Can rights be wrong?

The Pasadena Republican Club sues the Western Justice Center and the city of Pasadena over an alleged violation of free speech

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 12/20/2018

A battle over the First Amendment is raging across the country, especially on college campuses. Republican clubs book controversial speakers such as Milo Yiannopoulos, Ben Shapiro or Steve Bannon, then liberal groups protest and the event is canceled. Conservatives say it is a violation of their free speech rights, and liberals say they have a right to prevent the institution they are affiliated with from giving speakers with hateful messages a platform to spread their discrimination.

That debate has come home to Pasadena.

The Claremont Institute’s Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence (CCJ), based at Chapman University’s Fowler School of Law, filed a complaint in federal district court on Nov. 28 on behalf of the Pasadena Republican Club (PRC) against the Western Justice Center (WJC) and the city of Pasadena.

PRC allege that WJC canceled their event at the last minute because of the scheduled speaker’s anti-same-sex marriage views. The civil rights complaint, filed in federal court, alleges political and religious discrimination and seeks declaratory and injunctive relief and unspecified monetary damages. It was filed by Anthony Caso, director of CCJ.

“The essence of the complaint is that they’ve taken public property and they’ve decided who can use it based upon political or religious viewpoint,” Caso said. “Take your pick; both are unconstitutional.”

According to the complaint, PRC President Lynn Gabriel signed a contract in early 2017 with then-WJC Executive Director Judith Chirlin, a retired LA Superior Court judge, to rent the Maxwell House in west Pasadena for the club’s next event on April 20, 2017, for a fee of $190. The Maxwell House, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and located just a few doors from the US Ninth District Court of Appeals, is owned by the city of Pasadena. The city leases the Maxwell House to WJC for $1 a month. PRC had held meetings at the Maxwell House before, featuring different speakers.

The Pasadena Republican Club was founded in 1884, two years before Pasadena incorporated as a city, making it the oldest continuously active Republican club in the United States. According to its website, the club is “dedicated to electing Republican candidates to federal, state and local office. [It] funds and operates the Republican [election] headquarters in Pasadena every two years.” The Western Justice Center is a nonprofit organization that “develops creative programs to teach students, teachers and members of the community ways to resolve conflict peacefully.”

In the complaint, Gabriel asserted that she informed Chirlin at that time that the speaker at the event would be Dr. John Eastman, chairman of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). NOM was formed in 2007 to promote the passage of Prop 8, the controversial 2008 ballot measure that eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry in California.

Eastman also previously served as the dean of Chapman University’s law school and was the founding director of CCJ, which is representing PRC in this lawsuit. He has argued many cases before the Supreme Court and engineered President Trump’s recent call to end birthright citizenship. At the Maxwell House event, he was planning to deliver a Supreme Court update.

According to the complaint, at 3:43 p.m. on April 20, 2017, less than three hours before Eastman’s talk was to begin at 6:30 p.m., Chirlin emailed Gabriel to cancel the event, writing, “While I knew that Prof Eastman was a professor and author, we learned just today that he is the President [sic] of the National Organization for Marriage. NOM’s positions on same-sex marriage, gay adoption, and transgender rights are antithetical to the values of the Western Justice Center. WJC works to improve campus climates with a special focus on LGBT bias and bullying. We work to make sure that people recognize and stop LGBT bullying. Through these efforts we have built a valuable reputation in the community, and allowing your event in our facility would hurt our reputation in the community.”

The complaint asserted that WJC’s contract required a disclaimer to be included on any publicity for the event that read, “The Western Justice Center/Maxwell House does not endorse the views expressed by this organization or its speakers,” a rule that Caso said PRC followed.

Caso said the last-minute cancelation caused several problems for PRC.

“The Pasadena Republican Club president had to scramble to find an alternate location for the event, and I’m amazed that they did so,” he said. “Then she had to stand out in front of the Maxwell House to redirect traffic to the University Club of Pasadena, the new location, so she never got to the event herself.”

The University Club charged PRC $500 and not all PRC members were able to make it to the new venue. The complaint stated that “attendance at the event at the University Club was one-third below average attendance.”

Elissa Barrett, WJC’s current executive director, declined to comment for this story.

“We are consulting with legal counsel and cannot make any further comment at this time,” Barrett wrote in an email in response to a request for comment from Chirlin.

Earlier, Barrett reportedly wrote in response to questions from Pasadena Now, “When this matter arose more than 18 months ago, we believed that a fair and mutual accommodation had been reached. We have heard nothing from the plaintiff since then. We are disappointed that the plaintiff chose not to contact us before pursuing litigation, especially given the centrality of conflict resolution to our mission. The Western Justice Center empowers people to resolve conflicts and to address forms of bias that often underlie those conflicts.”

Caso acknowledged that PRC did not try to contact WJC to resolve the situation before pursuing litigation but argued that they didn’t need to do so.

“There’s no requirement to contact,” Caso said. “Basically, what [WJC] did is they gave the money back for the contract, the $190. That’s all that they did. They didn’t apologize, they didn’t say they wouldn’t do it again, they didn’t open up the facility and they didn’t promise to obey the Constitution.”

Caso said the city is also responsible because it gives WJC “the authority to rent the [Maxwell House] out, but is not providing guidance or supervision at all. Just like the city can’t delegate it to an employee and not provide any oversight. It is city property, so the Western Justice Center is operating on express city authority as to how to do the rentals.”

On KPCC’s “AirTalk with Larry Mantle,” Eastman said that if the city were to rent the Maxwell House out as a public forum, “there’s no question constitutionally it would be required to lease it out without discriminating on the basis of viewpoint. The real question is, by signing a dollar-a-month lease, can it avoid those constitutional duties and pass the buck to a nonprofit organization to do the discriminating for it? I don’t believe it can do so.

“The Western Justice Center has some decisions it’s going to have to make,” he continued. “If they want to continue to discriminate on the basis of viewpoint, they can’t do that with sweetheart deals using publicly owned facilities. If they want to continue serving as an agent of the city, renting out this spectacular facility for community organizations’ meetings, then they have to comply with the Constitution just like the city does.”

PRC is seeking a declaration that WJC and the city of Pasadena “violated the free speech and religious rights of [PRC] and its members” and that they “acted with malice, oppression and wanton and intentional disregard for the law.”

