On Wednesday, Pasadena’s new Mayor, Victor Gordo gave his inaugural State of the City address, albeit virtually due to the ongoing pandemic. Below is his speech:
Pasadena has proven to be a resilient city, populated by strong and committed people. By working together, we have overcome economic recessions, earthquakes and a myriad of other community challenges.
In the past year, we have collectively experienced A Time Like No Other! Now is the moment to call upon our resilient spirit, our willingness to work together to overcome and ensure that all Pasadena residents—including those among us who are less fortunate—have an opportunity to not only rebound, but to thrive, as Pasadena returns to the vibrant, special place we all love. And you should be certain, as a City and as a people, that we WILL return stronger than ever!
As a son, father, brother, husband, resident, and Mayor of Pasadena, my heart really goes out to all of our neighbors and friends whose health (or that of a loved one) has been affected by COVID-19, as well as to those persons who have been devastated by its subsequent economic impact, or a dire combination of both. Far too many lives will never be the same, and we must keep them in our thoughts and prayers. In Pasadena alone, 300 people have lost their lives due to COVID-19, and I would ask that we observe a brief moment of silent reflection for all of those affected during this global pandemic.
While COVID-19 has certainly brought us unprecedented challenges, the crisis has also rallied our community to work together to help one another.
Housing our vulnerable population during this past year has been a trying challenge, but one where we have made a difference in so many lives. In partnership with Union Station Homeless Services, over 100 unsheltered persons were moved into hotel rooms. Our Mobile Showers program was expanded, and hundreds of hygiene kits were distributed to those in need.
Our Emergency Rental Assistance Program allotted nearly $1 million to assist COVID-19-impacted renter households for up to three months, and the City made significant progress in affordable housing development with its newly completed Decker and Gill Court projects, providing 16 low-income households with first time homebuyer units.
Purchased by the City from Caltrans, The Waverly House was repaired, renovated and now provides housing for three lower acuity, formerly homeless women. The Pasadena Community Foundation also provided a grant to Habitat for Humanity to construct an accessory dwelling unit on the Waverly site for additional affordable housing.
Funding commitments were made for two new supportive housing developments: the Salvation Army’s Hope Center and Bridge Housing’s Heritage Square South, which will house over 130 people experiencing chronic homelessness, including seniors and veterans.
We put together an outreach team for efforts related to COVID and the business community. The team quickly assembled a content-rich webpage geared toward local businesses, highlighting how to receive assistance from local, state and federal government sources, and maintained regular, ongoing communication with the City’s business improvement districts, its corporate citizens, real estate professionals, and the business community at large.
It has been a roller coaster ride for our restaurants, and our City team helped support these establishments with an online directory for take-out and delivery, outdoor dining guidelines, grants, and reimbursement programs.
Our Parks, Recreation & Community Services Department helped facilitate the delivery of healthy, nourishing meals to Pasadena seniors through the Great Plates Program, which helped subsidize several local restaurants that stepped up to assist for months with this effort.
The City also provided funding and distribution of 152,600 grab and go lunches every week at seven PUSD sites for PUSD students and their families.
So far, the City has contributed $572,000 to ten food banks, pantries and feeding programs, which in turn has provided sustenance to over 27,000 residents of Pasadena experiencing food insecurity.
The Foothill Workforce Development Board assisted laid off employees with finding alternate solutions, and to help offset the economic downturn, the City issued nearly $11 million in rebates to its residents and businesses, because we are all truly in this together.
RECOVERING FROM THE COVID-19 CRISIS
To recover from the COVID crisis, more vaccine is required, and we must move swiftly to ensure the efficient, effective and equitable vaccination of our residents. In that regard, I am calling on the state and federal government to distribute more vaccine to cities like Pasadena that quickly prepared for a distribution system, only to be failed with insufficient supply. When provided with an appropriate supply, Pasadena can and will do its part to effectively distribute and administer the vaccine.
Recovering will also mean addressing the very serious mental health challenges that the pandemic has caused among all age groups, but particularly among our children. It is crucial to recognize that many of our young people have struggled to remain focused on education, and lost important opportunities to socialize, interact and participate in group activities, including sports—simple, fundamental activities that are so developmentally important as they evolve into the next phase of their lives.
Tonight you heard directly from students at Madison Elementary and they shared with us a sampling of the challenges they face every day. As a community we have a responsibility to pay close attention to what our kids and educators are experiencing. We must work to ensure that our schools reopen in a manner that is safe for students and educators alike and consistent with all appropriate guidelines, so that students have the opportunity to participate in activities that allow them to socialize, compete and simply laugh and smile together again. I am asking our City Council and staff to take up this very subject at our upcoming joint meeting with the PUSD School Board, as we must work together to ensure every child in this City has an opportunity to participate in programs that are of interest to them and enrich their lives, like science, music, athletics, and the arts.
