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The San Marino City Council has unanimously approved the creation of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force and will seek to contract with a specialist who can facilitate the panel.
The group’s establishment was enthusiastically approved at last Friday’s meeting, along with its price tag of up to $45,000. The decision came on the heels of a proclamation for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and a similar decree lauding the Chinese Club of San Marino for its work, council actions that also dealt with the theme of diversity.
Vice Mayor Susan Jakubowski had proposed exploring this issue at a prior meeting.
“This is a ‘big heavy’ that we are taking on,” Jakubowski said Friday. “As we all know from our life experiences, many times we avoid and fear those we don’t know. We are hesitant to learn more, to ask questions, and I think the end product we’re looking for is a way to bring us all together.”
San Marino’s commitment to a DEI reframing comes on the heels of a well-documented rise in hateful rhetoric and violence directed toward Asian and Pacific Islander Americans throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Much of this seems to be related to the virus’ apparent origins in China, and commentators often charged former President Donald Trump with fanning those flames by insisting on using phrases like “China virus” or “kung flu,” which often complemented his seeming political hostility to migrants.
As noted in the city’s report preceding the vote on the task force, around 60% of San Marino’s population is of AAPI heritage, with Taiwanese and Chinese being the dominant sub-groups among them. City, school and civic operations are generally well integrated with the community, with Mandarin translation offered at many events with help from the Chinese Club.
Still, as the report notes, some residents have reported experiencing hostility directed at them —sometimes by other local residents — because of their ethnicity.
Community Engagement Manager Amanda Fowler said she consulted with other entities in the area in approaching this issue — DEI initiatives have permeated Los Angeles County and other parts of the country in recent years, particularly after the nationwide protests demanding a racial reckoning last summer.
“The biggest takeaways from our conversation really were that this type of work, for it to be successful, needs to be community led but rooted in practicality, and we believe that’s why this approach would set us up to be as successful as possible,” Fowler said.
The advantages of task forces are that they are not subject to Brown Act rules governing public meetings and that their memberships can also be more fluid. Retaining a specialist who can coordinate this task force and prompt the difficult questions and discussions, she added, can help guide the group from an objective starting point.
In reaching the conclusion for this recommendation, Fowler said she often asked the other entities — cities and school districts — if they felt the expense was worthwhile.
“They said it was, because it’s a typically difficult topic to discuss and the path forward toward developing an actionable plan personalized to your city can feel daunting,” she said.
Council members were generally enthusiastic about the endeavor.
Councilman Steve Talt said he hoped to identify “the tools to deal with some aspects of our relationships with people who may not look the same” from the task force. He recollected how one of his children, when young, responded when another person identified a classmate as being Chinese — “No dad, they’re from San Marino,” he quoted.
“I wish that our attitude was more like our children,” Talt said.
Councilman Steven Huang thanked Jakubowski for her “brilliant idea.”
“We’re a big family and when you have siblings in the family, you don’t always get along,” Huang added. “I think we need this. I can support this.”
In other business, the council reviewed and approved the city’s budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year.
The proposed operating budget anticipated $31.4 million in revenues and $28.6 million in expenses — producing a net income of $2.8 million. The capital equipment and improvement budget is calling for spending $12.5 million, including about $2 million reallocated from unfinished projects approved for the current year.
Finance Director Paul Chung said he expects the city’s relatively strong position that endured throughout the pandemic to continue. Property tax revenues, of course, make up the majority of the city’s income and would not have been significantly affected (if at all) by the emergency.
“Obviously I or nobody can predict COVID or the resurgence that potentially might happen, but on the fiscal side … I feel that the city of San Marino is in very good fiscal health going into next year,” he said.
The budget was approved 3-1 (Huang had to leave early), with Councilwoman Gretchen Shepherd Romey opposing — she later told the Tribune that her nay vote was rooted in her continuing opposition to the San Marino Center renovation project and its costs, which have risen since it was initially proposed.
The approval also removed $40,000 from the city manager’s department for a communications initiative and an understanding that any changes made to the proposed fee schedule would be made effective after the fact.

The city expects to hire an engineering consultant to assist in developing plans for Metro-backed traffic improvement projects this year, with the bill to be covered by the transportation agency.
Although the City Council has not formally committed to the endeavor, it signaled tacit approval at last week’s council meeting, where the body informally went over potential capital construction projects for the forthcoming fiscal year. In a straw vote, the council asked to have a more detailed report on the proposal included in the formal budget process. It was estimated that the consulting service would cost around $95,000.

