentions and not so good intentions. It’s becoming an issue.”

The garden has also seen a huge increase in the number of people who visit. McKenney and Matthews said the use of the garden is changing. Some of those uses are compatible, and some are not.

“We’ve had birthday parties for 3 year olds out here, and it’s really not that kind of place,” said McKenney. “Parents sometimes just turn their kids loose in the garden, not understanding that some of the plants are poisonous and some of the places they end up walking are really not paths. Sometimes we get ‘flash weddings.’ These great big limos pull up and let 20 people out and their guests take up all the parking on Arlington, there’s no parking on Pasadena Avenue, and it’s not very safe to park on Orange Grove. We’ve had prom goers come by here and have their prom pictures taken, a use we never envisioned. People are finding lots of ways to enjoy the garden.”

Amateur photography is allowed and free, but professional photographers are asked to pay a nominal fee and obtain a permit in order to shoot weddings, groups, portraits and lighting setups in the garden. Private parties are by permission only.

“We’re looking into what makes sense to charge and the numbers of people we can handle,” said Matthews. “We want to be conscious of our impact on the community.”

The garden’s management also wants to increase the amount of the events at the garden, as long as they are compatible with the neighborhood. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, the garden is hosting Art on Palm, an arts and crafts fair showcasing 50 artists in jewelry, clothing, ceramics, photography, wood-working and glass. Last month, the garden hosted an art auction as a test run event, and the American Institute of Architects held a birdhouse competition. The garden was recently featured on the international Mediterranean Garden Society tour. The Audubon Society will be conducting a bird count this year, the first since 2008.

More events are tentatively planned for next year, such as a classical music performance and an Earth Day event. They have also applied to be on the Theodore Payne Native Plant Garden tour.

“We hope to engage the public and have arts and cultural activities, as well as be an outdoor classroom and resource for schools and universities,” said Matthews. “But we want to be sensitive to the fact that this is primarily a residential area. We want to make sure that we’re being smart about the activities that we do.”

The garden costs about $100,000 a year to run. The city gives $21,100 per year in addition to a $5,000 grant from Public Works, and the rest comes from individual donations and from selling marmalade made from fruits of the orange grove.

“We hope our marmalade produced by E. Waldo Ward will become a new tradition of quality and help sustain our public Mediterranean climate garden,” reads the label on a jar of Arlington Garden Sweet Orange Marmalade.

Matthews hopes to increase the garden’s operating budget to at least $300,000 to be able to fund new projects and hire in-house staff to replace the large hole created by the constant gardeners’ absence.

“In the long term, we’re doing strategic planning, and I’m looking to partner with local organizations, schools and arborists so the garden can be a resource for the community,” said Matthews.

For more information on the McKenney Family Arlington Garden in Pasadena, visit