When Michael Cacciotti kicked off his reelection campaign in late September, he did it with style. Community members were invited to the Arroyo Seco Racquet Club, on the banks of the historic Arroyo, where they were served a lavish, multiethnic spread of Italian, Mexican and Chinese food. It was a Sunday afternoon and Cacciotti stressed his nearly 12-year record on the city council of opposing the the 710 freeway extension, improving the environment, helping secure open spaces by the Arroyo Seco river, and strengthening city programs for youth as well as seniors.
Cacciotti has been longer on the city council than any of its five current members. You’d think South Pas residents would give him another four-year term based just on the sheer passion and energy that he brings to the council. But the councilmember and three-time mayor can’t afford to rest on his laurels. The nature of politics in a small town such as South Pas is always unpredictable, he told South Pasadena Patch in an interview last week. Excerpts:
South Pasadena Patch: Why are you running for reelection?
Michael Cacciotti: I’m running for the same reason I ran 12 years ago. I love South Pas and I’m very passionate about keeping it a small town.
Patch: The Friends of Michael Cacciotti have been quite active on your reelection. Your campaign seems to be the most visible and spent on. After all these years, don’t you think you’re a natural shoe-in for another term?
Cacciotti: No—nobody’s ever sure. In a small town government and politics it’s never a shoe-in. Issues change dramatically from week to week, month to month. You make a lot of decisions in 12 years—hundreds of decisions. You have friends on one side of an issue. And on the other side you’ve got to make some tough decisions based on the best interests of the city. Sometimes people don’t like it. I’ve worked hard, I’m dedicated, but some people get upset at your decisions. And when you’ve got that many decisions, some people are going to be unhappy.
Patch: What are your political persuasions? Are you a registered democrat? A registered Republican? An independent?
Cacciotti: In local issues, it’s supposed to be nonpartisan politics. When I ran for [the state] assembly a year or so ago, I had an affiliation, but here it’s nonpartisan. No matter what you characterize me as, you can measure my performance by taking a snapshot of the city 12 years ago and a snapshot today.
In the Great Recession over the last decade, most cities are in financial turmoil. They’re going bankrupt, employees are furloughed or laid off. On the other hand, we’ve actually increased our service and revenues and launched an unprecedented infrastructure improvement program for our water, sewers, roadways, gutters, sidewalks. We’re rebuilding facilities.
The condition we’re in now is incredible compared to 10 years ago. We’ve created a fiscally stable city. We’ve improved our police and fire departments and have one of the best libraries in the region. We’re one of the few cities in the San Gabriel Valley that has put aside money for retirees' medical and pension benefits. We’ve got a million dollars set aside in case those premiums jump, which Calpers has told us they will. It’s one of the best cities to move to in all of the San Gabriel Valley.
Patch: What’s the Number One issue facing South Pas, and what would you do to address it?
Cacciotti: I’ve always pushed for our strategic planning, where we sit down and discuss what you just said—what are the most pressing issues impacting us. The big ones are our infrastructure. Because of decades of deferred maintenance, you’re looking at a water system that costing $55 million to repair. That’s $55 million, with a general fund budget of $24 million. Then you’ve got streets, which are close to $40-$50 million, you’ve got a sewer system that’s close to $20 million. If the Garfield Reservoir breaks, it’ll cost around $15 million to repair—and that’s more than our reserves.
Patch: Are you an advocate of building infrastructure by using the reserve fund or not?
Cacciotti: You’ve got to look at the conditions. It depends from year to year. I’ve assessed the conditions and I’m the only one who’s got real options out there. I’ve sat down with staff, the city attorney, our city manager, Paul Toor. One option is to increase our utility users tax on water. But I talk to our seniors and others and people are hurting. They need a break—a tax holiday for six months.
Patch: What’s the one issue that you think only you of all the candidates brings to the table?
Cacciotti: I think what sets me apart is that in my 12 years on council no one has taken the role I’ve taken by not only keeping in touch with people in the city, but every week I’m out there for a regional meeting in the valley. I’ve been going to those meetings for 12 years, sometimes they’re in Diamond Bar, El Monte, Irwindale. I’m out there at the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. I represent the entire San Gabriel Valley, all the way from Claremont to Santa Clarita—Glendale, Burbank—at the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
I sit on all these regional boards. No other member is bringing the money that I can bring to the city. From the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy alone I’ve already brought $250,000 for a nature park, $150,000 for trail studies—engineering. That’s almost half-a-million right there. Then, from the Air Quality Management District, free police car—alternative fuel vehicle worth $40,000. We’re saving thousands of dollars in fuel costs. I set up committees two years ago to examine the leases for the tennis courts, golf course and stables. Instead of bringing in $100,000, the golf course is bringing in $450,000 to the city. We’re saving 50 grand a year on energy alone.
Patch: As a councilmember, you must encounter people who don’t share your views. What do you do to make people see your point of view and how do you work with them to arrive at some common ground? Give us an example.
Cacciotti: Somebody once came to a council meeting to complain about streets. I said, I agree with you. Our streets are important. But just as important is our water system. So, I focus a lot on water, which is maybe even more important [than our streets] because water is a precious resource. So we agreed to disagree about what our biggest priority was. When I first got on the council, I realized water was the biggest issue and as I talk to people, it still is.
Patch: Where is the city going to get the money to fix all the roads? For water, I understand they’ve set aside bond money.
Cacciotti: From the utility tax. We raise $3.65 million a year from the utility tax alone. That goes into the general fund. So we’ll get around $2 million a year from the general fund for our streets, and the rest will come from county sources, Prop. A and C funds. We’re pushing for federal money.
Patch: Who’s your personal hero? Which president do you admire? Or which politician in California do you admire?
Cacciotti: Pope Francis and Pope John XXIII are my personal heroes because of the character, actions, vision and the values they espoused. They inherited a church, an institution, whose Vatican bureaucracy and some of the leadership had strayed from their mission, and were not responsive to the needs of the church and the world.
In a short time, by their example, they started to reform the church and redirect it back to its original purpose and mission—to serve all people in our world with love and compassion.
As an elected official, I also strive to constantly reassess and reform our local government. By setting an example as a humble and dedicated public servant, I want to ensure that everyone who works for our city family—from the city manager to our staff who answers the phones, the police on patrol, the senior center, library staff, public works staff repairing a broken pipe—that all of us provide our residents with outstanding and courteous customer and public service that is responsive to our resident's needs.
That is our core mission as a city. We must provide for our residents public safety needs, safe, reliable and affordable drinking water, safe streets and sidewalks, recreation and leisure programs at our parks, facilities and library. Moreover, we must provide a government that is transparent and open, welcoming to our residents, and encourages citizen participation/involvement. At the top of the city's organizational structure are the residents. The elected officials and city staff are at the bottom—the public servants.
Patch: Candidate Alan Reynolds has been saying in his campaign that the city council needs to be a lot more diverse—not just in the age of its members but in their professions. He says the council is over-represented by lawyers and doctors. What do you make of that argument?
Cacciotti: Someone who goes from school straight to law makes a different person than someone whose first job wasn’t law. My first job was as a schoolteacher. I have a background as a national soccer coach—I’ve coached AYSO soccer in South Pasadena for 20 years. I’ve got a masters degree in sports administration, which makes me understand how to manage—and that’s why every year I call for [the city’s] strategic planning. I’ve worked in the [state] legislature. I’m not just a state attorney but a state prosecutor. I’ve also worked at Caltrans for 10 years as a state attorney, so I understand exactly how Caltrans works.
I understand state agencies—how they work, how they fund. That’s how I get a lot of state grants—because I’ve worked in the system, which nobody else has.