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- Q&A: Felicia Williams. Continuing a Community Mandate
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Williams serves District 2 on the Pasadena City Council.
Q – With your extensive background in energy issues, should there be a reconstituted Public Utilities Commission in Pasadena?
A – The big issue that all utilities are facing now is the build-out to achieve the state’s goal, which is 100% renewable energy, or zero carbon, by 2045. We are held to that legally as well as financially, and that is the goal when it comes to our state compliance. Pasadena DWP will achieve the state’s goal by about 2028 or 2029. We are one of the few cities that will achieve the goal. That’s 17 years ahead of time. Pasadena DWP has been very progressive, and that was the direction provided by the city council in 2017.
I’ve been supportive of the creation of a Pasadena PUC for a while, ever since I was on the environmental commission. It’s a good idea because we are the only publicly owned utility that does not have a utility commission. There’s a bigger question. If you’ve looked at certain commissions like the Planning Commission, the Rose Bowl Operating Company, or the Convention Center Board, there are certain criteria for people to be members. You’d have a finance person, an infrastructure person, and an environmental activist, and the makeup would be very prescribed.
It’d be great to have a body that has the expertise to evaluate these contracts and provide advice to the city council.
It’s difficult for the City Council to evaluate these contracts that come to them. It’d be great to have a body that has the expertise to evaluate these contracts and provide advice to the city council. Much like the Planning Commission does. The Planning Commission is very well constituted. Whenever something comes to us from the PC, I can look at it and say, “Hey, this was well vetted.”
There’s a public participation process that will be very beneficial there, also. There’s an education process because this is very, very complicated. I worked at Southern California Edison for seven years as the manager of the investor relations department. I learned how to explain really difficult concepts.
Voters want things to be greener, but I don’t know that they understand how green they already are. I’ve been working with the Sierra Club on this and other groups. Currently, we have a Green Power program. Every year, the DWP evaluates whether we should eliminate the program because it’s so under-subscribed. We generate about $800,000 from people who pay an extra two cents per kilowatt hour on their invoice for Green Power. If all of the residents who could afford to pay the extra two cents on their bill joined the Green Power Program, we would generate $8 million a year. That would accelerate our adoption of renewables because we would have ten times the funding. People come to the council and say we should be greener, and the comment is that green starts when you sign up for Green Power. On the DWP website, you can click on Green Power and sign up.
Q – What District 2 issues are at the forefront of your campaign?
“Picking up trash is not political.”
A – There are two different views of the City Council. Some people take state and national issues and want the CC to address them. The city council is nonpartisan. We deal with day-to-day issues. There’s a famous quote: “Picking up trash is not political.” That’s where a lot of people don’t have an understanding of what the CC does. In addition to picking up trash, the top issues include nuisance or public safety issues. That includes some very, very difficult situations where there are aging parents in a home. They have their children living with them, and these children have substance abuse disorder and other issues. They are impacting the quality of life in the neighborhood. We’re balancing the neighbors’ right to quiet enjoyment and safety. But we’re also balancing out the individual’s rights and the ability (or inability) to access mental health services. This is probably one of the biggest areas that I deal with. It takes up a lot of time.
Secondly, we deal with issues around speeding in the neighborhoods. There’s a distracted driver component to people being on their phones and their media. It’s amazing to see people speeding and running through stop signs with their children in the car, getting them to school. It’s this American attitude of fulfilling your own needs and ignoring the needs of the people around you.
It’s a very difficult problem to address, and it’s not something that can be addressed through road improvements like a speed bump or a traffic circle. I think it’s an education issue, an enforcement and reinforcement issue. If I were governor, I would restrict the number of driver’s licenses because driving is a privilege. It’s not a right.
It’s gotten to the point that unless people risk losing their license, it’s not really something they’re going to care about. The other idea I call the Beyonce Concert. The idea is that when you get in the car, it should automatically limit your use through Bluetooth, and you can’t do other things. You can only use the phone.
Q – Should we increase the police budget or reallocate for local safety enforcement action?
A – People say, “Well, why don’t we just put a cop on the street?” Our numbers have been cut in half. We have seven traffic enforcement officers now. We used to have 14. They are really short-staffed. But it’s also about working with the Department of Transportation to put in reasonable traffic improvements, like the traffic circle on Hill. They’re having issues with southbound backup in the morning and northbound in the afternoon. They’re having a problem with trucks and fire trucks and other large vehicles being able to get through there. So, we can iron out those issues.
Q – What are the issues around trees and open space in District 2?
A – We are rethinking our parks. There’s a demand for pickleball, so how do we balance the different users there? How do we upgrade the equipment? We put in shade structures for families with kids, and I’m really happy that the first community compost hub was put into McDonald Park. This is a big greenhouse gas emission reducer because you don’t have a big truck hauling around organics all over the city.
Q – Can you discuss some issues around saving local news in Pasadena?
A – We are challenged with local news. Each outlet has a slant. A lot of it is driven by advertising. There’s a shortage of writers who want to focus on local news. I don’t really know what the answer is. You’re on the front line, working on this and providing funds, but the answer to getting fair and balanced news isn’t driven by advertising revenues or someone’s personal agenda. It’s very challenging, to be honest with you. There should be information that people can then draw their own conclusions about.
Q – How large is the issue of housing in your District?
A – There are two separate issues – land use and funding. The city lost its main source of affordable housing funding in 2012. We don’t have any funding to do affordable housing. People are wondering why the city isn’t building more affordable housing. Well, we can’t. We don’t really have funds anymore. And we have to rely on developers to build affordable housing.
What we can do is rezone and provide incentives.
What we can do is rezone and provide incentives. We have three affordable housing projects going in in District 2, which is rare. District 2 is single-family residential, but we have three projects. One is a mixed-income project by Heritage Housing Partners. They received a $10 million grant from the state to do traffic and pedestrian improvements around the project to make it more user-friendly and connected to the Gold Line station at Allen. Everyone from very low income to market rate will be in that building. Then, we have two emancipated foster youth housing projects receiving partial support from Pasadena City College. For the residential students there, a portion of their rent will be paid. We’re just so fortunate to have these projects. There’s such a huge need.
Regarding homelessness, there are two issues. One is a housing issue, and the other is mental health, substance abuse, and trauma. One contributing factor to homelessness for families is domestic violence. That’s why I’ve taken on something that people are really uncomfortable talking about. I had a Domestic Violence Awareness Month event in October, the first one the city has sponsored. And I’ll continue talking about this because it impacts our families and the young people in our schools.
It’s a brand-new model that no other city has done…
We need to provide more services. I’m working with the mayor on the development of the former site of the Kaiser Outpatient Health Clinic on Lake into a city mental health clinic and housing project. We understand the challenges, and this will be a game-changer for people who have a mental illness, have substance abuse issues and are homeless in Pasadena. They can go somewhere, get treated, and then go straight into housing, which would be on the second floor of the building. It’s a brand-new model that no other city has done, and we’re doing it in partnership with County Supervisor Kathryn Barger.
In my second term. I want to finish things I’ve already started. Half of my first term was spent on Zoom and with a mask. On my agenda, I want to get a long-term lease for Jefferson Elementary School to work on nuisance issues and make our neighborhoods safer. I want to get that outpatient mental health project through a developer and an RFP. I want to expand more career technical education in our schools and really create a path for good jobs through a project labor agreement. Such a city-wide community effort benefits our city with local hires. It benefits our local kids so they can have a great career when they come out of school.