PASADENA — Despite being beset by personality clashes and public arguments, the current City Council has been making "profound progress" toward rectifying past wrongs, Mayor Rick Cole said in a State of the City speech on Tuesday.
"This City Council has made more progress toward affirmative action and social justice than any City Council in 106 years," said Cole, addressing about 300 people gathered on a chilly evening in the courtyard of One Colorado, the city's new commercial renovation project in Old Town Pasadena.
In Pasadena, the mayor traditionally delivers a State of the City report in the second week of November.
Cole cited an array of programs and issues addressed by the council in the six months since he became mayor, including efforts to revitalize predominantly African-American and Latino Northwest Pasadena, programs to protect the city's neighborhoods and strengthen families and a drive to create more affordable housing in the city.
The city's new Northwest Enterprise Zone office, which offers a blend of tax breaks and fee waivers to businesses in that section of the city, will be "an investment in retaining and adding jobs" and "a seedbed for entrepreneurs," Cole said.
In the past year, the city has established a $1.6-million endowment fund for human services programs and opened the Villa-Parke Center, providing social services for working-class Pasadenans. On the housing front, the city is working with local developers to revitalize the so-called Lincoln Triangle area, renovating dilapidated housing, Cole said.
Nevertheless, the public's attention recently has focused on personality clashes on the council, Cole said.
For more than a year, the council chambers have been the setting for vituperative exchanges, with council members aiming insulting characterizations at each other during traditionally sedate weekly meetings and, on several occasions, coming close to blows.
In August, four council members voted to censure Councilman Isaac Richard for what they characterized as rude remarks and "antisocial behavior." A month later, Councilman William Paparian challenged Richard to "step outside" during a brief exchange in the midst of a council meeting.
But critics of the council spectacles fail to recognize the deep social changes that the city is undergoing, Cole said.
"To those who say, as one former mayor put it, that this is the worst City Council in 40 years," Cole said, "let me remind you: We didn't invent this city's legacy of racism, sexism and exclusion, we inherited it."
In the midst of all the "thunder and lightning," Cole said, the city has put itself on a sound financial footing. City real estate values have continued to increase, city bond issues have been upgraded by bond rating companies and One Colorado, an ambitious retail and entertainment complex, is about open, Cole said.
Some of the stores in One Colorado have already opened, but the full project is not scheduled to be completed until February. There will be a "soft opening" later this month, with some events to mark the holiday season, the developers say.
All of this occurred "at a time when the state of California was put on credit watch," Cole said.
"During the worst economic crisis in Southern California since the Depression, Pasadena continues to sail against the wind," he said.
The mayor hailed the creation of the Draft General Plan as the greatest achievement of the past six months. Now, he said, marketing the city, bringing in new jobs and promoting Pasadena as an entertainment and business center "moves to the top of our agenda."
The city has experienced hard budgetary times of its own in recent months. After balancing the city budget in June with painful service cuts, the council was forced to pare an additional $4 million in October, after the state took a larger share of local revenues to balance its own budget.
The speech was well received by an audience that was composed largely of city staff and civic leaders. "I appreciate what he's done," said Meta McCullough, a member of the city's Human Relations Commission. "He's bringing progress to Pasadena."