Dr. Richard Sun says he was not afraid of defending his seat on the San Marino City Council at the November 5 election, but admitted it was “a relief” when he learned on Monday afternoon that the two candidates who had pulled papers to take on Sun, Allan Yung and Mayor Dick Ward did not return them to City Clerk Veronica Ruiz by the required deadline of August 12.
“This saves us a lot of money and time, which is important,” said Sun of the council election that will no longer take place. “It also saves the taxpayers about $50,000 and allows the incumbents to focus on city affairs.”
When asked to recount some of the accomplishments of his first term, Sun was quick to point out that “there are five council members and we have to work together, so anything we have been able to accomplish has been the result of collaborative efforts.”
“But the one thing I have been most adamant about is strategic planning,” said Sun, of the community-wide survey and town hall meetings that produced nine hundred responses from San Marino’s four thousand households.
“That represents an excellent response,” said Sun. “We wanted to find out what the people want. Which direction should we go? Where is the city going? We wanted to establish a vision and a mission.”
The councilman might not be so enthusiastic about the voice of the people, which clearly stated that while five of the eight city departments met expectations, three did not, including city administration, building and planning – and the city council.
“That shows me we have a lot of room to improve our government in terms of efficiency and effectiveness,” Sun said.
From the summit, the city council stated three long-term goals – developing a plan for future recreation facilities, improving the business climate on Huntington Drive and maintaining the city’s infrastructure.
“We received many complaints about Huntington Drive,” the councilman said. “Residents are concerned about vacancies, the fact that there are few nice sit-down restaurants and too many banks. They want to see a more vibrant, prosperous Huntington Drive. For the next four years, my emphasis will be placed on Huntington Drive. We need to hire a consultant to take an in-depth look at Huntington Drive.”
Sun then spoke what was once the unthinkable, stating that in the past few months, discussion has circulated about studying the possibility of bringing mixed-use development into San Marino.
“Not high-rise, or mid-rise, but retail and residential development that would fit into the unique architectural character of San Marino.”
The city could provide the land while the developer builds the project.
“Why do people have to leave San Marino for Orange Grove Boulevard in Pasadena when they retire and sell their home?” he said. “Why can’t we work with a private entity? We could get a community center built at the expense of the developer with nice, residential condominiums located above. Maybe just three levels. This would also provide more opportunities for families with school-age children to move to San Marino. We need a comprehensive plan. With all the right conditions, we can get nice restaurants and nice retail in San Marino.”
Three years ago, the San Marino City Council passed an ordinance allowing for the issuance of two full-service liquor permits designed to attract restaurants, but so far, no takers.
“If we revitalize the area, that will take care of itself,” said Sun.
Sun also called for yet another foray into determining the best place for a community recreation center – the site of Stoneman School, which the city purchased for $6 million from the San Marino Unified School District, or a location near the Crowell Public Library and Huntington Middle School.
“More and more people are getting older in San Marino, like me,” he quipped. “What recreational opportunities can San Marino offer our senior citizens, not to mention our students? This needs to be explored in more depth.”
Sun said he is “proud of the Master Signage Program” he initiated through the city, which allows for faster approval for businesses.
“Any new business that came to San Marino needed to get a new sign,” said the councilman. “What if the building owner of a multi-use facility just needed over-the-counter approval for new businesses? That is code already and I am very proud of that.”
He also touted the city’s ongoing renovation of City Hall, which he claims will “streamline the government process.”
“The renovation will make City Hall a more efficient place,” he said. “It’s long overdue. People will soon be able to file their applications and make their payments on the first level and have a space they can work more efficiently.”
He said that the city’s purchase of Stoneman was “a milestone in San Marino.”
“Could you imagine if Stoneman went to a developer?” he asked rhetorically. “It would have been terrible. But we need to work on a plan for Stoneman.”
Following the $5 million contribution to the construction of the Crowell Public Library and the $6 million forked over for Stoneman, San Marino has still maintained a $15 million surplus on an annual budget of $23 million.
“We survived the economic downturn and we still have an excellent reserve,” said Sun. “Most cities are fortunate to have 50% of their annual budget in reserves and we are doing much better than that, we are near 70%.”
Like most discussions of San Marino, this one eventually returned to its top-ranked schools.
“Our number one priority is still the support of the school district, which supports our property values,” Sun said. “Stepping up and buying Stoneman is a a good example of that.”
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