THE LOCAL ECONOMIC FACTOR
We cannot say we are on the road to recovery without addressing the issue of our local economy. As a City and region, we must focus our hard earned dollars and make every effort to buy local. Remember, every penny you spend with our local business community goes to supporting our neighbors who are employed by those establishments, so I would encourage everyone to please buy local and support the businesses in our community.
While we have asked so many to slow down, we have also asked many others to act much more quickly—our healthcare professionals and essential workers, including City employees, and I want to express my gratitude for their willingness to respond during this unprecedented time.
SOCIAL EQUITY AND POLICING
2020 brought great awareness to social justice and policing. The nation engaged in discussions, protests, civil unrest, and ongoing dialogue in day-to-day conversation, with Pasadena supporting its residents to exercise their First Amendment rights in a safe manner. Thank you to all of those who respectfully made their views known.
We recognize that every minute of every hour, brave men and women serving in the Pasadena Police Department are working to protect us. At the same time, we also recognize the need for building trust and confidence in policing, and you can expect to see fair and effective reform.
If we are truly to create lasting change, the social equity dialogue must extend beyond policing. Evident is the need to get back to basics: doing all we can to provide children and youth with positive alternative activities, supporting quality education, and helping people of all ages with access to job training and viable employment, which leads to a successful career and improved quality of life.
Given the extraordinary challenges we face today, implementation of the City’s Early Child Development Policy and the Office of the Young Child is now more important than ever. Assuring that our youngest children are healthy, safe and successful as they develop is key to addressing and ending the cycle of racism, inequity and violence.
While we have seen a 20% drop in overall crime in our City, we should all be disturbed that Pasadena—like much of the rest of the country—is experiencing an increase in violent crime. Nationwide, violent crime has increased 35%.
In 2020 we saw a 50% increase in people who were identified as victims of a shooting and were actually shot. In 2021 we have already seen seven shootings and five victims, including the recent shooting of an innocent 10-year-old boy. This activity is not acceptable, and my expectation is that Pasadena Police Department will work with law enforcement agencies at all levels to identify and bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice.
The City has lost approximately $30 million in revenue and spent approximately $30 million in COVID-19 related expenses as a result of the pandemic, and there is no question that our 20% reserve policy has served us well.
Unfortunately, some COVID-19 expenditures—such as leave granted under the CARES Act—is not eligible for FEMA reimbursement. We also do not anticipate that expenditures relating to our on-street dining efforts or action taken early on to “regulate” recreation at the Rose Bowl Loop will be accepted by FEMA.
So while the hope is that the City will be reimbursed for the majority of its COVID-19 related expenditures, there are likely costs incurred that will not be accepted or eligible. Since we are continuously working on cost documentation and FEMA submittals I don’t have a hard estimate for how much this might be, but the CARES Act leave alone was $2.5 million.
That said, it is imperative that we continue the practice of smart and fiscally responsible budgeting that has allowed us to provide some measure of support and relief to residents and businesses as they navigate the impact and uncertainties caused by the pandemic. Even in the midst of this crisis, as recently as this month, the City Council took action to replenish our reserve fund, and we will continue to do so.
Our current General Fund Reserves are as follows:
- 5% Operating Reserve: $2,500,000.00
- 15% Emergency Reserve: $41,339,700.00
- Section 115 Trust: $12,800,000.00
Pasadena’s sales tax payments have continued to be received according to the initial revenue forecasts, and no additional adjustments are being made at this time. Revenue details for the fourth quarter (October – December 2020) will not be available until April or May, but we are cautiously optimistic.
Independent businesses selling on Amazon reported more than 60% year-over-year growth from the same Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend in 2019. Our sales tax revenue through the end of 2020 was $11,187,012. Measure I sales tax through the end of 2020 was $8,151,128.00.
All of this to say: I am happy to report that overall the City’s financial position is stable at this time, but we must continue to be cautious and guarded with our spending.
I am particularly concerned about the Rose Bowl and the Convention Center. As we all know, both venues are currently prohibited from hosting large events and generating revenue, so the City’s General Fund must serve as a back-stop for debt service of each. The future of hosting in-person conventions and large-scale conferences is still unknown, and a cause for concern: a combination of wanting to avoid large indoor crowds, plus the convenience and reduced cost to attend virtual conventions will likely pose an economic challenge going forward.
