I’m not actually sure if I come down with Team Gordo or Team Tornek on the subject of whether Pasadena government has enough meetings during the coronavirus craziness.
If ever you were a reporter whose job it is to cover Pasadena City Hall, as I once was, you would be hard-pressed to believe that Crown City burghers would ever in your lifetime be accused of not holding enough meetings.
There are still more citizen commissions and committees in Pasadena than in almost any city its size in the nation. I count 34 of them, and from the Commission on the Status of Women to the Old Pasadena Parking Meter Zone Advisory Commission, they are testament to the fact that we gotcha covered and that I live in a city of yakkers.
Then there’s the Big Enchilada. A single Pasadena City Council meeting can resemble an entire lifetime — or at least a very long evening on the town. You get there to check in on some council committee meetings around 4 on a Monday afternoon and find yourself still following the drone of civic business in the early morning hours of a Tuesday. In my day, when there were a number of scribes there doing duty, when we had a little press gallery of our own beside the dais to watch the proceedings from, I never felt at all guilty about mooching from the takeout meal provided for the electeds in the room behind the council chambers. What, a small enchilada is going to put me in the politicians’ back pocket? I always felt a little dinner was just part of the hazardous-duty pay over a very long shift.
But now, used for a great part of his career and lifetime to attending weekly council meetings — he was a councilman’s field rep before winning the seat himself — Councilman Victor Gordo is railing against the new twice-monthly online meeting schedule established in the novel coronavirus lockdown. I hear him. Plus, I feel his Joe Biden problem. Gordo is in the runoff election for mayor in November, and he can’t be out pressing the flesh, or even attend in-person meetings at City Hall.
Now, more than ever, citizens are in need of all the help they can get. Maybe more meetings would help us forge ahead through the current unpleasantness.
We need health — and Pasadena, along with only Berkeley and Long Beach in all of California, has its own Health Department. Get up to those nursing homes on North Fair Oaks Avenue and save those old folks’ lives! In fact, call in the National Guard!
We need welfare — our thriving local business climate went south faster than a Canadian snowbird in December. Keep the place alive by ordering great takeout from our beleaguered non-chain restaurants! (We’ve been supporting the classic Bistro 45, the comfort-food Smitty’s, the highly original Fishwives and the uni genius that is Osawa.)
We need recreation! Help get us safely out of the house, walking, running and cycling at safe distances from one another in all that open park space and the Arroyo Seco!
I also hear Mayor Terry Tornek and City Manager Steve Mermell when they note how crazy-difficult it is to organize a meeting when almost all city staff are working remotely. As in any other workplace on the planet, creating chores that require staffers to come in to the office rather than staying at home endangers their lives. Bureaucracies run on paperwork, and that’s hard to produce remotely. And as Assistant City Manager Nick Rodriguez says, online official meetings by law need to be made available to the public, and the technology to effect that is a new challenge for the city.
I can understand why every other week rather than every week is the new meeting normal.
While there is so much to do, there are so many unknowns. What will the world look like on the other side of this? How will City Hall work and, most importantly, how will the city’s businesses, schools, parks, public facilities and neighborhoods work in the future?
That’s the kind of big-picture thinking we need from the San Gabriel Valley and Whittier area’s local politicians right now, in meetings or not. They’ve got some time for deep thinking about how to be prepared for a very different local way of life in the months to come. We’re their captive online audience. Impress us, oh elected ones, with the originality of the plans for civic rejuvenation you are crafting in your solitude.
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