PRC is also seeking an injunction prohibiting the city of Pasadena from “allowing [WJC] to decide which organizations may or may not hold events at city-owned property” and prohibiting the WJC or any of its agents from “discriminating against organizations in the use of city-owned facilities based on the viewpoint of the speaker or the religious viewpoint or affiliation of the speaker.”

PRC is also seeking damages for “emotional distress suffered by members of the [PRC]” and punitive damages against WJC for “action with malice, oppression and wanton disregard for the law in engaging political viewpoint and religious belief discrimination,” as well as attorneys’ fees.

“The main thing we’d like to see is that the Western Justice Center not have the opportunity to continue to violate the Constitution, that this go over to the city or some other mechanism so we can ensure that the Constitution gets obeyed,” said Caso. “One alternative of the relief that we’re asking for is that the court order Pasadena to take over the task of deciding who can and cannot use the property, rather than the Western Justice Center.”

No court hearings have been scheduled for the case yet, but Caso expects the first one to happen in January or February.

“We were just served [Monday, Dec. 3] and are reviewing the complaints,” Lisa Derderian, the city’s public information officer, wrote in an email in response to a request for comment from the city.

The complaint alleged that by waiting until the last minute to cancel PRC’s event, “Chirlin, acting on behalf of [WJC] and the city of Pasadena, sought to ensure that the event could not be held at all and to impose the maximum level of inconvenience for [PRC]. These actions constitute willful and wanton misconduct. As a retired California judge, Chirlin is presumably aware of the provisions of the United States Constitution and was therefore aware that the action she took on behalf of [WJC] was unconstitutional.”

Eastman said on “AirTalk” that WJC should have known better.

“The folks on the Western Justice Center board, including the executive director who did this, are judges or former judges,” Eastman told Mantle. “They ought to have known their constitutional obligations.
Turning the tables

Rep. Adam Schiff, incoming chair of the House Intelligence Committee, discusses the Democrats’ plans once they take control of the House of Representatives next month

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 12/13/2018

President Donald Trump’s political life will drastically change come Jan. 3 when Democrats take control of the House of Representatives in the 116th Congress. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), whose district includes part of Pasadena, will become the chair of the House Intelligence Committee. A former federal prosecutor, Schiff has vowed to follow up on the leads in the Russia investigation that Republicans ignored when they were the majority in the House.

The day after the election, Trump essentially fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and replaced him with loyalist Matt Whitaker, who has criticized Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Schiff called Whitaker “Trump’s Roy Cohn,” a reference to the combative lawyer for both Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the communist witch hunts of the 1950s, and for Trump in the 1970s. Schiff wrote in a Washington Post op-ed on Nov. 12 that Whitaker’s appointment “represents the president’s most direct challenge yet to the rule of law. The new Democratic majority will protect the special counsel and the integrity of the Justice Department.”

On Nov. 18, Trump tweeted, “So funny to see little Adam Schitt [sic] talking about the fact that Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker was not approved by the Senate, but not mentioning the fact that Bob Mueller (who is highly conflicted) was not approved by the Senate!”

Special counsels do not need to be approved by the Senate, but attorneys general do, per the Constitution. Last week, Trump nominated former Attorney General William Barr to return to the position. Meanwhile, Mueller’s investigation is picking up speed with recent sentencing memos filed on Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

“There’s a very real prospect that on the day Donald Trump leaves office, the Justice Department may indict him,” Schiff said Sunday on “Face the Nation” on CBS. “He may be the first president in quite some time to face the real prospect of jail time.”

Schiff recently spoke with the Pasadena Weekly to discuss the new power dynamic in Washington, how Democrats plan to hold the Trump administration accountable and what’s next for the Russia investigation.

Pasadena Weekly: What message do you think voters sent on Election Day?

Rep. Adam Schiff: They sent a message that they want to place a check and balance on this administration. They want Congress to be focused on bread and butter issues, like how families make ends meet and keeping the cost of health care within reason. But also that they don’t want this president to have unrestricted power, that he’s just too unstable and too inclined to tear up the foundations of our democratic institutions.

What are your main priorities when Democrats take control of the House, and what can they get done with control of just one branch?

Our first priority is going to be to offer a positive agenda for the country that addresses the economic changes that are going on, that makes sure more Americans have an opportunity to live the American Dream, that brings down the cost of prescription drugs. But I also think that we’re going to need to do oversight that has been lacking for the last two years. There’s not a great expectation that our legislative agenda will get through the Senate, but we do want to be able to show the country the priorities that we have if they entrust us with the full government in 2020. On the oversight side of things, there are numerable allegations of corruption and malfeasance within the administration. We’re going to have to prioritize; we aren’t going to be able to look into everything that has come to our attention. We’ll have to look at the most serious matters first. It’s everything from the ties between the Trump campaign and Russia to the president’s potential efforts to use the instruments of state power to censor the press by raising postal rates on Amazon to go after the Washington Post, to holding up the merger of CNN’s parent to punish CNN, to violations of the emolument clause. We just saw reports yesterday of how much the Saudis were spending at Trump hotels to curry favor with the Trump administration. There are a whole range of important oversight priorities.

What can Democrats, Republicans and the Trump administration work together on in the New Year?

The country could badly use an investment in infrastructure. That would be good for the economy, it would help put Americans back to work, it would certainly help repair a lot of our decaying roads and bridges and highways and renewable energy infrastructure and airports, and that ought to be completely nonpartisan. So that’s a fruitful area to work together. The president at times has indicated interest in working to bring the cost of prescription drugs down. If he’s willing to buck some of the people in his own administration to work with Democrats on it, we can find common ground there. There are any number of opportunities for us to get things done for the American people. I hope the president will be open to doing that.

What are some of the leads or witnesses in the Russia investigation that the Republicans refused to follow up on that you will follow up on come January?

One that I’m particularly concerned about is the allegations that the Russians were laundering money through the Trump Organization. We know the Trump Organization was lying about its efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, efforts that continued through the middle of 2016, and efforts in which the Trump Organization sought to enlist the help of the Kremlin and offer Putin a penthouse suite, reportedly, but we don’t know whether the financial ties are much broader than that. If the Russians were laundering money through the Trump Organization that would be powerful leverage they would have over the president of the United States. So that certainly is a priority. There are any number of investigative threads that we were pursuing when the Republicans abruptly ended their participation in the investigation, so we want to make sure the job is done with thoroughness.

Have you seen any indication that the acting attorney general has interfered with the Mueller investigation, and are you worried that Bill Barr will interfere if he is confirmed?

