August 29, 2008 - From the August, 2008 issue

Pasadena's Mayor Bogaard Assesses City's Housing Element

Few cities in Los Angeles County have experienced such comprehensive urban revitalization as Pasadena over the past decade. In 2008, Pasadena stands as an example for the rest of region-and state-of what a diverse, urban city can become through smart planning. Although he's happy to talk about Pasadena's successes with housing, transit, and cultural amenities, Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard recently spoke with TPR about the ongoing goals of the city, including the Gold Line Extension through the San Gabriel Valley and the need to further improve the city's job/housing balance.


Mayor Bogaard

The Pasadena Planning Commission, in response to its duty to meet housing needs, is currently reviewing and updating the city's 2008-2014 General Plan Housing Element. What should our readers be aware of regarding Pasadena's housing challenges and planning goals?

Our Housing Element is part of a General Plan update that will occupy the attention of the City Council and the city staff over the next 18 months. The Housing Element is largely shaped by state law guidelines in terms of affordable housing and requirements for future growth. Pasadena is proud of its record of creating housing and a significant number of affordable units. Our feeling is that we're doing more than other cities in the region in regard to meeting housing needs. Our new Housing Element, which will be viewed in relation to the Land Use and Mobility Elements, gives us a chance to shape the housing policy of the city in a way that moves forward with construction of new units, subject to receipt of projects from the private sector.

Given the record of Pasadena in building more than its fair share of affordable housing, the General Plan Update obviously has to balance land use, open space, and the conservation of land. Considering the credit crisis and present downturn in the housing market, how will the city's update be different from past reviews? How will the judgments of the Pasadena Housing Element reflect both today's housing market and tomorrow's growth expectations?

Certainly the reduced value of tax credits, the limited availability of traditional credit for housing projects, and general market conditions all raise challenges today and for the next few years that didn't exist a couple of years ago. To the extent that we have opportunities for new residential investment in the city through the private sector, our inclusionary housing ordinance requires-and the council will support-additional units of affordable housing. The credit markets will be a major factor in what happens. It is my hope that when thoughtful, well-structured projects come forward, they will be successful in getting funding.

The issue of how dense urban communities should be planned to accommodate growth is typically contentious. Is that an issue in Pasadena? Are you struggling to balance open space and density?

Yes. But at the same time, Pasadena adopted higher density in the 1990s for the transit corridor created by the Gold Line. The bulk of new residential development-about three-quarters of the total city-wide-has occurred in the downtown area, in so-called transit oriented projects. By the time this decade is over, Pasadena will have completed over 4,000 residential units, about four times the total units constructed during the decade of the 1990's, of which more than 3,000 are located in the central business district.

Pasadena has published a survey regarding who's choosing to live in these new residential units. Who are they? How does the data influence the planning of housing going forward?

The data was gathered in a survey conducted earlier this year. Some highlights are: The persons living in new units in downtown Pasadena have greater academic achievement than the community as a whole. There are more bachelor degrees and more graduate degrees. Thirty percent of those who are employed are walking to work. The new residents of downtown Pasadena have fewer children. They are young professionals and retired persons-empty nesters-who are seeking an urban and exciting lifestyle.

As we move forward on the General Plan update, we have to ask what can be done to increase job/housing balance. The survey suggests that of the persons in Pasadena who are employed, two-thirds of them leave the city in order to arrive at work. Of the people who work in Pasadena, over two-thirds reside outside of the City. Achieving job/housing balance won't be possible in a short period of time, but in 10-20 years we will find that some of the pressure of traffic and parking on the streets of Pasadena will be reduced.

Over the past few months, TPR has featured interviews and excerpts with both developers and the Federal Reserve regarding how best to respond to the housing crisis. We've seen double-digit declines in home values at the state level and in metro Los Angeles. How has Pasadena been impacted by the credit crisis and the decline of home prices?

Based on available data, Pasadena's experience in home value reduction has been good in relation to other communities. A recent report calculated that, through the second quarter of this year as compared with one year earlier, home values dropped 27 percent statewide and 30 percent in L.A. County. The reduction in Pasadena was less than 3 percent. Realtors have said that homes priced at $1 million and above are still selling at good prices-it simply takes longer. In general, Pasadena's residential market and the local economy overall have performed well.

What type of development projects are pending now before the council and city planning? What's still on the table and in the pipeline?

At the council's request, city staff recently conducted a review of a list we call "Projects of Community-Wide Interest," which found most projects, primarily residential, are going forward and about one-fourth of projects once contemplated have been deferred. I'm not aware of any project that is under construction where the developer has found it impossible to proceed or to complete the project.

The $130 million expansion of the Pasadena Conference Center comes on line in the second quarter of 2009.

Pending projects include, in addition to residential, a major hotel near Old Pasadena, a major office building across from the Pasadena Playhouse, and a major office project in east Pasadena. There is a 200 unit residential project planned adjacent to the Sierra Madre light rail station that will provide a new home for the renowned repertory theatre group, A Noise Within.

How is it that Pasadena is experiencing a stronger housing market than the rest of the region? What explains Pasadena's relative success, given the housing recession in the region and in neighboring jurisdictions?

