By Ajay Singh, September 16, 2013
In this fourth and final installment of Patch’s Q&A with Sergio Gonzalez, South Pasadena’s city manager talks about a range of issues, including traffic problems on the Monterey Road/Pasadena Avenue crossing, public safety, tax revenues and the city’s major goals.
Patch: Based on comments during City Council meetings and also on Patch, could you tell us why some residents are unhappy with traffic on Monterey Road near the city limits?
Sergio Gonzalez: We have a Gold Line intersection on Monterey and Pasadena Avenue that suffers from a poor design. It’s a so-called ‘double grade crossing,’ which means that a vehicles crosses over the tracks twice. We believe its less safe and it has certainly impacted traffic. Ten years later [after the Gold Line was built] we strongly believe that it would make sense to have a single grade crossing. A single grade crossing is much safer because cars only have to cross over once, and if your vehicle stalls, you’re only crossing one rail.
People avoid Monterey and take the side streets. The business park area of the city near Ostritch farm, where Monterey and Pasadena Avenue are, by the city limits, are obviously suffering from convenient lack of public access to that area. The economic viability of the area is affected because of the traffic situation. Meanwhile, people who live around the area complain of traffic cutting through their streets.
We tried on numerous occasions to appeal to Metro about getting a single grade crossing. But ultimately, the decider on any change is the state Public Utilities Commission, which appears not to want us to change to a single crossing. Ideally, all the Gold Line crossings should have a grade separation [cars passing under the rail line through a tunnel]. But when you’re talking about $25 million to $30 million [per grade separation] we don’t have a very good chance of getting this done.
Patch: How is public safety in South Pasadena? I’m always surprised by the level of property crime here.
Gonzalez: I still believe that this is a very safe community. One way you can test it is by asking if you feel comfortable walking the streets any time of the day. But we’re still going to have crime because we’re in a metropolitan area—we’ve got Los Angeles, one of the biggest cities in the world, right next to us. You’ve got Pasadena—huge population. And you’ve got Alhambra, which has over 100,000 residents. So you’ve got a concentration of a lot of people—and where you’ve got a lot of people you’re going to have crime. It’s just the reality of life.
The biggest crime that we have is property crime. Cars broken into, homes broken into. Thankfully, we don’t have a lot of violent crime. But one of the things our police department and our police chief are working at is to educate our residents that the best thing they can do is to protect themselves—to be the eyes of ears of the police department.
When residents see something that just doesn’t feel right or something new—a car or person in the area that they haven’t seen before—the best thing to do is to call the police department. If it’s nothing, that’s O.K. But if it’s something we can prevent—that’s the reason why we want them to call. We do have officers on the street, but when you have a city of 3.4 square miles, you can’t have officers everywhere all the time.
Patch: What is the city doing to try to increase its revenues?
Gonzalez: We do have limited resources but we’re very fortunate to have residents who understand that in order to have a full-service city that has its own police department, fire department, library and recreation and parks, they also have to give back above and beyond their traditional property taxes. A lot of residents shop here, which helps keep their sales taxes local.
Residents have also passed what’s called a utility users tax and a library parcel tax, which provides additional funding for the library. We have also passed school parcel taxes. So, again, we’re very fortunate to have residents who understand that they have to give to have a high level of service. And then we have to make sure that those dollars are managed properly and don’t go to waste.
Patch: Generally speaking, what are some of the city’s major priorities?
Gonzalez: We definitely want to get the Rialto reopened. We want to kill the 710. We want to improve our infrastructure by getting new reservoirs done, redoing our entire sewer system, and repaving a lot more streets. As a city manager, what I want to do is make sure that all our city operations are running efficiently, that every single department is audited, to make sure that we’re doing the best we can do with the public’s tax dollars.
I think this city is very well managed, but there’s always room for improvement. So every year I will be looking at every department to make sure it’s running efficiently. Not only in terms of dollars but in terms of best practices. I’m very fortunate here to have a fantastic management team. The directors here in South Pas in every department are very experienced and with a great education background. I’m just very lucky.
