As Pasadena and the rest of the nation approach the November presidential election one more major position is up for a vote—mayor of Pasadena. The two candidates left in the field are both long-time public servants Mayor Terry Tornek and Councilman Victor Gordo. The two were scheduled to debate last Sunday, however, it was postponed after a Tournament of Roses staffer tested positive for COVID-19. In interviews with this newsgroup, the two candidates give their views on issues in Pasadena.
With the economic downfall caused by COVID-19, what is your plan to assist Pasadena residents and businesses?
Tornek: The first thing is to try to get as many things open as quickly and as safely as we can.
We can’t begin to talk about recovery until we can get businesses open and we can’t get businesses open until we slow the spread and that’s a real challenge. I’m in constant contact with county health officials and, of course, our health department to try to expedite that. But frankly, that remains an elusive and elusive time frame.
We’ll continue to work with businesses in terms of where the city has a direct role in terms of allowing them to continue to occupy public spaces and occupy portions of their parking lot.
Beyond that, frankly, the city is not going to be able to provide cash stipends to businesses going forward because the city is going to have to safeguard its resources, which have also taken a beating. The most we can hope for is to continue to lobby for the federal and state governments to step up and to provide assistance.
Gordo: From the beginning of the pandemic, I had demanded that city hall and city staff begin moving and acting to support our businesses and the employees in those businesses by putting in place guidelines and protocols for the safe operation of businesses.
We’ve also put in place grants and micro-grants for small businesses, and we need to continue to do that. I was disappointed at the beginning of the pandemic when my opponent canceled meetings and refused to allow the city council or its committees to move quickly to give direction to the city staff to support our local businesses.
As mayor, I intend to work very closely, as I have since the commencement of this pandemic, with our business community and the people that they employ to ensure that our local business community is able to operate in a manner that is safe and make sense from a business perspective.
The COVID-19 pandemic is predicted to last until the spring of 2021, how will you ensure residents’ safety while also reopening the economy? What challenges do you think you will face?
Tornek: That’s the tightrope that we’re walking. There’s an absolute sort of push and pull here in terms of the desire of businesses to get open and at the same time, our obligation as public officials to make sure that public safety is maintained, which is our primary responsibility. There’s a growing intensity to the demands of various business sectors to open.
It’s not unwarranted in the sense that, these businesspeople are watching their life savings and their dreams go up in smoke as we insist that they remain closed. They are demanding that we loosen the reins but that’s what happened in July and as we allowed things to open too quickly the pandemic surged and it started to get away from us again. That’s not surprising until we have a vaccine. Our primary responsibility is to make sure that we open in a safe way.
The biggest challenge we face, frankly, is not just the business tight rope but convincing people that normal family activities that we’ve all cherished and come to expect the need to be modified.
I have seven grandchildren and I haven’t hugged one of them since March—that’s crazy. I’ve seen them at a distance. They are mindful of not getting grandma and grandpa sick.
We just have to continue to convince people that the normal kinds of family actives that we have, the backyard barbecues, the quinceanera, the Halloween and Thanksgiving celebrations cannot be business as usual or else we’re not going to beat this thing.
Gordo: The pandemic presents both a health and an economic crisis and the two are interwoven. We have to operate local businesses in a way that’s safe and allows residents to move in and about the city in a manner that is safe. That’s going to take us working together with residents and businesses alike.
The city’s health department has a responsibility to ensure that the protocols that we put in place offer clear and direct guidance to residents, business owners and employees.
Relating to the economic downfall, how do you plan to increase the number of affordable homes in the city?
Tornek: I’ve been in a dialogue with various housing groups and churches, particularly in northwest Pasadena, for months and months, talking about how we could adjust our land-use regulations to make it more plausible for them to build affordable housing on their sites.
It’s such a complicated issue and because there’s the usual tension between the desire to get housing built, but not in a way that has an adverse impact on surrounding neighborhoods.
That’s why I’ve been meeting with them. I’ve been doing walking tours of specific church properties to see if they’d be appropriate and how the regulations might be adjusted. I think that’s a great opportunity.
The motel conversion ordinance, although it got off to a rocky start, is a positive approach
The county used it for its operation room key on a temporary basis but I think there’s an opportunity to use that on a permanent basis. When I was on the board of a housing nonprofit, we did a project like that in Huntington Park. That’s why I brought the idea to Pasadena because I saw it work and I saw how successful it was in that community, turning a bedraggled and sort of crime-ridden motel into a permanent supportive housing development.