We have no visibility into what role Whitaker is playing, and that’s of grave concern. He auditioned for the part by bashing the Mueller investigation and talking about how he can secretly suffocate the investigation. We will work hard to expose any involvement that he has as long as he’s with the Justice Department. In terms of Barr, he’s made some concerning remarks about not only the Mueller team but also he’s given credence to the president’s efforts to prosecute his political rivals and reopen the Uranium One investigation. Those things are deeply concerning, but I don’t put Barr in the same category as Whitaker. Barr is plainly qualified and has already been attorney general; he was a fairly mainstream and conservative attorney general. Were it not for the concerning comments he’s made about the Mueller investigation and the Clinton investigation, I would have far fewer reservations. But these are things that need to be explored during his confirmation hearings.

What can Democrats do to protect the Mueller investigation?

Once we get the gavel, we’ll be able to bring Whitaker before Congress and demand to find out what role he has played in the Mueller investigation, whether he was given and is abiding by an ethics opinion from the Justice Department, whether he’s shared any information he has gleaned about the investigation with the president or the president’s lawyers. He’s going to have to answer all of those questions and more. We ought to take up and pass legislation to protect Mueller, but that’s something that the Senate majority leader has refused to do. We’re going to try to get that done as part of our final budget talks, but I don’t know how optimistic to be about that. We can certainly end the attacks on the integrity of the Justice Department and the FBI that have come out of the House Intelligence Committee during the Nunes period. That will stop in January.

Do you think Mueller is delaying submitting his final report to the Justice Department until the Democrats have taken control of the House in January, or is the investigation just ongoing? Will House Democrats use their subpoena power to try to force the Trump administration to make the report public, if it is suppressed?

I don’t think his timing is determined by the change in the majority. I think there are other factors at work that are influencing the timing, including potentially the appointment of Whitaker may have accelerated the timetable. There are certain things that we should be doing to assist the Mueller investigation, and the Republicans have refused. We will certainly have to take that up in January, that is, we will be making the interview transcripts of our witnesses [before the House Intelligence Committee] available to Mueller for consideration as to whether witnesses should be charged with perjury. That may or may not influence the timing of charging decisions with respect to some of the subjects of the investigation. In terms of whether the report will be made public, I think we ought to make as much public as possible. We should be as transparent as possible. This is simply too important to be swept under the rug. It’s going to be the responsibility of Congress to make sure there is a full accounting.

It seems like if any other president had done what we already know this president has done they would be impeached. What is it going to take to hold this president accountable? And have you seen or do you know of evidence that the president, his family members, or his inner circle have committed wrongdoing?

What we are seeing every day as the president continues to attack the Mueller investigation and dangle pardons in front of potentially cooperating witnesses or a harsh sentence for those who testify against him, is that he is willfully trying to interfere in the investigation and he’s doing it in broad daylight. The effect of that is to numb the public to just what a breach of the democratic norms of office we are seeing. Ultimately, for an impeachment to be successful it will need to be bipartisan, otherwise you might be able to impeach the president in the House but you’ll never be able to convict him in the Senate. What it will take is we will have to wait and see what Mueller reports. His conclusion and the evidence of that report would have to be sufficient to convince the country that the president’s conduct was so incompatible with the office that he needed to be removed. That’s a very high bar, and it’s properly a high bar under any circumstance because it’s an extraordinary remedy. It would require a great many Americans around the country to view the president’s conduct not through a partisan lens, but through the lens of whether what he’s doing is consistent with our Constitution. We simply have to wait and see what Mueller produces and then determine what the consequences should be.

What’s next for you? Are you going to run for president?

What’s next for me is really getting to work on the parts of this investigation the Republicans were unwilling to undertake and providing a check on this president. Whatever comes after that, I don’t know at this point. I’ve got more than enough on my plate as it is.
Going green

Pasadena officials will soon be accepting permit applications for commercial cannabis businesses

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 12/13/2018

Following the statewide legalization of recreational cannabis by California voters in 2016, Pasadena officials are finally ready to accept applications for permits for those who wish to operate legal commercial cannabis dispensaries in the city.

In June, Pasadena voters approved Measure CC, which lifted the city’s self-imposed ban on cannabis dispensaries, with nearly 60 percent of the vote. City officials put that measure on the ballot because they would have been preempted by a citizen-led ballot measure in November that proposed to allow current illegal operators to get legal permits.

“The Pasadena residents voted on rules and regulations to allow limited commercial cannabis in the city and approved a taxation process and percentage,” David Reyes, Pasadena’s director of planning and community development, wrote in an email to the Pasadena Weekly. “It took over a year to get the regulations established based on an evaluation of various other cities to establish best practices for our city. The whole process is a great story in terms of where we started and where we are.”

Selective, Regulated & Costly

The city’s final regulations, based on public input at several community meetings over the past year, will allow a total of six permits for retail cannabis dispensaries within city limits, with only one allowed in any given council district. The regulations also allow four permits for cultivation centers and four permits for testing labs within the city, for a total of 14 potential businesses. About 300 people attended a public meeting the city hosted on Nov. 13 to provide information about the upcoming application process.

The retail and cultivation locations will be allowed in commercial and industrial zones and must also be 600 feet away from K-12 schools, residential zones, libraries, parks, substance abuse centers and other cannabis retailers and cultivators. Smoking, ingesting or other consumption of cannabis onsite will be prohibited. Hours of operation will be limited to 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Sunday.

The regulations include other conditions, such as strictly controlled entrances with a buzz-in system, exterior signage standards and an advanced ventilation system. The retail space of any given dispensary will be limited to 15,000 square feet and cultivation space will be limited to 30,000 square feet.

Testing labs will only be allowed in zoning districts where laboratories are permitted and must be 500 feet away from cannabis retailers and cultivators. The labs must also comply with all state-mandated testing procedures, destroy any cannabis that does not comply with the state Bureau of Cannabis Control’s health and safety standards, and install advanced ventilation systems.

The Pasadena City Council retains the authority to make amendments to the ordinance in the future.

The application period opens Jan. 1 and closes at 11:59 p.m. on Jan. 31. The first-round nonrefundable application fee per permit type is $13,654. Once approved, applicants will then have to apply for a Conditional Use Permit and get approved by the Planning Commission. That second round fee is $10,639, for a total of $24,293.

According to Lisa Derderian, the city’s public information officer, Pasadena’s fees are higher than some other cities — Long Beach, for instance, charges up to $8,621—but reflect the amount staff said it needs to recoup the costs of developing the regulations, plus cover administrative expenses associated with running the program going forward.

