All six Mayoral candidates vying to fill Mayor Bill Bogaard’s seat following his announcement that he will not be seeking reelection answered questions from the community Thursday evening on how to deal with escalating violent crime in northwest Pasadena, how to bring jobs and businesses back to the city while keeping its historical character and how to make City Hall more transparent and communicative with the public.
The First African Methodist Episcopal Church, nestled just north of Washington Blvd. in Pasadena, hosted its first Mayoral Community Forum as a chance for residents of northwest Pasadena to hear the candidates’ stances on issues affecting their community. While an increase in police officers, patrols and encouraging members of the community to report crime were some of the offered solutions, all of the candidates agreed that preventing violent crime before it happens is essential.
Candidates Jason Harding, the creator of local Dena Magazine, and Pasadena City Councilwoman Jacque Robinson highlighted the Pasadena/Altadena Vision 20/20 Initiative as an example of targeting at-risk youths as an attempt to prevent gang and community violence. Robinson founded the program in 2007 while serving as a representative of District 1, which covers northwest Pasadena, during a wave of violent crime.
“Community violence, gun violence, gang violence – it is not a district 1 problem, it is not only the issue of the council members that serve districts 1, 3 and 5. It needs to be a city-wide issue,” said Robinson.
Pasadena City College Trustee and mayoral candidate Bill Thompson agreed that a necessary step in taking on violent crime is prevention. The Pasadena/Altadena Reintegration Council is a current program that targets another at-risk population—prisoners on parole—by providing them with support services after their release such as help finding jobs and housing.
“Reintegrate them back into the community, help them get jobs and help them live a successful crime-free life,” said Thomson.
In answer to a question regarding the loss of retailers, jobs and sales tax revenue in the city, the candidates posed that it is necessary to make Pasadena attractive to business owners through small business incentives, reviewing fees and regulations for developers and a more proactive approach from City Hall to help businesses move to Pasadena.
“Businesses need to know on the front end what the fees look like, what the permitting process looks like, so that we’re not dropping things on small business owners right before they open the doors,” said USC professor Don Morgan, a candidate with a background in business.
In response to a question of how to retain Pasadena’s historical character in the face of new development, Pasadena City Council Member Terry Tornek said that drawing new development to the city and historical preservation do not have to be mutually exclusive. Tornek said he was part of the citizen group that sued the city in 2009 because the original proposal for the Playhouse Plaza development on the corner of El Molino and Colorado was too contemporary, too large and didn’t follow city rules regarding new developments in the historical district.
“I think that it is possible to have quality development while still respecting the past and maintaining the fabric of what we really cherish in Pasadena,” said Tornek.
Allen Shay, a local real estate broker and small business owner, called out Tornek during his closing statement as not being truthful in claiming that his line of questioning led to the discovery of the embezzlement of $6.4 million by a city employee over the span of 10 years. Shay stated that it was because of a request for city funds by the Pilot Sidewalk Repair Program that the embezzlement was discovered.
“Someone wanted to reallocate the funds for sidewalks so you as homeowners wouldn’t have to pay for it,” said Shay. “And someone who is running for mayor has turned around and put it out that he identified this [the embezzlement] and he’s moving it forward as his platform.”
When the moderator gave Tornek a chance to respond to the allegation, he chose not to comment. In an emailed response to the Courier on Saturday asking Tornek what he believed Shay’s statement at the forum stemmed from, Tornek said to listen to the entirety of the audio of the May 13, 2014 Municipal Services Committee meeting and “judge for yourself.”
Trustee Thomson agreed with Shay that Tornek’s interpretation of the events leading up to the discovery of the embezzlement is flawed.
“Why did it take until 2014 to uncover the embezzlement?” asked Thomson in an interview following the community forum.
Thomson said if he were elected he would hire an outside auditor to look into how the embezzlement went undiscovered for so long and how to keep it from happening again. When interviewed by the Courier prior to the community forum on Thursday, Mayor Bill Bogaard said that a number of efforts are currently underway to investigate the details surrounding the embezzlement.
“There is no question that the council is dismayed and disappointed that this breach of trust has occurred and we have committed that we will do everything reasonably possible to avoid it ever happening again,” Bogaard said.
Bogaard has served as mayor of Pasadena for 15 years. The Pasadena mayoral election will be held on March 10.
Staff writer Philip McCormick contributed to this story.
This story has been edited to include Mayoral candidate Terry Tornek’s response to the community forum.