Gordo: I’m proud of my record on affordable housing in Pasadena. It’s a record of getting things done. In my district, we created the most affordable housing of any district in the city. We’ve done it creatively, replacing liquor stores with beautiful, affordable housing for families and seniors. We’ve done that a few times.
We’ve replaced burned-out department buildings doing the same thing. We can be creative in this time of limited resources by looking at properties that are in desperate need of reinvestment, rundown or a nuisance to the neighborhood. We should work with the city staff and nonprofits to reinvigorate those properties with affordable housing.
We should also continue the work of the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, which I’m proud to champion in 2006, three years before my opponent joined the city council. We should strengthen that ordinance and stay true to the ordinance’s intent. We should demand developers build affordable housing on-site as development occurs naturally throughout the city.
With the passing of the police oversight commission and independent auditor, how do you plan to improve the relationship between the Pasadena Police Department and residents?
Tornek: I’m proud of the way that the council responded to what was a widespread desire to see some improvement in that area. We still haven’t finished the job. We still need to maintain the sense of urgency. We need to create the format for selecting the members of the commission.
I’m going to keep pushing to make this a reality. We passed the ordinance, but that’s not the end, that’s the very beginning.
The whole objective is to build bridges between the community and the police department and give the community, particularly those segments of the community, that don’t feel they are necessarily being treated fairly. It’s meant to give them the sense that they’re being heard, that they have a voice in terms of how the police department functions.
Then there’s a whole question about what’s been called the reimagining of the police department. And that is to say, are there certain functions that the police department is currently performing with uniformed officers that might be better performed by other trained professionals? That’s a complicated matter and it deserves close attention.
I think it’s incumbent on the council and the staff to listen to the suggestions and see what can be implemented to have more effective policing.
I’m convinced that if the community has a greater sense of trust in the department, it’ll make their job more effective and less dangerous.
Gordo: It’s important that we have a mayor that’s willing to listen to all vantage points, that’s willing to have discussions with people who may disagree with one another and I’ve proven that I can do that. I speak with our police officers about staffing, training and the need for equipment.
When BLM came to my home, I walked outside and spoke with members of that organization very directly and have been in constant contact with people who believe that we need a change in our police department.
I tell them all the same, police officers or activists alike, we need to work together. We need to ensure that the police department works transparently to protect the residents of the city, and we also need to address the issue of trust because it’s very real.
What’s transpired in our country in the last six to eight months is that we’ve seen people want us to do things differently in terms of transparency and the availability of information. We should take that seriously and we’re headed in that direction.
With 52% of Pasadena’s population being women, how do you plan to further women’s voices in government?
Tornek: We established a target with regard to this new community oversight commission seeking to hopefully have 50 percent of the commissioners be women.
I’ve had an active practice, to try and appoint as many women as I can. More than 40 percent of the commissioners that I’ve appointed are women. Some in the more nameplate, high visibility commissions; the Rose Bowl operating company, the planning commission, these have been appointees that I have made that are women.
I think that we need more women on the city council. One aspect that I think may be helpful in that regard is that I intend to press for term limits on city council terms. I think that could help in terms of making more city council opportunities available to women as well as others.
The other thing that I focused on as another aspect of equal rights for women is that the 19th Amendment didn’t really give women of color an opportunity to vote. It was decades later that finally started to happen across the country and not until the voting rights amendment in 1965 that happened. I’m not trying to sort of blur the line. I think in many instances we have to look not just at women’s rights, but minorities’ rights and particularly minority women who have suffered for a long time.
Gordo: Fifty-two percent of the population are women, but they makeup 60 percent of our labor force in Pasadena and not the city of Pasadena, but in the city as a whole. The median wage for women is $54,000 for men it’s $59,000. We also have to keep in mind that 30 percent of all households are occupied and headed by women. That means 16,800 or so of 60,000 households have a woman that’s the head of the household.
It’s important that we take those numbers seriously and provide opportunities for women not just at the entry-level, not just into management positions, but also at the executive level and executive positions.
I’m proud of the fact in my term on the city council at one point we had the trifecta. We had a city manager who was a woman, Cynthia Kurtz, a city clerk, who was a woman, Jane Rodriguez and Michelle Bagneris as our city attorney. Things have changed now, and we don’t have that situation.
I think we need to bring more women through the ranks and to give more opportunities for women to serve in those top positions, as they once did in Pasadena and I’m committed to doing that.