Previous installments in this Q&A:
Part I: City Manager: ‘We Don’t Spend What we Don’t Have’
Part II: City Manager: ‘Mass Transit is a Win For the City’
Part III: City Manager: ‘We Have a Lot More Cars Than our Roads Have a Capacity For’
From Part I:
Patch: Does the Metro bring people into South Pas?
Gonzalez: Absolutely. Every Thursday, people get on the Metro to come to the Farmers Market and get off the Metro to go home with fresh produce. Or they come here and have dinner and get back on the Metro. Actually, our city is considered one of the premier examples of transit-oriented development. Have you ever seen—and I’m sure you have—the energy that exists on Mission and Meridian on a Thursday? It’s something that many cities want to emulate.
From Part II:
Patch: Is it conceivable that new housing in South Pasadena be built around the idea that people who live there are not going to drive?
Gonzalez: You know, this is an area that’s about 800 feet from a light rail station. We certainly believe that the average family can have a need for only one car instead of two cars. This city is very pedestrian-friendly, it’s very bike-friendly. You can basically do your shopping nearby. Take your bike. Walk to the library nearby or go to a park. You can pretty much do everything in this city without a car. And that’s very convenient for our residents.
Patch: Maybe the city could organize a Zip Car program?
Gonzalez: Well, if there’s a private company that wants to come in and help us with that, we’d certainly be open. As a city, specifically as we’ve been fighting the 710 freeway from coming through here, we’ve been promoting the idea that people should get out of the car. In large cities like Portland, New York, San Francisco, it’s cost-prohibitive to have a car because you have to pay for parking everywhere, besides maintenance and operations of a vehicle. You look at Japan—it’s very expensive to own a car there. People use public transportation there—it’s very dependable, reliable and financially feasible.
From Part III:
Patch: South Pas is a small city, and Fair Oaks and Fremont are fairly close to each other. Has there been any idea about making them one-way streets to improve traffic flow?
Gonzalez: Well, Metro is currently looking at the connection of the 710 from the 10 to the 210. One of the concepts that they’re floating—and we’re certainly not happy about it—is what they call reversible lanes: During certain times of the day, you can make three lanes one-way, and only lane going the other way. I think I’ve seen it in Hawaii. But we’ve got to keep in mind that we’ve got local residents who need to get to places. And if you only cater to getting people through the city—the commuters—then you’re really doing it to the detriment of our residents. So that’s the balance we’re always looking at—you want to get people through the city but you also have to keep in mind that we have people who live here, who go to school here, who work here, and who want to be able to make a left when they need to make a left. So, Monterey Road is a street that we’re currently looking at improving. One of the things we’re looking at is a road diet—reducing the number of lanes so that we can have turning lanes each way and to also make the road more bicycle-friendly.
Patch: What’s Fremont like as a street, compared to Monterey?
Gonzalez: Fremont is a very difficult street because it’s mostly residential. You’ve got one lane each way on Fremont—on Monterrey you’ve got three lanes each way. And you’ve got about 35,000 cars going through Fremont every day—on a very narrow street. You would have to remove parking to widen it, and that would not be taken very well by people who live on Fremont. Again, if you wanted to move more cars at the detriment of residents, you would make Fremont either one way or you would make it two lanes each way by eliminating on-street parking. But is that something you want your resident to experience to try to get people through the city faster?
Patch: On an average day, roughly how many percent of cars would you say come from outside—that are not local?
Gonzalez: That’s a very good question. I’d have to get more information about it. I believe the SR 710 study says that there are about 20 percent local vehicles and 80 percent from outside.
Patch: By ‘outside,’ do you mean commuter vehicles that don’t stop for business?
Gonzalez: Right—they’re just driving through the city. Maybe resident of Pasadena or Alhambra. What we don’t see is that people are driving through the city because they’re going to Palmdale. Most of the traffic is local. And that’s something we’ve been arguing with Metro—that if you connect the freeways it doesn’t mean you’re going to reduce the congestion in the neighborhoods because people are going to their homes. Unfortunately we have a lot more cars than our roads have a capacity for. We’ve got population increases, new construction—Alhambra’s got a ton of new construction on Main Street. Pasadena’s got a ton of new construction on Del Mar, Pasadena Avenue—all those new high-rise apartment buildings. So one of the results of increased housing is that you’re going to have more cars on the road.