“We are hoping we will break even,” she said. “[The city is] not making money off this process.”

After the application period closes, city staff will screen, review and score applications by March 31 and notify top applicants by April 15. Throughout spring 2019, top applicants will obtain city land use permits. In the summer, top applicants will obtain their city business licenses and non-transferable cannabis permits. By the end of 2019, finalists will obtain their state licenses and open for business.

The city plans to utilize a “merit-based approach to selecting which applicants will receive the cannabis permits,” according to city documents. The review criteria will consider applicants’ business plan, neighborhood compatibility and enhancement, security plan and the qualifications of the owner and operators. Applicants do not need to have already secured a physical location in order to apply.

Cracking Down

Meanwhile, the city continues to try to shut down existing cannabis dispensaries that are operating illegally. As of June, there were 19 such cannabis dispensaries operating in the city, officials told the Weekly at the time. In 2017, the city began shutting off utilities at illegal dispensaries in an effort to drive them out, following months of trying to get them to comply by other means.

“We shut down two [illegal dispensaries] in the last month,” Derderian said in November. “I know there are a few more out there. We are working with our city prosecutor’s office and our Police Department with the intent to close them all so that those who want to legally and officially apply for the permits abide by that process knowing that there are no illegal ones still in operation. We’ve been trying for several years to get many of them to comply and it hasn’t been effective, so we’re going to have to take legal action and close them down.”

Under Measure CC and the city’s subsequent regulations, those who have operated an illegal dispensary in the city after Nov. 6, 2017, will not be allowed to apply for a legal permit.

Also in June, more than 75 percent of Pasadena voters also approved Measure DD, which allows the city to levy a business license tax on commercial cannabis businesses of up to $10 per canopy square foot for cultivation and between 4 to 6 percent of gross receipts for retail sales. Combined with state taxes, the maximum total taxing rate would be approximately 30 percent. According to a presentation on Nov. 13 by Perry Banner, a contract planner in the city’s Planning and Community Development Department, the intent of the cannabis business tax is “to generate proceeds to offset [administrative] costs, not balance the [city’s] General Fund budget.”

The money, city documents state, will fund “general municipal services such as police and code enforcement services necessary for the proper administration of the regulations, as well as promote health education regarding the dangers of smoking cannabis, particularly to young people.”

In May, the Pasadena Public Health Department launched a campaign to inform the public about the health effects of cannabis use, as well as the consequences of driving under the influence.

Real heroes in a half shell

Patagonia's Old Pas store helps protect desert tortoises—sentinels of the Mojave

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 11/29/2018

The tortoise population in the Mojave Desert is under threat. The main culprit? Humans.

That’s the message Cody Hanford, executive director of Transition Habitat Conservancy (THC), told a packed house on Nov. 9 at Patagonia’s store in Old Pasadena about threats desert tortoises face and ongoing conservation efforts. Founded in Ventura, Patagonia sells sustainable outdoor clothing and gear for travel, climbing, trail running, hiking, fly fishing and snow sports.

Last year, Patagonia’s Pasadena store selected THC as one of its grantees in its Action Works Retail Grants Program to help support their tortoise conservation efforts. The $9,500 annual grant goes toward THC’s native food gardens, a low-cost and low-effort habitat enhancement project that helps assist tortoise survival.

“Patagonia is an amazingly philanthropic corporation,” said Hanford. “They’re really showing how a business could be run. They do a request for proposals for grants and then the staff at that store looks through them and picks what they want. They want to be told of an environmental or climate problem, and what we might do to help it. They were not interested in funding a research grant; they want boots-on-the-ground impact, tipping the scales toward assisting the environment.”

Romeo Lodia, who runs the grants program at the Pasadena store, said each Patagonia store gets a fixed budget from the parent company per fiscal year, which runs from May through April. Organizations that apply through Patagonia’s website get funneled to the store closest to where they operate. Lodia said the Pasadena store selected THC for a grant last fiscal year and this fiscal year, which runs through April.

“It’s a democratic process,” Lodia said. “Each employee for that specific fiscal year gets to vote on the proposal and then we come up with a good number as far as the amount to give that group.”

Nearly Extinct

The native food garden project involves angling corrugated metal sheets on the desert floor to concentrate falling water into one area to trigger native annuals to bloom, a main staple in the tortoise’s diet, rather than invasive plants. The result is that the target area receives more moisture at up to a 10:1 ratio.

“We’re always thinking of these outside-the-box approaches to help the tortoises,” said Hanford. “To our knowledge, nothing like this has ever been done. We were going for a low-cost, low-management solution. It wouldn’t be that effective if we came up with this expensive, labor-intensive way to save the tortoises because who’s going to do it? The idea is to give the tortoises a leg up in these really trying times.”

Patagonia Pasadena’s 12 other grantees include local environmental organizations, such as the Arroyo Seco Foundation and the Arroyo & Foothills Conservancy. THC, headquartered in Piñon Hills near Palmdale on the other side of the Angeles National Forest from Pasadena, is a nonprofit organization that focuses on land acquisitions and habitat stewardship in the West Mojave Desert. The conservancy has acquired over 7,000 acres of land and works to improve thousands of additional acres in Southern California.

The California desert tortoise, or Gopherus agassizii, is the official state reptile and functions as a flagship, umbrella and indicator species found in southeastern California, western Arizona, southern Nevada and southwestern Utah. Along with Gopherus morafkai, found east of the Colorado River in Arizona and in the Mexican states of Sonora and Sinaloa, the two desert tortoise species inform scientists about the health of the Mojave and Sonoran deserts — and the prognosis isn’t good.

Before white settlers arrived in the Southwest, there were between 50 to 300 desert tortoises per square mile. Now there are fewer than five on average per square mile, and often less than that. The population has decreased by 90 percent since the 1980s. They are effectively extinct in certain historic territories such as the Victorville, Palmdale and Lancaster areas. They have been listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act since 1990, making it illegal to harass, collect or harm tortoises with penalties of up to $50,000 in fines and one year in prison. Military bases in the desert all have tortoise conservation programs because of its federally protected status.

“The tortoise tells us so much about the health of the desert,” said Dr. Kristin Berry, a research biologist and ecologist specializing in desert tortoises who works for the US Geological Survey. “It’s a sentinel of the well-being of our environment. The tortoise can be spokesanimal, so to speak, for the desert.”

