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South Pasadena Group Encourages Women Leaders, Transparency in Local Government

A year after Women Involved in South Pasadena Political Action (WISPPA) was formed, the dynamic group of community and civic-minded women is going strong. They have a busy few months ahead as they encourage strong women candidates to run for City Council.

A group of about 15 South Pasadena women of all ages gathered in a comfortable living room of a South Pas home on a recent Saturday morning to discuss ways to encourage women to run for political office. Over bagels and coffee, they listened to Monica Hubbard of Altadena, who helped recruit a group of local women to run for City Council in neighboring Pasadena in a previous election. Hubbard’s informative talk inspired the group to figure out how to engage more women in South Pasadena politics.

This group of about 15 women – comprised of community and civic leaders, business owners, attorneys, architects, health care professionals, counselors, writers and more – is called Women Involved in South Pasadena Political Action, or WISPPA.

With three seats up for grabs in the South Pasadena City Council elections this November, the race is a top priority for WISPPA as the group encourages women to run for council. 

“We would like to see more women on the South Pasadena City Council,” said Gretchen Robinette, the chairwoman and one of the founders of WISPPA. “Organizations tend to work better if there is a combination of men and women who have complementary styles."

Founded in March 2010 after local residents found out that the city decided not to automatically renew former Police Chief Dan Watson’s contract, WISPPA has dedicated itself to pushing for “accountability, integrity, and transparency” in South Pasadena’s city government. The group meets monthly to discuss the major issues affecting the city, from the water rate increase to elections.

So far, the group has raised concerns about various issues – transparency in government, the Police Chief issue, the 710 freeway, massage parlors, water rates – at City Council meetings. After WISPPA invited Water Council members to speak at a recent group meeting, Robinette was appointed to the Utility Users Tax Committee, which will identify how to use that tax for water conservation and assisting low income water customers.

The City Council, which is currently comprised of five men, has not had a woman council member since served several years ago. The terms of Mayor Mike Ten, City Council member Richard Schneider and City Council member David Sifuentes end this year, and all are eligible to run again. As of February, three candidates had declared their intention to run for election: incumbent Ten, Robert Joe and Alan Reynolds.

“We want to make sure that the people elected to the council understand transparency and really keep in touch with their constituency,” Robinette said.

With the deadline to file candidacy papers for the council race coming up in August, WISPPA has a lot on its plate. Over the next several weeks, WISPPA plans to hold small group meetings or coffee chats with women community leaders to identify and encourage women to run for City Council. This summer, WISPPA plans to hold a large gathering to honor women who have been involved with the community and local politics.

Robinette said WISPPA will offer ideas and support to potential candidates.

“We will provide to women the information they need to run for council,” Robinette said. “We’ll tell them how to run, what papers they need to file. But, we will not, as a group, endorse any particular candidate,” she added. “We respect the fact that people in our group feel differently about the issues.”

Diverse Political Opinions and Backgrounds

Robinette noted that WISPPA, while all women, is comprised of members of all different political beliefs.

“There are people not from the same political party,” Robinette said. “There are people in this group who took opposing positions on the ."

“We are a diverse group of women – politically and in terms of our professional experience, community involvements and areas of expertise, but we are united in our commitment to and love of South Pasadena,” Robinette said.

The group’s Executive Committee consists of six members, including Robinette, Barbara Sinclair, Ellen Daigle, Bianca Richards, Mary Urquhart and newest member Rozella Oliver.

Daigle, who began her career in nursing, made a transition to business owner in the 1970’s. She opened her South Pasadena store , and has become a successful business owner in town. The LA Business Journal named her business one of top 100 women-owned firms.

“We want people to serve on the City Council who are really bright, who are leaders,” Daigle said at a recent WISPPA meeting. “They’ve got to be really intelligent, she said.

Richards, another one of the group’s founding members, agreed, and said, “If they’ve got a vision, if they’ve got a passion, we could nurture them.” is named after Richards’ father, the late Amedee “Dick” Richards, who served as former Mayor and City Council member.

“We’re concerned about the well-being of South Pasadena,” said Richards, who works as a counselor at Pasadena City College and can be seen seated front and center in the audience at almost every City Council meeting.

WISSPA Vice-President Barbara Sinclair has served on several civic and community groups in South Pasadena, including as chairperson of the city’s Public Safety Commission, the South Pasadena Board of Directors of Senior Citizens’ Foundation, and Senior Warden at . Sinclair also serves on numerous other organizations, including as President of the Los Angeles County Commission on Aging.

Sinclair, who first came to California to pursue her dream of nursing and health care, worked as a Professor and Department Chair in Nursing and Health Sciences at Cal State LA. She also served as Director of the university’s Nursing Institute, interim Dean for the School of Health at Cal State Dominguez Hills, and an administrator/director for the Peace Corps. She has received honors and awards from many groups, and was recently honored as South Pasadena’s Outstanding Older American in 2010.

“The ladies are really concerned about making sure South Pasadena stays the really nice town that it is,” Sinclair said. “We need to have transparency so we’re all on the same wavelength.”

