For several decades, the city of Pasadena has set the standard in the region for planning that successfully integrates infrastructure, long-term vision, and commercial and residential development. Looking to build on its success, Pasadena is currently undertaking several efforts that will redefine the planning process in the future, including a reorganization of the Planning Department, hiring a new planning director, and updating the city's General Plan. With those changes and the renovation of the Rose Bowl in mind, TPR was pleased to speak with Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard for this exclusive interview.
Let's start with your updating our readers on the city of Pasadena's ambitions plans to renovate the Rose Bowl-an icon of California and Southern California sport and pageantry.
The council has recently approved a renovation project estimated to cost $160 million that is intended to assure the Rose Bowl is competitive in the decades ahead, and construction begins in the first quarter of 2011. We realize that college football stadiums around the country are being improved and that fans have expectations about the comfort and convenience at games they attend. Pasadena wants to offer a special experience for fans and we want that experience to be safe and secure as well.
This plan ensures that the historic and architectural legacy of the Rose Bowl is protected and even enhanced because we are very proud of the National Register status of the Rose Bowl.
Whenever one touches a structure as historically significant and beloved as Pasadena's Rose Bowl, there are issues that arise that resist change. What motivated the city to renovate the Rose Bowl? How did the city find a path toward approving the project renovation?
The starting point for this project was a determination, more than three years ago, that an alternative use of the Rose Bowl in partnership with the NFL did not have the support of Pasadena. I felt responsible to explore the NFL option, but I never got comfortable with the suitability of NFL operations in the Rose Bowl, in Pasadena's famed Arroyo Seco Park. The idea of the current project is to meet the basic needs of the Rose Bowl for the decades ahead, through improvements that increase concession stands and restrooms, enlarge the concourse, enhance ingress and egress in case of any tragic event, facilitate moving within the Rose Bowl during events for concessions as well as restrooms, enhance the reporting of game events through modern technology, such as video boards and scoreboards, and generally assure the Rose Bowl is in excellent condition.
The public support that has emerged is based upon extensive dialogue with community organizations. Local neighborhood associations, which had traditionally opposed any improvements or expanded use of the Rose Bowl, are strong supporters. Pasadena Heritage, whose concern was the architectural and historic standing of the structure, is also strongly in support. Other organizations, such as the Pasadena Chamber, have all been made part of this. It was a long process, but in the end support for going forward can be described as universal.
What project development issues had to be addressed to win public support?
There's always concern about traffic and parking associated with Rose Bowl events, and a number of years ago the council established a limitation on major events that can occur in the Rose Bowl each year. That number is 12, and going into this renovation project, the community was assured that there would be no increase. Otherwise, the ways in which events have been managed in recent years, which is responsive to the concerns of neighbors, have succeeded, are a permanent part of Rose Bowl operations, and will continue in the future. This responsiveness led to openness on the part of organizations and individuals previously opposed to Rose Bowl activities.
Bring our readers up to date on the city's ongoing efforts to update Pasadena's General Plan and the land use, mobility, open space, and conservation elements of that plan.
The General Plan update has been underway now for about 18 months. The first year was devoted to community outreach, in which a series of meetings and other outreach efforts were pursued to get the attention of large numbers of our community and ask them to state their preferences, concerns, and goals for the future. For the last six months, and continuing for the time being, the effort is underway to analyze all of the information that has been gathered and articulate alternatives that can be incorporated into the General Plan as revised. This is intended to be, in effect, a zero-based planning effort, in that no constraints have been allowed for what the planning direction might ultimately be.
My own expectation is that the changes from where we are today will not, in the end, be startling or a totally new direction. But the effort to engage people in large numbers, so we have a lot of information to work with in formulating this plan and so we don't miss any strongly held views in any corner of the community, has been a priority. The outreach and documentation and analysis are impressive and will be convincing to the community when we get to the point, perhaps eight to ten months from now, of adopting a new General Plan.
In the tradition of engaging the public in planning Pasadena, the city now moves from completing the first stage of outreach to engaging the community in charrettes. What is the attitude of the city regarding community engagement in the development of the General Plan?
Well there's no question that the current General Plan, formulated in the early 1990s, affirmed Pasadena's traditional commitment to community involvement in planning for the city. One of the commitments from the existing General Plan is that community participation will be actively solicited on all major planning efforts. Our community members expect they will have that opportunity, and everything is being done to make it easy for that participation to occur.
You do this process at the same time that the city is looking for a planning director. Could you share with our readers your thoughts on who you're looking for and how they will ultimately play into the development of the General Plan?
The city manager has announced a significant restructuring of our staff involved in planning and economic development. For ten years, those two functions were combined in the same administrative unit, under the direction of an officer whose title was "director of planning and development." There's a sense in the community today that there should be a separation of these two functions to avoid any inclination on the part of the development staff to press for exceptions and variances to our normal planning rules.