Pasadena had the good fortune this decade to come into its own as a full-service community, an exciting urban center for employment, retail, restaurants, arts and culture activities, sports events, and professional services of all kinds. Recently the Wall Street Journal reported on Pasadena with accounts about two Southern California residents. One lived in the west San Fernando Valley and worked in Downtown L.A. Recently, he had moved to an apartment in the Del Mar Station project in Pasadena. He now takes the Gold Line to his office in Los Angeles and walks to the light rail station, a score of restaurants, the Pasadena Symphony, and nearby parks.

A number of factors have come together. Traffic congestion and the high price of gasoline make driving long distances difficult. Pasadena offers residential opportunities next to light rail stations and bus lines. Employment is available to over 100,000 people. With all of the amenities, people are finding that Pasadena is a comfortable place to live these days, with advantages over other areas of the county.

Pasadena recently announced that Michael Beck would be its new city manager. What are Beck's credentials? And why is Pasadena excited by this choice?

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My colleagues on the council and I are excited about the outcome of our recruitment effort. Michael Beck, the assistant city manager of Riverside, will come to Pasadena as city manager on October 1. In Riverside, he manages and budgets for Public Works, Parks & Recreation, Community Development, the airport, and public utilities, and he has directed Riverside's 21st century initiative, "Riverside Renaissance," which is completing a 30-year program of public works within a five-year period.

More important than having the talent to get things done, Mr. Beck has traits that are important in Pasadena. He's a good listener. He's a participatory manager who builds very effective project teams. He develops innovative solutions to problems in the community. He's energetic and compassionate, with a strong commitment to community support for families.

What will be your new city manager's priorities?

In this era of economic uncertainty, one of the three priorities is financial planning and management. Our financial situation is currently strong, based on years of planning ahead. But these are challenging times and we have asked Mr. Beck to take a fresh look at the finances of the city.

Another priority is the General Plan Update. Our constituents have been asked to help us answer the question, "What kind of community do we want Pasadena to be in the year 2025?" The General Plan Update will address housing, land use, mobility, and open space and conservation. A new element on parks and recreation was completed last year.

Third is the challenge of global warming and climate control as it impacts Pasadena, including pursuit of renewable energy sources. We want to maintain a leadership position. In Riverside, Michael Beck developed a program that provides 30 percent of Riverside's energy consumption from renewable resources. I would love to see Pasadena move to that level over a period of time.

Regarding infrastructure, what are Pasadena's pressing priorities? Will projects long considered, but never built, emerge in the near future?

The most significant infrastructure project in our entire region, from Pasadena's point of view, is the extension of the Gold Line to Claremont. It is absolutely essential to the future well being of the San Gabriel Valley. We are part of a team working to find funding for the extension from East Pasadena to Azusa and then on to Claremont and the L.A./Ontario Airport. Although the Claremont terminus is part of the project as currently conceived, Mayor Villaraigosa and other mayors in the region-including myself-have been extolling the Ontario extension.

The 710 Freeway extension remains controversial. The economic and political realities that have existed for so many years have not changed. The effort at this point is to explore the feasibility of a subterranean tunnel. A geological feasibility study is now getting started and will require two to three years. A number of routes will be considered, including a route that would go westerly and connect with the Route 2 Freeway, bypassing Pasadena. We're waiting to see the results of the engineering studies, but then, of course, environmental and economic realities-which seem daunting-must be addressed.

State Senator Gil Cedillo has introduced legislation that would enable a public/private approach for financing the 710 extension. It acknowledges that the surface project that has been proposed for 45 years-as the way to connect the existing 710 to the 210-is no longer under consideration. The legislation calls for Caltrans to dispose of the homes that were acquired for the project over many years, with the intention that they be sold back into private ownership.

There will be a number of initiatives and funding measures on the our November ballots, including a county sales tax for transit and transportation. Can you talk about those measures and share your thoughts regarding their importance and value?

Let me start at the local level. The Pasadena Unified School District has placed a bond measure on the November ballot for $350 million of capital funding for improvement of public schools. Capital facilities is one of many challenges facing Pasadena public schools in its active, even aggressive, effort for reform. The new Superintendent, Edwin Diaz, is providing comprehensive leadership that is drawing strong support from the school district and the community. I hope this ballot measure will garner the required 55 percent vote.

At the county level, the half-cent sales tax would raise $30-40 billion over a 30-year period and provides funding for a portion of the light rail extension. That would be beneficial to the city of Pasadena, but I'm still uncertain how the voters will react. The controversy is whether the San Gabriel Valley is being treated fairly in the allocation of the proceeds.

In Sacramento, the state's budget might include a statewide sales tax for a 5-year period. In the end, in these difficult economic times, there is a question of how voters are going to react on November 4 to significantly increased taxes.

Is the relationship between state and local governments less dysfunctional than it's been in past years? The state's budget, for example, is overdue once again. As Pasadena's mayor, of what consequence is the Legislature's impasse over this year's sate budget?

From local jurisdictions' point of view, until the budget is resolved, we are fearful that what has happened on several occasions over the last 25 years will happen again: the state will solve its budget deficit by taking money from cities and counties that is intended to meet local needs. For example, health services-Pasadena is one of three California cities with its own health department-has suffered a million dollar setback already and is preparing for still additional reductions. There remains the threat of significant reductions for public education.

Having said that, however, we're tremendously grateful to our representatives in Sacramento, Assemblymember Anthony Portantino and Senator Jack Scott. They are consistently attentive to local needs. Governor Schwarzenegger has been attuned to Pasadena and to local government overall, granting an open ear. We appreciate our close working relationship with Sacramento.

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