Human Threat

Berry’s remarks were part of the Mojave Project, an experimental transmedia documentary led by Kim Stringfellow, an associate professor at San Diego State University, exploring the physical, geological and cultural landscape of the Mojave Desert. The Mojave Project is part of Fulcrum Arts’ EMERGE Program, formerly known as the Pasadena Arts Council and still based in Pasadena. Stringfellow wrote in a KCET article that Berry is “the person perhaps most credited with gaining protection of Gopherus agassizii under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“Urbanization, mining, agriculture, livestock grazing, tract home subdivisions, military land use, industrial solar and wind installations and recreational spillover from greater Los Angeles is rampant [in the desert],” wrote Stringfellow. “The issue [of livestock on tortoise habitat land] ignited the 2014 Cliven Bundy standoff in Bunkerville, Nevada, when rancher Bundy — who stopped paying grazing fees to the federal government in 1993, while continuing to illegally graze his cattle on public land — refused to remove them from the Gold Butte area of southern Nevada. The [Bureau of Land Management’s] planned roundup of his livestock backfired when armed militia groups and individuals showed up in support of Bundy, eventually forcing authorities to release 300 of his confiscated cattle back onto public land on April 12, 2014.”

There are many reasons for the tortoise’s decline, all of them directly or indirectly related to humans. Respiratory disease is the primary culprit; tortoises in captivity that are released back into the wild spread bacteria that makes wild tortoises lose their appetite and sense of smell. Poaching, cattle grazing and the increasing development of desert towns, roads, power lines and industrial wind and solar panels also threaten their habitat. Translocating tortoises has also been found to be disruptive and ineffective.

The popularity of Off-Highway Vehicles (OHVs) such as dirt bikes and quads has exploded in the last 20 years, especially in tortoise habitat areas. And climate change is making conditions too hot and dry, even in the desert.

Ravens are particularly challenging. The nonnative birds, which eat baby tortoises, have increased in the desert by 1,000 percent since the 1970s. There is a 95 percent mortality rate in the tortoise’s first five years of life, because they have to live to six in order for their shells to be raven-proof. Ravens have increasingly been subsidized in the desert by humans, who leave trash and build power lines where they nest.

Protecting ‘Mini-Dinosaurs’

Hanford said THC and many other conservation groups are working to mitigate the impacts of these threats to desert tortoises, which he calls “mini-dinosaurs.” Indeed, the turtle form dates back 220 million years to the late Triassic Period. Wild desert tortoises can live up to 50 years and captive tortoises can live to 100. They hibernate from about October to March every year and spend up to 98 percent of their lives underground in burrows that they dig, which help support about 30 other species such as lizards, snakes and rabbits. Their extinction “would have a ripple effect across the desert,” said Hanford.

In addition to purchasing land to permanently conserve, THC works closely with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), other government agencies and other tortoise conservation groups to come up with creative solutions to protect this critical species. Those solutions include placing solar and wind installations in areas of the desert that are already disrupted, rather than disrupting new areas; erasing unofficial dirt roads that OHVs create; and using a 3D printer to create fake baby tortoise shells to discourage ravens from eating them.

Hanford, originally from Tennessee, has been doing desert conservation work in California since 2003. He led desert restoration crews for the Student Conservation Association and worked as an environmental and land acquisition consultant for nonprofits, land trusts and federal, state and local agencies. In 2015, he started working fulltime for THC and became the conservancy’s executive director in 2016.

Conservation Ambassadors

There are several steps that visitors to the desert can take to minimize their impact on tortoises, Hanford said.

“First, do no harm,” he said. “Assume that if you’re in the Mojave Desert, you’re in tortoise habitat. Drive very carefully, and on official roads only. Don’t rescue tortoises that don’t need rescuing. Zoos and national parks are handed tortoises all the time by seemingly well-intentioned folks. Move it if it’s on the highway, but once you’ve taken it into your car, that tortoise is probably not going to be in the wild anymore, which is a loss for them. Consider your impacts with ravens: your trash subsidizes them. And finally, vote with the environment in mind.”

Hanford and other tortoise experts also recommend adopting tortoises that are already in captivity. Captive desert tortoises cannot be returned to the wild because they develop and spread respiratory diseases.

“Adopting tortoises is not going to save the tortoises in the wild, but what it does do is it keeps their spirit and plight alive and front and center,” said Hanford. “People get exposure to them, so they serve as ambassadors.”

About 200 desert tortoises need to be adopted in Southern California, according to Linda Crawford, adoptions chair of the Foothills Chapter of the California Turtle & Tortoise Club, which coordinates adoptions in San Gabriel Valley. That chapter meets at 7:30 p.m. on the fourth Friday of every month in the Palm Room at the LA County Arboretum, 301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia. Learn more at
Sibling synchronicity

Council considers approving Dakar-Plateau in Africa as Pasadena’s sixth sister city

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 8/23/2018

Pasadena may form its first sister city relationship with an African city Monday when the City Council considers adopting Dakar-Plateau, Senegal, with a population of nearly 37,000, covering an area of 1.93 square miles, and serving as the political, financial and commercial center of the country’s capital of greater Dakar.

While discussions to form a Sister Cities relationship with an African city have been ongoing for at least 20 years, efforts ramped up in 2015 when the Sister Cities Committee created a 15-member ad hoc committee on Africa and appointed Boualem Bousseloub as its chair. Bousseloub is a Pasadena resident who was born in Algiers and has lived in Paris, Albi, Bruges and Sacramento.

Pasadena has established five other Sister Cities partnerships, including with Ludwigshafen, Germany, in 1948; Mishima – Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan, in 1957; Järvenpää, Finland, in 1983; Vanadzor, Armenia, in 1991; and Xicheng District – Beijing, China, in 1999.

The idea of partnering cities grew out of the Twin Town concept in Europe in 1946 following World War II. Ludwigshafen was selected in 1948 by the Pasadena branch of the American Friends Service Committee. America’s involvement came in 1956 following President Dwight Eisenhower’s White House conference on citizen diplomacy, out of which grew Sister Cities International (SCI). Pasadena formally established its Sister Cities chapter in 1960.

Traveling to Dakar-Plateau

From March 21 to April 1, Bousseloub led a delegation composed of four members of the ad hoc committee on Africa, Pasadena Councilman and Vice Mayor John Kennedy and Honorary Consul of Senegal in Los Angeles Mame Toucouleur Mbaye, on a fact-finding mission to Dakar-Plateau. There they met with community leaders, including the mayor of Dakar-Plateau and member of the country’s Socialist Party, Alioune Ndoye, to determine the feasibility of forming a sisterhood with that city.

