December 14, 2005 - From the December, 2005 issue

Pasadena Councilmember Holden Leads Effort to Lure NFL Franchise to City's Rose Bowl

Long considered one of the model small cities of the L.A. area, Pasadena has as much activity as cities five times its size. Most notably, Pasadena's city-owned Rose Bowl remains on the short list for an NFL franchise, and City Councilmember Chris Holden is leading a petition drive that would allow Pasadena residents to vote on whether or not the city should continue to court the NFL. Meanwhile, far from the national spotlight, Pasadena is slowly losing residents due to lack of affordable housing. TPR recently spoke with Councilmember Holden to get an update on the city's diverse challenges.

Chris Holden

One of the most significant issues on the agenda of the City of Pasadena is what to do about the NFL and the Rose Bowl. You've been a leader in trying to attract an NFL team and their dollars to refurbish the Rose Bowl. Give us a status report and a prognosis on your efforts.

We're in the process of circulating a citizens initiative throughout the community. We need 9,816 good signatures to qualify the initiative for the ballot. We're having good success, and if we stay on the pace, we should be finished by the end of the year or beginning of January.

The NFL has been seriously negotiating with the City of L.A. on its Coliseum bid. I gather you and your ballot petitioners had originally hoped to do be done in October. Is a meaningful vote in Pasadena still feasible?

I think it's still feasible. We have recognize that because the city council was unable to move forward with an affirmative vote to continue negotiation that we're a little bit behind the eight-ball, but the league hasn't made any decisions yet, which is good for us. Every time that they delay is a help to our effort. As I recall, the commissioner and others who were here in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago indicated that they were excited about returning to the L.A. market, which suggests that Pasadena would still be considered because we're part of the L.A. market. Then they said notwithstanding the City of Pasadena's and the council's action that the Rose Bowl is still an active part of their consideration.

So, that means we are recognized for what we're doing, and we suspect that if the league didn't support what we were doing, they probably would have just told us not to waste our time. To that end we are continuing to gather signatures that we need to qualify the initiative for the ballot. I believe, at the end of the day, the people of Pasadena will support the proposal.

As you know better than anyone, Pasadena is a process-oriented and litigious city when it comes to development. Even if you were successful in getting the signatures and having a special election, isn't it quite possible that your competitors, namely L.A., would take advantage of the long delays that are threatened, and outmaneuver Pasadena for the NFL franchise?

There's no doubt about the fact that we're taking the long route here, but we have no choice. The upside for the City of Pasadena is tremendous, and because the Rose Bowl is struggling financially, losing nearly $3 million every year, and is an old stadium that's going to need probably $150 million in renovation work, our obligation is to not let any viable opportunity pass by.

We can't worry about lawsuits because we think we have a strong position. I can't imagine a court saying, "Don't collect the signatures." I can't picture a court telling us not to let the people vote on an initiative that they've put on the ballot. The courts have been predisposed, in my understanding, to let the voters have the final say because, quite frankly, the voters may or may not support the proposal. We're just taking it one step at a time and not worrying about issues or problems that may or may not materialize.

Elaborate, please, on the upside, the potential city good from the NFL playing in the Rose Bowl.

An NFL team would result in a fully renovated Rose Bowl, which the NFL would spend $500-plus million to renovate our bowl that the taxpayers would continue to own. The City would receive $500,000 a year in rent and realize $5.5 million a year in savings . In addition, jobs will be created and the regions business community will be stimulated by the league's presence.

NFL football is not the only public issue in Pasadena. The Gold Line, which has been operating for two full years, is another priority. What contributions has that line made to your constituents and the city, and how will you build on its success?

Overall the Gold Line is has been a positive and valuable public project. The full value, however, will be realized once the line is completed to the eastern county line. For now, we're seeing people over the weekends making day trips to Pasadena and taking advantage of Old Pasadena and the shopping there as well as the shopping on the east part of town. But, I'm really not convinced that we're getting a lot of commuters to park and ride. I'm certainly hopeful and believe that once the line is extended that we will start seeing more park and ride commuters.

The priority issue confronting your school board is the need to close up to four schools because of declining enrollment. A common perception is that gentrification of Pasadena is materially changing the very nature of neighborhoods. Could you elaborate on the changes and the city going forward?


It certainly is becoming a less affordable city to live in. As a result, many families who were part of the public school system are moving to more reasonably priced communities, and that's roughly 2,300 students out of the school system. As a result, we lose nearly $18 million from the state.

The dynamics of our community are changing, and the perception of our school district has not improved significantly. So, the question is how can we afford to meet the growing needs of our young people? One of the things that I suggested to our city manager is that we look at the issue of maybe a tuition that could be imposed on those who use the school district.

Private schools usually charge between $6000 to $10,000 a year and even if we get a modest number like $500 a year per child, that would generate in excess of $10 million a year. That money could then be used to go back in the classrooms, but in some instances it's just not going to work for some families because they're just not going to afford even $500. So, we have to look maybe to fundraising where major corporations contributions can be clearly measured. Where the resources would go directly toward assisting children supplementing their education.

The focus would be on the school district getting its financial house in order, making adjustments to how they presently spend the money, and looking at ways of generating new revenue. I think just closing schools is too easy a solution, and it's rather draconian. To the larger issue of enrollment, the lack of affordable housing is an indicator on what's happening and what's causing families to have to leave our city.

You've had as one of your city council priorities affordable housing, for precisely the reasons you've just described. Is it being built? Can Pasadena accommodate affordable housing?

One of our challenges is that we're a fully built-out city. We don't have a lot of open area for new housing. The school district has a number of properties; I know they're looking at one surplus property that could be used for construction of housing. Generally speaking, we have an inclusionary housing ordinance that I think is making a significant difference, but the problem has gotten to be so significant – and it's not just in Pasadena – that you feel like you're at the beach digging in the sand but as soon as you have something dug, a wave comes along and fills it back up.

We're going to do the best that we can and we're going to continue to look at creative ways to address this issue. The city owns property that we are going to try to offer up along with housing credits and tax credits to create incentives for developers coming to our city to build affordable housing. We have a large in-lieu fee that has generated somewhere in excess of $10 million dollars, and we just need to figure out how to best leverage it to not just take it and put it into one project or two or three.

We're looking at density bonuses as another way of encouraging affordable housing and looking at areas of our downtown like East Colorado Blvd. as opportunity zones or areas where they're in need of revitalization. It's a tough issue to get our arms around but we're working really hard, and I think we've been more creative and more successful than most cities in trying to make a difference.

You just commented on the City of Pasadena's penchant for creative solutions. The City relies on professionals like your city manager and police chief, whose tenures are now approaching a decade, the upper range of the lasting power of most people in these senior positions. How do you attract and retain top-quality people in your public administration positions in Pasadena?

That's a good question. I think we have outstanding people, and I think they're a good fit for the city. I believe that they understand the dynamics of our form of government and the commissions and roles of the neighborhood associations that play in the dynamics of our policy-making.

I think that they've put together a responsive staff that understands our community and how to encourage growth and development that recognize that our policies have to be set in such a way that our city isn't overrun with growth and development.

The city manager supports a system that allows opportunity for upward mobility. So even if we find ourselves looking at transition issues down the road, we've done a great job of bringing in talented people, giving them an environment to grow, compensating them appropriately, and challenge their ability to come up with cutting-edge solutions.


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