West Pasadena neighborhood associations hear from candidates

District 6, mayoral contenders make their case

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Now, 1/24/2020, Photos by Brian Biery

[First of two parts] Each of the Pasadena mayoral and District 6 City Council candidates laid out their views on issues facing West Pasadena last night at a forum hosted by three neighborhood associations: the West Pasadena Residents’ Association (WPRA), the Linda Vista-Annandale Association (LVAA) and the Madison Heights Neighborhood Association (MHNA). [Watch the forum here.]

About 200 people attended the forum at Maranatha High School, which was moderated by WPRA treasurer Blaine Cavena along with WPRA Advisory Council members Vince Farhat and this reporter, Justin Chapman.

Mayor Terry Tornek faces three challengers in the March 3, 2020, election: District 5 Councilmember Victor Gordo, former Senior Commissioner Jason Hardin, and businessman Major Williams. In District 6, Councilmember Steve Madison faces two challengers: attorney Tamerlin Godley and nonprofit executive Ryan Bell. At the forum, all seven candidates answered questions on homelessness, development, reclaiming the 710 stub, affordable housing, suicide prevention on the Colorado Street Bridge and more.

The candidates agreed on a number of issues, such as maintaining natural open space in the lower Arroyo Seco. But there were also clear distinctions between the candidates on other issues.

On homelessness and affordable housing

Pasadena, along with the rest of California, is experiencing a housing crisis, which contributes to homelessness and causes families to leave Pasadena, resulting in lower enrollment at Pasadena Unified School District schools and thus school closures.

Godley argued that the city “needs to push the county to fund and scale up existing [homelessness services] programs.”

Hardin said the issue is dear to him because he has experienced homelessness. He said he takes it very seriously and called for the creation of an Affordable Housing Commission.

“Inclusionary housing needs to be strengthened constantly,” he said.

Bell, a tenants’ rights activist, recalled how his landlord in Northwest Pasadena raised his rent by 110 percent, after which he discovered there were hardly any protections for tenants in the city. “I’m a strong advocate for rent control,” he said. “People can’t afford to stay where they are.”

Gordo called for a comprehensive strategy on affordable housing. “We won’t build our way out of this,” he said, adding that housing and homelessness are regional issues. “Pasadena needs to reclaim its seat on the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments.”

Madison pointed to his strong support of raising the minimum wage and the number of affordable units in the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance to 20 percent. “In addressing the gap between the haves and have nots, it’s important to remember living and fair wages,” he said.

Williams said he’s met with residents and stakeholder groups such as Union Station. “I want to know what services are available and what’s working and what’s not,” he said. “We need to focus on the economics so people can make more and afford housing.”

Tornek pointed out that this is the number one issue people raise when he goes door to door. “Pasadena is one of two cities in San Gabriel Valley that experienced a decline in homelessness,” he said. “But we have a long way to go; on any given night there are 300 people sleeping on the streets, which is just not acceptable. We have to preserve existing affordable housing and make use of city land.”

On local zoning control

In the last couple of years, in an effort to address the housing crisis, the state has passed laws that constrain the ability of local cities to set their own land use policies.

Hardin said he was in favor of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) as a way to help generate much needed housing.

“I understand people have concerns with protecting single family homes. These adjustments won’t demolish those neighborhoods but will create an incentive to create affordable housing. We should comply and increase our stock in affordable housing.”

Bell said local control is ideal, but that the city doesn’t operate in a vacuum. “Pasadena hasn’t been the worst at this but a lot of cities haven’t done what they can and should do to create housing opportunities for people in need and the middle class,” he said. “I would not be in favor of litigation. That money should go towards building affordable housing. The panic over ADUs is overblown. Not everyone will build an ADU, and those who do will help alleviate the shortage of housing.”

Gordo stressed that the city shouldn’t let anyone take away its local control, especially when Pasadena is doing its part in regards to affordable housing. “The state is penalizing the city and its residents for what other cities haven’t done,” he said. “It’s already affecting the fabric of our city. It’s very real and we need to push back. This one-size-fits-all approach the state is taking is wrong.”

Madison argued that since the state forced the city to lift its moratorium on ADUs, there hasn’t been a flood of new ADUs built. However, he added that “we have to have local zoning control.”

Williams said he supports ADUs but would like to revisit the issue in two years to evaluate the impact they’re having. “We need to create opportunities for people,” he said. “Some [zoning and housing related] decisions have been detrimental to lots of communities in the city.”

Tornek said he raised the idea of suing the state over these state-imposed restrictions in his State of the City address last year, but has since become persuaded that that’s not the most effective response. “I don’t want Pasadena to be put in the bucket of being ‘housing resistant,’” he said. “We need to lead by example by working to modify the legislation and I’ve already begun those discussions.”

Godley argued that ADUs will create congestion and parking issues. “We need to think creatively [about housing],” she said, citing examples such as renting-to-own, subsidies, and artist collectives.

On suicide prevention on the Colorado Street Bridge

The city recently hired architects to design suicide prevention barriers for the Colorado Street Bridge and presented several designs.

Gordo said the city should do everything it can to prevent suicides. “That includes better mental health programs and making sure the county does its part,” he said. “We should look at all alternatives.”

Madison pointed out that a new community lives below the bridge and said he supported the city manager’s decision to install temporary barriers. “I do support some [physical] solution,” he said. “We have a consultant studying it now and we will have public meetings starting in February. I’m confident we can come up with a solution.”

Williams also supported temporary barriers but argued that city resources should be going to affordable housing and homelessness, rather than consultants. “I think more pressing issues in terms of resources and funds should solely be focused on affordable housing and homelessness,” he said.

Tornek agreed that the temporary fencing was appropriate. “We can’t tolerate our iconic bridge being identified as the go-to location for suicide in the region,” he said. “We have to be honest: no matter what physical barrier is installed, it won’t be an aesthetically pleasing item compared to how it looked before the fencing.”

Godley said she’s glad the consultants have been hired to study the issue. “We need to look at what mental health services the county will provide,” she said. “We need to have a good relationship with the county.”

Hardin called for adding artwork and murals to the bridge as a way of changing the minds of those attempting to take their own lives. “If we just change the structure of it, they’ll just find another bridge,” he said. “Also, it will be expensive to maintain any physical barrier. Instead, we can do a one-time redecoration of the bridge to pay tribute to those who lost their lives there.”

Bell said he’d rather affect the visual image of the bridge than have it remain known nationwide as a place where people commit suicide. “We need to do everything we can to address the other issues, such as the sense of despair in this economy.”