The delegation visited schools, youth centers, museums, the chamber of commerce, the Port of Dakar, the island of Gorée (the infamous gateway of slavery to the Western Hemisphere), the National Assembly, the US Embassy and other locations.

“Mayor Ndoye was with us from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day of our delegation, as was a cameraman from a private TV station,” said Bousseloub. “Everywhere we went we were received with great interest and warmth by officials as well as the citizens of Dakar-Plateau.”

Senegal is one of the most stable democracies in Africa. According to the BBC, for example, it is the “only country on mainland West Africa never to have had a military coup.” Although it is 96 percent Muslim, the country is also tolerant of other religions. Easter and Christmas are government holidays, for instance, and Muslim residents often have Christmas trees in their homes. Officials at the US Embassy also informed the Pasadena delegation that while Senegal is a conservative society, it is making positive progress on LGBTQ rights and there have been no recent active persecutions against LGBTQ people.

Senegal is not without its political turmoil, however. Dakar-Plateau is one of 19 district communes of greater Dakar, with each district commune having its own city government. In March, as the Pasadena delegation was touring Dakar-Plateau, the mayor of Dakar, Khalifa Sall, was sentenced to five years in jail for embezzling $3.4 million and falsifying documents. Sall and Dakar’s city government would not be involved in a Sister Cities relationship between Dakar-Plateau and Pasadena.

Identifying a Sister City

Before settling on Dakar-Plateau, the ad hoc committee explored other possibilities on the continent. They preferred a region that had an English-speaking population, no war or epidemics and a democratic political system that respected human and civil rights. They considered all 54 countries before narrowing the list down to three: South Africa, Ghana and Ethiopia.

They first approached Cape Town, South Africa, but after several months of waiting, Mayor Patricia De Lille informed the committee that Cape Town was only interested in investors, not a formal Sister Cities relationship. The cities of Durban and Port Elizabeth expressed interest, but did not follow up.

In June 2017, Senegal’s Honorary Consul in LA Mame Mbaye unexpectedly called Bousseloub and they discussed the possibility of a Sister Cities relationship with a city in Senegal. On June 18, 2017, Bousseloub gave an invitation letter to Mbaye, who delivered it to Ndoye in Dakar-Plateau. On July 13, 2017, Ndoye wrote back accepting the offer.

“Aware of the extraordinary exchange and collaboration opportunities between our two cities, we express our full support for this project,” Ndoye wrote.

The Importance of Exchange

Bousseloub and Jim Barry, a member of the ad hoc committee who lived in Senegal for five years, are optimistic that the Pasadena City Council will approve their proposal. They pointed out that the Sister Cities Committee overwhelmingly approved it.

Bousseloub also pointed out that Dakar-Plateau has a wealth of museums, a UNESCO World Heritage site, strong infrastructure such as its new airport and port, popular cultural festivals, financial institutions and youth programs. The presidential palace, the country’s major banks and all of its top companies are located in Dakar-Plateau.

If the City Council approves the proposal on Monday, the two cities would exchange official delegations led by Ndoye and Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek and conduct signing ceremonies in each city.

Bousseloub then envisions extensive exchange opportunities between the two cities, including police officers, doctors, students, faculty and administrators of schools and universities, scientists, artists, musicians, business executives and athletes. Ultimately, he would like to see the creation of an annual Pan-African Market and Arts Festival at the Rose Bowl, and invite all of the African consulates in LA to participate.

“People on the West Coast of the United States have so little contact with Africa compared to people on the East Coast of the United States,” Barry said, addressing why Pasadena needs a Sister Cities relationship with an African city.

Bousseloub agreed, pointing out that the African-American community is a sizable portion of Pasadena’s population.

“This is a time when African Americans are searching for their roots,” he said. “We look at Pasadena as a mosaic. We want to add a beautiful new tile to make it a comprehensive and beautiful mosaic. We have Sister Cities relationships with three Asian cities and two European cities. Well, there are no Central or South American cities, and there are no African cities. I think there is something there that needs to be done in the future.”

Pasadena just finished hosting two college students from Ludwigshafen, Germany, who interned at a Pasadena law firm and the Huntington Library. One of the students, Sophia Hoffman, who stayed with different host families in Pasadena and Altadena for five weeks, told the Pasadena Weekly about how meaningful this experience was for her.

“I’ve had a wonderful time here,” she said. “I am glad and thankful for having the chance to be here. The people of the exchange program are very welcoming and cordial. I will always remember my time in California and I am sure that I will come back.”

To learn more about Pasadena’s Sister Cities Committee, visit

Game on

Pasadena approves a 10-year soccer contract at the Rose Bowl as North America wins bid for 2026 World Cup

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 7/12/2018

Although the United States did not qualify for this year’s World Cup in Russia, soccer’s popularity in the United States — and especially in Pasadena — continues to explode.

On June 13, one day before kickoff of the first game of the World Cup between Russia and Saudi Arabia, the Federation International de Football Association (FIFA) announced that the 2026 World Cup will be held in the United States, Canada and Mexico. The joint North American bid beat out Morocco by a vote of 134-65, mostly due to the fact that all of the necessary facilities already exist in North America, whereas Morocco would have to build several stadiums and improve infrastructure to the tune of $16 billion.

According to The New York Times, President Donald Trump sent three letters to FIFA President Gianni Infantino over the past couple of months promising that “foreign teams, officials and even fans will face no restrictions on entering the US for World Cup matches in 2026 if their countries qualify for the tournament” and that Trump’s “hard line stance on visas would not apply to the World Cup.” The Trump administration’s travel ban and immigration policies almost derailed the North American bid.

Meanwhile, all eyes are on the final game of this year’s World Cup in Russia. The final game between France and Croatia will be played at 8 a.m. Pacific Standard Time on Sunday, July 15, at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

Sweet 16

The North American bid promises to generate $11 billion in profits for FIFA. It could also be beneficial for Pasadena’s Rose Bowl.

According to stadium General Manager Darryl Dunn, the facility, along with 22 other venues, is a candidate to host soccer games during the global, newly expanded 48-team tournament in 2026. Sixteen venues will ultimately be chosen by FIFA in 2020.

“We’re hopeful,” said Dunn. “Our fingers are crossed.”