The City’s financial status notwithstanding, the pandemic has had devastating impacts to our local economy. There have been dramatic shifts in business stability and employment. In general, Pasadena’s unemployment rate continues to be similar to statewide levels, but remains 2-3 percentage points better than Los Angeles County. From a peak unemployment rate of 16.4% in May 2020, California’s unemployment rate fell to 8.2% in November – but is likely closer to 10% now.
Pasadena’s retail and restaurant segments were significantly impacted by the pandemic. Diminished foot traffic, continued in-store limitations and an accelerated shift to digital shopping has put much more pressure on brick-and-mortar retailers. Too many of our local businesses have shuttered.
The changing health regulations over the past 11 months have also created overwhelming challenges for restaurants. Quick service continues to fair better than traditional sit-down dining establishments. Forecasts anticipated that a number of restaurants and hotels would not survive the second round of forced hibernation that was only recently lifted a few weeks ago, and unfortunately some of our beloved Pasadena restaurants have permanently closed.
Although the City invested in street dining barricades, waived various parking requirements to allow for dining in parking lots, provided grants for storefronts, and issued utility rebates to electric customers, ultimately it is really our individual decisions to support our local businesses that will help make a difference. So let’s support our local businesses!
Finally, an uptick in travel is not expected to begin until spring, and will take years to reach 2019 pre-pandemic levels. Let us keep in mind that Pasadena’s economy, while diverse, is reliant on people travelling to Pasadena to work, dine, shop, be entertained, recreate, educate, and be educated. Pre-pandemic, in the neighborhood of 105,000 people visited our City every day. Now, as you might imagine, that number has tumbled. Let me say it again: support our local businesses.
WE HAVE REASON TO BE OPTIMISTIC!
Despite big challenges, there are people working diligently in preparation for when the economy swings back.
Yes, this is A Time Like No Other: a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, unemployment, an uptick in violent crime, social inequity, a housing crisis and homelessness, but I am confident that as a people, as a community, we will come together and persevere.
With regard to the COVID-19 crisis, the number of those infected with the virus has recently dropped dramatically. In fact, in every metric we are doing better: newly reported cases are down to a 7-day average of 21.3, hospitalizations are down and, importantly, the number of individuals needing intensive care has dropped dramatically. As we await more vaccine, let’s continue to be responsive and responsible.
On the economy front, already economists—including the Anderson School—are upbeat and forecasting GDP growth of 1.2% in 4th quarter 2020, 1.8% growth in 1st quarter 2021, 6% growth in 2nd quarter 2021, and a 3% growth in 3rd quarter 2021. I ask that we all do our part to ensure our local businesses and local economy exceed these projections—and urge everyone to please shop, dine and spend locally! Let’s keep that in mind and reconnect with our local business owners and our neighbors who work in Pasadena.
As it relates to violence in our community, I have shared with our City Manager, City Prosecutor and Police Chief that we must actively strive to solve these crimes. There is not a stone to be left unturned as we work to identify and bring perpetrators of criminal activity to justice so that they are held accountable for their actions. I would also encourage our community to be part of the solution: implement or participate in a neighborhood watch program, check on your neighbors, know what’s happening on your street or on your block, and if you see something, say something.
I am buoyed by what I believe to be a reenergized and collective agreement that all in our community benefit when we increase and make available paths to success for all residents of our City and community. There are different stages to this effort, and I will introduce some immediate steps in the very near future. The Office of the Young Child, which focuses on our youngest residents—infants to age 5—is an important long term solution that will require longer-term investment in our community.
Many have commented to me: what a time to be Mayor! Crisis after crisis and challenge after challenge—do you regret running for Mayor? My answer is this: I am fortunate to serve as Mayor of Pasadena during the most difficult of times. Yes, it is a tough time to serve, but I feel prepared and am honored to serve as your Mayor! Be assured that your City Council is well equipped to provide sound, rational decision making through civil discourse at a time when it is needed most, and we are proud to represent the residents of this great City.
Tonight, as we remember those who have lost their lives to COVID-19, and hold those whose lives will be forever changed by this pandemic in our thoughts, let us look forward to the day when our community can say that we made it through A Time Like No Other. As young Amy Nolasco, a first-grade student, said at the beginning of this program: “even if our situations are difficult, we only need to try and focus on what is important to us. I know sometimes it’s difficult but we can learn to work through it.” Amy, you are wise beyond your years and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for you and your classmates.
As we move forward together, know that it is my distinct honor and pleasure to serve as your Mayor, and that I am committed to keeping Pasadena as the Center of The Universe!
Thank you and good night.