She said women make good political leaders because they have the ability to move things forward.

Long-time South Pasadena resident Kay Mouradian said she first began attending City Council meetings after joining WISPPA.

“I decided I needed to have a better understanding how our city is run,” she said. “The fiasco in Bell unleashed my honorable intent that public monies need to be spent with the best interests of the community it represents.”

Mouradian, an accomplished writer who wrote a novel, A Gift in the Sunlight: An Armenian Story, about her mother’s survival of the Armenian genocide in Turkey has also written extensively about yoga, meditation and Armenian arts and culture.

“The members of WISPPA are talented professionals who care deeply about South Pasadena,” Mouradian said. “They are some of the most dedicated and honorable women I have ever known.”

Robinette grew up in South Pasadena, and after serving as a Peace Corps volunteer with her husband Victor Robinette (current South Pasadena City Treasurer) in the late-1960’s, realized the importance of community involvement.

The Robinettes spent two years teaching English in Malaysia, where they worked with youth.

“It was very rural, and I had a really amazing experience,” she said. “It was a turning point in my life.”

Robinette worked for many years at libraries, including the and Library, and also became involved with several local groups, including as a board member on the and . She also chairs the Legislative Affairs Committee.

The Group’s Founding

 “The genesis of the group was the issue around the Chief of Police,” Robinette said. “We were perturbed about the lack of transparency that occurred with the Police Chief. It seemed to have occurred under wraps.”

The city has denied making official decisions to replace the Police Chief behind closed doors, however the .

WISPPA members want the City Council to understand the importance of greater transparency and communication. In fact, they invited City Manager John Davidson to a meeting last fall, and he answered their questions about various city issues, including the Police Chief matter.

The women also make sure to represent the group during the public comment period at City Council meetings. At a council meeting in October 2010, three WISPPA members got up to speak about transparency.

“I urge you to listen to your constituency and be more transparent,” said WISPPA member Mieke Kramer when she addressed the council. “The problems are not going away,” she said, referring to Police Chief matter.

Robinette soon followed with her comments, “South Pasadena values honesty, integrity, open and accessible government.” She asked the council, “do you believe you have been responsive to the community?”

Sinclair rounded up the WISPPA comments, showing the strength of the group and proving that it will continue to follow up on City Council actions.

In addition to public comments, WISPPA member . The letter prompted the planning department to count the numbers and look into zoning regulations.

“I’m really encouraged by seeing what a group of people can do,” Robinette said. “We’ve had some impact on the council and the way some people are looking at issues in town. It’s a testament to democracy,” she said. Robinette also noted this group will continue to take up different issues long-term, including increasing voter turnout.

Other past guest speakers at WISPPA meeting include City Council member Richard Schneider, Mayor Mike Ten, Assistant City Manager Sergio Gonzalez, , Water Council Chair Diana Mahmud and . The group has also scheduled to attend as guest speaker this spring.

Robinette said, “WISPPA believes that at the core of a successful, vibrant city are citizens of all political and philosophical convictions who actively participate in the public life of the city.” She added, “South Pasadena is unique in the willingness of many of its citizens to do just this. Our hope is to involve more people in the political life of their city.”

Women interested in joining WISPPA can contact Gretchen Robinette via e-mail at gretchen@southpascpa.com. WISPPA also encourages South Pasadena residents, particularly women, to e-mail gretchen@southpascpa.com to find out more about the upcoming City Council election get information about running for office.

Editor's Note: This article has been changed. The original article stated that two seats for city council are up for grabs. In fact, three seats will be open in the upcoming November election. South Pasadena Patch regrets the error.

Alan Reynolds March 09, 2011 at 06:22 AM
Ron, I too would like to know what WISPPA (and any other individuals or groups) may have learned about about the "process" that went on, but I do not hold out much hope that a significant amount of information has been provided, through no fault of WISPPA, who has done a wonderful service to lend their voices to questioning the goings-on, but due to the continual lack of detailed forthcoming answers (only vague ones). I wish things were different, but that is why we have elections.
Ron Rosen March 09, 2011 at 01:22 PM
Unfortunately, Alan, when it comes to the police chief matter, there's no point in people saying, "We have questions." This is one matter where we have the answers. We know exactly what happened. I hope that WISPPA will ask questions about things we don't know about and share the answers with the public.
Alan Reynolds March 09, 2011 at 04:42 PM
Ron, I do agree, and hope that as WISPPA is more than just one individual, or assorted individuals commenting at a City Council meeting, and are a group/association their requests for answers can provide better results.
Pam Steimer April 09, 2011 at 09:29 PM
I have noticed that we have a number of massage places popping up. Don't get me wrong, I believe that massage is very therapeutic - we already have more than enough though. The Total Elements is a great - legitimate - location as well as the Massage Place. Some of the others though seem a bit shady. Does the Chamber of Commerce have to approve new businesses in town?
Gary Pia July 01, 2011 at 02:56 PM
The South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce does not have the authority nor the responsibility to "approve" a new business in town. Approvals and compliance with City rules and regulations is the purview of the City of South Pasadena.

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