The City Council began its dive into the budgeting session at a special meeting last week, where administrators went over several capital equipment purchases proposed by city departments for the next fiscal year.
No commitments were made last week. Rather, the council signaled a simple agreement that the purchases be included in the departments’ broader budget proposals, potentially with more informative reports on them. Capital projects will be considered in this straw poll format next month.

The City Council delayed judgment of an appeal to a future date, in part to push the applicants to actually get input from a number of neighbors regarding a reality television series the applicants hope to film at a home.
In its meeting last week, the council also punted on an appeal for a mixed-use building proposed to be built along Mission Street, instead opting to schedule a de novo hearing at a later date. The city is expected to argue that the project should be denied because it could not pass a plan check in the event it was approved, at least as currently designed.
The four applicants for the denied filming permit — Rosemary Lay, Julie Chan Lin, Alice Shyu and Weni Wilson — are in the meantime tasked with revisiting a number of homes within a 500-foot radius of their own houses they deemed to be unoccupied in their initial surveys. Additionally, the city staff report indicated that they overlooked some required homes entirely in their initial surveying.

City officials are currently projecting a $2.1 million revenue surplus for the fiscal year, thanks to a downturn in revenues being similarly offset by reduced expenditures from the same cause — the pandemic.
The city was on track after the first six months of the year to finish with $1.1 million fewer than initially anticipated in income, according to Finance Director Paul Chung. At the same time, the trend indicates that the city’s proposed expenditures will be down $1.4 million by the end of the year. In fact, expenses for the year’s halfway point were listed as being just 44.3%.

Photo courtesy Compost Culture
Sophomores Gianna Karkafi, Elizabeth Bercaw and Maddy Gregg are helping to bring a compost collection program to San Marino.

A group of San Marino students hope to propagate a successful startup service project from neighboring South Pasadena and offer composting service to San Marino residents.
The volunteers have joined onto Compost Culture, a projected started last year by two South Pasadena High School students to offer compost collection service to their city’s residents and businesses. Fresh off the success of winning the competition sponsored by the organization that funded them, the two SPHS students plan to branch out into their neighboring communities.
San Marino was first on the list.
“I was reading about it on their website and I thought it was really cool what they were doing,” explained Gianna Karkafi, a sophomore and cabinet member of the Green Club at San

Numbers continue to reflect the expectations of what a pandemic means for San Marino’s budgeting, according to an update last week from the city’s finance director.
General fund revenues fell by around 2.7% in the second quarter year-over-year, according to Finance Director Paul Chung. This represents a drop by $322,000, hardly an insurmountable amount for a city flush in reserve funding. The primary culprit, Chung explained, is the interruption of services that simply don’t work during a pandemic.
“Obviously with the COVID impacts, we have the facility closures due to the library and recreation programs being shut down. Those revenues are not as high as last year,” he said. “[Investment] yields are also lower as treasury yields continue to be low due to the COVID impacts.”

The San Marino Police Department added its latest entry to Southern California’s storied history of police chases this past weekend, when one of the city’s new license plate reader cameras picked up a vehicle allegedly used in prior crimes.
The automated license plate reader picked up the vehicle at 7:33 p.m. Saturday, after which a patrol officer was sent to pull over the driver. According to the San Marino Police Department, officers had pursued the same vehicle — a blue 2014 Jeep Patriot SUV — in a chase in recent weeks but eventually called it off because of poor road conditions.
“We’re picking up a lot of stolen cars” with the cameras, Police Chief John Incontro said. “We had seen the car in an earlier incident.”

Photo courtesy SMPD
In addition to a radar trailer, the San Marino Police Department now counts two of these radar signs among its speed enforcement arsenal.

The San Marino Police Department looks forward to keeping track of traffic issues more precisely with the help of two new portable radar signs, the use of which will begin this week in conjunction with a separate radar trailer.
While the larger trailer is used on bigger and more traveled streets, the department plans to use the signs — which can be attached to light poles — on smaller side streets in town.
“You can’t put them on some of the small side streets without them interfering with traffic,” Sgt. Tim Tebbetts said, referring to trailers. The portable signs “will connect to the city light poles or wherever the city dictates they go. They’ll be easy to move from street to street; we can move them to, say, Lorain Road for two weeks and then maybe Mill Road for another two weeks.”
The devices are part of the City Council’s broader priority initiative to ramp up enforcement against speeding and address other traffic issues in San Marino. Much like the radar trailer that was purchased last year, the two signs are primarily powered by solar panels and also use chargeable batteries with reserve power as a backup. The devices will showcase the speed of a vehicle as it approaches, flashing when the vehicle exceeds the posted limit and adding bright red and blue lights to the mix if the speed is extreme.