The city manager has decided to appoint a planning director who will function separately, as a direct report, and a director of economic development, who will report to him as well. The planning process will be cleaner as a result of this, and the application of planning rules to individual projects will be done with greater discipline. We're looking for a creative and effective planning director, who understands Pasadena but will focus specifically on the best principles of community planning that fit Pasadena without any consideration at the time of specific development projects.
How healthy is the real estate market in Pasadena, given the difficulties most of the Southern California markets are facing? Is the city market better off than its neighboring jurisdictions?
Recently, a weekly business journal in Los Angeles reported that among the three cities they normally compare (Glendale, Burbank, and Pasadena), Pasadena has the lowest vacancy rate. That is a sign of strength from my point of view. That rate of vacancy is, however, double the rate of vacancy that existed three years ago. So, the recession has had a strong impact on our commercial office market, but I am happy that in recent months there has been an increase in new commitments and reduced office vacancy. In the new year, we're going to see increasing levels of commercial leasing and other business activity in Pasadena.
Pasadena is also updating the Lincoln Avenue Specific Plan. Is that part of the evidence that suggests that there is a quickening of activity?
At the moment the Lincoln Avenue Specific Plan is still in process with strong support by the council member from that district of the city. The city has traditionally wanted to see more economic investment along the Lincoln Avenue corridor, and it intends to build on investment that has taken place over the last ten years. The specific plan will lay out for investors what we are looking for and should be a positive factor in encouraging business evaluation and investment.
Pasadena has been involved for years in looking at alternative forms of transit, promoting the Gold Line and light rail. Now that the November election is over, talk a little bit about what your thoughts are on what's coming down the pipeline, whether the Gold Line or additional infrastructure investment and transit in the city.
We are pleased that the voters strongly approved Proposition 22, which assures that funding for local purposes, including highway funds, would not be directed to Sacramento to fill budget gaps there, as has occurred several times in recent years. I'm encouraged that local investment in streets and related transit resources will be steadier going forward than they have been in the past 15 years. I'm very encouraged by the progress of the Gold Line extension. As you know, construction of the extension will begin this year east of Pasadena. We expect three years from now to celebrate the completion of the first portion of the Foothill extension from Pasadena to Azusa and Glendora. Our efforts as a region, which are being pursued through the Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority, are ongoing and active with regard to completing the funding needed for the balance of the project from Azusa to the city of Claremont, and we expect six or seven years from now to celebrate the completion of that second phase.
Do you have any thoughts in retrospect about the passage of Measure R and why a number of cities in the San Gabriel Valley, who now want to tap that money, opposed that measure?
The voters of the San Gabriel Valley were supportive of Measure R at a higher level than Los Angeles County as a whole. There's a recognition at the grassroots level that Southern California needs to make transit investment to maintain quality of life. The opposition to Measure R expressed at the time of the campaign related to a sense that the San Gabriel Valley had been shortchanged in the allocation of the funds from Measure R.
As things have worked out, everyone recognizes Measure R as a major resource for transit development in Los Angeles County. There is strong support for the 30/10 plan that Mayor Villaraigosa has put forth, and we are grateful for the cooperation of the Metro in negotiating the contracts necessary for funding and ultimately operating the Foothill Extension when it is completed.
You're comfortable that Metro's approved allocation has turned out to be fair to the San Gabriel Valley?
We think that a full project through to Claremont should be funded under Measure R and it's not, but there has been a lot of cooperation in recent times between the two agencies. We are counting on that cooperation to continue and lead ultimately to sufficient funding for the entire project. We're working together with a level of cooperation that hasn't previously existed.
TPR's many interviews of you over the years invariably includes a question about the status of plans for the extension of the 710. We can't conclude this month's interview without once again asking about it. Could you update our readers?
The 710, of course, received a significant allocation under Measure R, even though the studies that have been promised to evaluate its technical feasibility and its economic feasibility have not been completed. The cities directly affected by the 710 are still asking for an economic analysis of the project to see whether its very high cost can be justified in relation to how a similar amount of funds might be invested in alternative transit and transportation improvements in the region.
At the moment, Metro is starting an EIR of the tunnel and has indicated it will do the kind of economic alternatives analysis that I've mentioned at the same time. There is still a preference in this area for doing the economic analysis before we get into the heavy expense of an EIR for a project that perhaps cannot be justified and might never be pursued.
We've received a lot of inquiries from our readers in the San Gabriel Valley wanting us to ask if you're running once again for Mayor of Pasadena in 2011. Are you?
Recently, I released a letter to my supporters indicating that I will seek re-election in the March 2011 elections. I take great pride in working with this city, which has so many dedicated people and organizations and resources. It's a uniquely rewarding opportunity that I'm prepared to continue if the voters once again honor me with their support.