When the United States last hosted the World Cup in 1994, the final game between Italy and victorious Brazil was held at the Rose Bowl. Mexico hosted the 1970 and 1986 tournaments. The US-Canada-Mexico bid forecasts that revenues will reach $14.3 billion.

International soccer has carved out its place in the Rose Bowl. The stadium has hosted several national teams, as well as European club teams such as Inter Milan, Chelsea, Real Madrid and others. It hosted an international soccer match in 2013, another in 2014, two in 2015, four in 2016 and one in 2017. This year, Mexico and Wales faced off on the Rose Bowl’s Spieker Field on Memorial Day, and July will see AC Milan take on Manchester United and FB Barcelona take on Tottenham Hotspur as part of the International Champions Cup.

Next year, the Rose Bowl will present at least two games during the regional 2019 Gold Cup tournament, hosted by the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF). The Rose Bowl hosted the CONCACAF Gold Cup final in 2002 and 2011, a group stage doubleheader in 2013 and a semifinal in 2017. The stadium also hosted Brazil vs. Ecuador, Colombia vs. Paraguay, and Mexico vs. Jamaica during the 2016 Copa America Centenario, a North, Central and South American regional soccer tournament.

In fact, international soccer is critical for the long-term financial viability of the Rose Bowl, Dunn told Pasadena City Council members at their June 4 meeting. That night, the council unanimously approved a 10-year exclusivity contract with one of Southern California’s two Major League Soccer teams, LA Galaxy, and promoter Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), which also produces the music festival Arroyo Seco Weekend, now in its second year at the Rose Bowl and Brookside Golf Course. The Rose Bowl Operating Co. and AEG are currently finalizing the contract’s language and are expected to sign it soon.

The other LA-based MLS team, LA Football Club, is a brand-new team with a brand-new stadium, the Banc of California Stadium in Exposition Park.

“Soccer is an essential piece [of the Rose Bowl’s financial viability],” Dunn told the Pasadena Weekly. “The Rose Bowl is the only venue in the world that has ever been the host of the gold medal match of the Olympics [in 1984] and the final matches of the men’s and women’s World Cups [in 1994 and 1999, respectively]. No one else has done it. Our history is second to none and we have the reputation of being the preeminent soccer venue in America. We want to build on that and strengthen that. Continuing to host high-level international soccer is very important for our future, which is the primary reason why we want to do this deal with AEG.”

The Rose Bowl will also likely host men’s and women’s semifinals and finals in soccer once again during the 2028 Olympics, to be hosted by Los Angeles. Dunn said that the RBOC had a handshake agreement with LA’s Olympic bid committee when it was aiming to host the Games in 2024.

“We’ve had some discussions [since Paris was awarded 2024 and LA was awarded 2028], and we do anticipate having the same events in 2028, but we need to finalize specifics related to that with the organizing committee,” Dunn said. “We’re cautiously optimistic that that’s going to happen. And certainly, our partnership with AEG is going to do nothing but make us — the Rose Bowl and therefore Pasadena — stronger.”

A Stronger Stadium

Pasadena’s contract with LA Galaxy and AEG stipulates that any soccer match with an expected attendance of 35,000 or more involving either of those two entities within the LA market must be offered to the Rose Bowl. In return, the Rose Bowl will involve AEG in all its soccer bookings. The agreement also allows for a higher license fee structure. Currently, the Rose Bowl earns about $165,000 per soccer match that it hosts; under the new agreement, the stadium will earn anywhere between $250,000 and $400,000 per match. Thirty percent of net revenues will go to AEG/LA Galaxy, excluding admission tax.

“We are confident that the minimum we will be able to generate [from special events such as international soccer games under this new agreement] is $300,000 per event,” said Dunn. “This is really an opportunity for the RBOC to give ourselves the best possible chance to continue to have soccer programming over the next 10 years.”

The increased soccer revenue will help offset the declining golf revenue that the RBOC relies on. Golf’s popularity is decreasing nationwide.

Jens Weiden, chief revenue officer of the RBOC, told council members that there is a real chance the Rose Bowl could be shut out of the soccer market if the city did not approve this contract.

“Over this 10-year span, that could represent millions of dollars in lost revenues for the RBOC,” Weiden said. “This deal will better align ourselves to hopefully book some of this programming. It could be said that outside of American football, our venue is known internationally as a soccer venue more than anything else. For us, soccer has been and will continue to be very important as far as programming and revenue for the RBOC. For a very long time, the Rose Bowl had very little competition in the market. That is changing.”

Weiden noted that the United Airlines Memorial Coliseum is currently undergoing a $300 million renovation that will be completed in 2019; the $350 million soccer-specific Banc of California Stadium opened earlier this year; and the $4 billion LA Stadium in Inglewood, which will be the home of the Chargers and the Rams and multiple other events, will open in 2020.

“Our landscape when it comes to attracting events, which is our business, has changed and is constantly changing,” he said. “AEG and LA Galaxy have been partners of the Rose Bowl for a very long time. When it comes to promoting a soccer match, you almost always partner with the local MLS team. This is because you need to be able to market and sell tickets, so you need to partner with somebody that has a database of people that buy soccer tickets in market.”

LA Galaxy, a founding member of MLS, first played at the Rose Bowl from 1996-2002.

“When we set out to renovate the stadium, this is precisely what we had in mind,” said Pasadena Councilman Victor Gordo. “Fortunately, we’re a couple steps ahead of the Inglewood stadium’s opening. That’s going to be the most expensive stadium in the history of this country — of the world, maybe. And they’re going to have to make up that $4 to $5 billion. They are going to be hungry for events, and they’re likely going to try to buy a lot of the business away from other stadiums. If we hadn’t done the work of renovating the stadium and positioning it ahead of time, we’d be in a world of hurt, potentially also losing UCLA. So I’d like to thank Darryl and his staff for having positioned the Rose Bowl in this way and giving us a fighting chance. This is the kind of deal that we need to drive for so that we’re not just responding to the market and trying to compete for very limited business.”

At the June 4 council meeting, Nina Chomsky, president of the Linda Vista-Annandale Association, questioned whether this deal represents “displacement creep,” meaning a gradual increase of large events at the Rose Bowl each year that are called “displacement events.” The city council has to approve any event over 15 per year. Dunn said they will reserve two displacement event slots for soccer each year over the 10-year period.

“Part of our agreement with AEG is anything over two, no matter what number it will be, would be subject to approvals by the city,” he said.

