Mayor Terry Tornek Reflects on First Year in Office, Looks Ahead to Pasadena's Immediate Future in Wednesday Speech
|September 15, 2016 - Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek called for a "broad and deep discussion about the Arroyo" in a luncheon speech to the Rotary Club.|
Mayor Terry Tornek addressed a packed room at a Pasadena Rotary Club luncheon Wednesday to discuss his vision for the future of Pasadena as he enters his second year as the city’s Mayor. His reflections on his first year in office and naming of the city’s top priorities come with over thirty years experience working for the city as he works on pressing issues that include the city’s economy, policing, government and infrastructure.
“It’s really a privilege to be Pasadena’s Mayor. It’s challenging and I learn something new virtually everyday. I’m grateful to those of you that helped get me in to this position and I continue to commit to you that I’m really investing a lot of energy and time in to doing the right thing for our city,” Tornek said.
The Mayor addressed the challenges the city faces.
“My strong feeling is that our ability to deliver services to the community is fundamentally based on the financial shape that we are in. It was important for me to stake that out early in the game,” Tornek said. “This year, we’re going to see that process move into high gear.”
Tornek reflected on his top priority during his first year in office as assembling an experienced and qualified body of government personnel. He highlighted the appointment of Pasadena City Manager Steve Mermell as being an integral part of this process.
“[In Mermell] we have a person who understands fiscal issues very well and worked for the city for twenty-seven years and is very knowledgeable about how exactly a city process works. He is also known and trusted by the city employees. He knows, as I do, that our current business model in the city is not sustainable. We simply cannot support the number of employees that we currently have,” Tornek said.
Tornek said the city’s future financial woes, projected in recent city budget preparations to start with an ever-growing deficit starting next fiscal year, translates into a Pasadena incapable of paying the competitive salaries that employees deserve, which is necessary to attract the best candidates for city positions.
“When we do our five year budget projection, all we see going out to the horizon is red ink. It’s not a sustainable format. We have a tough road to go and what we are determined not to do is the traditional city approach of telling department heads to lose employees but maintain the same amount of programs. That’s magical thinking and it doesn’t work,” explained Tornek.
Tornek described the scenario as a hopeful one and believes that the city has the intellectual “firepower” to cope with what he identified as the city’s most pressing problem.
The Mayor also listed other challenges faced by the city.
“Several issues that I think are going to be very active and that are coming very soon relate to the police department. It is a core service of the city that we all recognize it must provide. There will be a very continuing debate about police oversight and what form it should take,” explained Tornek who mentioned the “hot topic” of establishing policies and procedure-setting for the use of body cameras on police officers.
“It’s enormously time consuming and controversial,” said Tornek.
Another topic of concern is one of Pasadena’s most beloved stretches of land.
“I think in the next year we are going to have a very broad and deep discussion about the Arroyo,” said Tornek.
According to Tornek, the Arroyo Seco is a mainstay attraction and perimeter of Pasadena that functions as the city’s own Central Park in comparison. Concerns include the ongoing issue with the Los Angeles County Public Works sediment removal program at Devil’s Gate Dam, the upcoming Arroyo Seco music and arts festival in June, and the proposed expansion of the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center.
“I believe we must develop a vision for the entire Arroyo and examine new models for governance and operations in the Arroyo,” Tornek said, going on to mention he recently visited several cities around the country to try look at best practices of other cities in maintaining expansive parks.
Keeping the city government ship in top form means community participation in upcoming city elections, Tornek said, saying he is worried that next year’s elections will see far too few newcomers running for office.
“In March. we have local elections for the City Council and for the PUSD. The big story there may be how uncompetitive those elections are and how few people run for those offices. I do think that a competitive election process is a healthy process and it is a little bit concerning that so few of our local elections are contested,” said Tornek.
Tornek also shed light on what he describes as the longest running drama in Pasadena that has been lingering in discussions for over five decades: the completion of the 710 Freeway. The Mayor said after a lull in activities, the plan to build a 710 tunnel is about to become a major topic again.
“That event is going to suddenly reappear in a very active way. Our efforts will be to really develop a method to find seven votes on the Metro board to kill this project once and for all,” said Tornek about L.A. Metro’s expenditure plan that would fund a wide variety of transit and highway projects known as Measure-M that will be on the November ballot.
Tornek told the audience that City Councilmember Steve Madison will host a forum at the Convention Center on Thursday, September 15 from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. about the 710 Freeway tunnel.
“I urge you to go. It’s going to be an intense discussion about a project that could have catastrophic impacts on Pasadena. It’s really headed for a showdown in the first quarter of 2017,” said Tornek.