Pasadena UN Association chapter uses music to help children in some of the world’s poorest refugee camps

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 6/21/2018

With no end in sight to the unprecedented global refugee crisis, the Pasadena chapter of the United Nations Association (UNA) is hosting a concert Friday, June 22, to benefit two of the largest, most crowded and poorest refugee camps in the world.

The second annual concert will raise money for the Adopt-A-Future campaign, run by UNA-USA and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Launched in 2016, Adopt-A-Future raises money to benefit two UN refugee camps in Kenya: the Dadaab Refugee Complex and the Kakuma Refugee Camp, temporary home to more than 400,000 people. Those funds will be matched by the UN Foundation and the queen of Qatar, Sheikha Moza bint Nasser.

About 18 million of the more than 65 million people who have been forced to flee their homes and their countries due to conflict and persecution are under the direct care of the UN. More than half of them are children, many of whom have limited if any access to an education. One of the UN’s global goals, known as the Sustainable Development Goals, is dedicated to “providing inclusive, quality education to all and promoting lifelong learning as a basic human right.”

Student musicians from the Colburn School in Los Angeles will perform at the benefit concert, which will be held from 7 to 9:30 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center at Westridge School for Girls, 324 Madeline Drive Tickets are $25 for adults, $15 for seniors and $10 for students.

Friends in Aleppo

One of those student musicians is herself a refugee from Syria. When Nanor Seraydarian was 11 years old, she and her parents and siblings were visiting her aunt in the United States in June 2012 when all hell broke loose in Aleppo, her home town. They haven’t been back to Syria since, and now live in Reseda, which she said has been difficult. She is entering 11th grade in the fall.

“We didn’t know English back then [in 2012], so I had to learn a new language,” she said. “It was hard making friends at school, especially in the beginning, because everybody would speak English and I wouldn’t know what they were saying. I think music helped me get through that because when I play music I forget about all my worries and about all my pains, and I think through music is how we’re going to get to tell people to help these refugees gain an education.”

Seraydarian is a violinist who performed in last year’s Adopt-A-Future benefit concert and is looking forward to performing again this year.

“I really liked the concert last year,” she said. “It was a great idea to tell people about the refugee camps and the kids who are having difficulties in getting access to education. It was my honor and pleasure to play in the concert. I’m definitely excited to play again this year.”

The destruction of Aleppo was a humanitarian crisis from 2012 to 2016 and became the symbol of a disastrous war that the international community failed to stop. Seraydarian still has family members in Syria who she talks to every week.

“They’re in a safe area, but most areas are still not safe to go,” she said. “They’re mostly at home and at school. I still have some friends there, but I have no contact with them. Some of them I know are in Armenia now, some of them I know are in Canada. I still don’t know what happened to most of my friends who stayed in Aleppo.”

Seraydarian said she misses Syria and wants to go back “when the conditions permit, of course, when it’s safe to go back.”

Special Care Needed

The benefit concert is the brainchild of Marta Sterns, who serves on the board of UNA-Pasadena.

“To me, the fact that those kids are trapped in refugee camps for an average of 17 years is really scary,” she said. “I point out to my progressive friends the fact that it’s a humanitarian crisis when you think of losing that much talent and mental capacity over the next couple of generations. I point out to my conservative friends that there will be 65 million illiterate people emerging from those camps with no home, no country and no place to go. That’s scarier than anything we’re looking at right now, in terms of the potential for radicalization.”

At Kakuma and the nearby Kalobeyei Settlement, which were established in 2015, an influx of refugees from South Sudan has stretched thin the available resources, including education. At Dadaab, 95 percent of the population is from Somalia. According to a UN report, “of 48,737 students enrolled in Dadaab schools in December 2017, there were 943 ‘special needs’ students.” Sterns pointed out that many refugee children need special care because they have experienced extremely traumatic situations, such as the killing of their parents.

Girls are also particularly vulnerable. They constitute nearly 70 percent of out-of-school children in the camps, according to the UN report.

“Girls face negative cultural practices such as early marriage, female genital mutilation, difficulties balancing school work and domestic responsibilities, overcrowding which tends to push girls out and family preferences to educate boys,” reads the report.

So far, the Adopt-A-Future campaign has helped to “expand school infrastructure (seven classrooms and 16 latrines), improve teacher salaries and training and provide desks and more than 9,000 textbooks. Primary education access improved 15.1 percent from 2016 through 2017, and refugee children who sat for the national primary exam achieved an 87.8 percent pass rate (the national average was 76 percent).”

However, these improvements have “not kept pace with the significant growth in school enrollment. Overcrowding threatens the quality of education as 160 children share a classroom meant for 40 pupils. There is one teacher for every 103 pupils, one book for every seven students and one desk for every seven students.”

A Human Right

At the benefit concert, Sterns is aiming to raise $30,000 to build a classroom in one of the refugee camps.

“Last year, we got about 200 people and raised about $8,000, but the auditorium at Westridge will hold 450. We want to fill the room this year,” she said.

Sterns will also be hosting a fundraising soiree at her house in Pasadena where a pianist and an opera singer will perform. She and other members of UNA-Pasadena plan to reach out to local progressive groups to raise funds as well.

“Last year, we had problems giving tickets to the benefit concert away because people thought it was a little kids’ recital, but when they showed up it was a jaw dropping experience,” she said. “These kids are really outstanding performers. They’re in the protégé category. They fill the room with music, and it is just so beautiful.”

Sterns said events like these are becoming increasingly necessary since the Trump administration is cutting US foreign aid, including the United States’ traditional contribution to organizations like the UN. In December, the administration announced $285 million in cuts to the UN’s budget.

“U.S. support around the world is disappearing,” Sterns said. “The remaining opportunities to make a difference in a very complex, violent world are that much more critical. It’s the kids that get me. To me, education is a human right. Besides providing some kind of a life, it’s survival for these populations. They’re not going to make it without an education. They can be trapped in a camp for 17 years, but we can free their minds. We can still give them a chance.”

UNA-Pasadena will also present the second annual Jon Charles Distinguished Service Award to Methodist minister, author, occasional Pasadena Weekly contributing columnist and social activist Inman Moore, in appreciation of his lifelong commitment for social justice, equality and human rights. The award is named after past UNA-Pasadena President Jon Charles, for “his selfless service and dedication to a world that works for everyone.” 

Tickets for tomorrow’s Adopt-A-Future benefit concert can be purchased at the door or online at:

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.”