Steve Rossi – Write-In Candidate District 2
1. The issue of reducing racial bias (conscious and unconscious) and systemic racism is a major concern throughout the nation, and in cities large and small, including South Pasadena. If you are elected to the South Pasadena City Council, what specific actions will you pursue to reduce unconscious or conscious bias, systemic racism and hate crimes in the city?
The United States was founded on many great principles: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to due process, and the right to vote for your elected officials. However, throughout our nation’s history, these principles have never applied to everyone equally. Women earned the right to vote in 1920, over 140 years after the Declaration of Independence. Native Americans weren’t guaranteed the right to citizenship and to vote in all states until 1948. Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, eliminating many of the state and local obstructions to African Americans right to vote. And same-sex marriage wasn’t legal until as recently as 2015.
My wife, Sheila, was born in Iran of mixed European and Iranian background, and at the age of 5 – and despite her being a US citizen by birth – was not initially let back into the United States in the aftermath of the 1980 Iranian Revolution. Most of my own ethnic background is comprised of Italian, Irish, English, and German descent, but my grandmother was Native American and Hawaiian Islander. In the 1940s and ‘50s, my grandmother’s “hope” was that her children could pass as white, instead of being seen as people of color. And that decision, driven by her understanding of the systemic racism inherent in our local, state, and national institutions, has had far reaching consequences for our broader family for over 70 years.
There has been a lot of discussion over the past few months regarding the need to return City Hall to a culture of transparency and accountability. Most of that discussion, including by myself, has focused on South Pasadena’s current budget questions. However, the culture that has developed inside City Hall for the past three years, characterized by a closed-door, insular management policy, is not limited to discussions of budgets alone. It’s a problem that, for a variety of different reasons, has spread throughout nearly every aspect of the City and has been exacerbated by the emotionally charged, national atmosphere that seems to burn hotter with each passing day. And the events of the past two weeks involving the South Pasadena Police Department are the latest reminder of the need to constantly remain vigilant, both as a community and as a City. We need to remember to constantly question the “How” and “Why” of our governance policies and values – and we need to LEAD BY EXAMPLE.
Over the summer, residents were asked to come and tell their stories to representatives of the SPPD. It was a good first step. Listening is crucial to understanding. But then action items need to be developed and executed.
We need to review the policies and practices of the SPPD. There is already a Reform Committee under the Public Safety Commission that will be issuing recommendations soon, and I will work with the members of that committee as an initial step to understanding the right protocols and training that can be provided to help our Police Department better handle what have become highly charged situations, occurring with increased frequency in our community. But education, better training, etc. are also key – both for City officials and/or the community. I will also work with the City Manager and Staff to initiate a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion program within City Hall. Part of that plan will be the development of a coordinated outreach effort that will work jointly with groups like ARC, the local and statewide BLM movements, the SPPD, and other underrepresented groups (for example the LGBTQ community) to develop both an internal City, and an external community, program utilizing think tank, round-table summits at a leadership level to create specific action items that can be executed and monitored to promote education, understanding, and engagement within the broader community.
How will the effects of these actions be measured?
First off, you can’t measure what you don’t track. Action items need to be established that are identifiable and trackable, and then City Hall needs to be transparent and make that information available to the public. Without that, there’s no way to hold the City accountable. The initial step is to set up a project plan and calendar for the development and implementation of the DEI platform, and the second step is tracking the City’s ability to stick to the timelines outlined in the plan and its ability to meet the plan’s stated objectives. For example, during the WISPPA/South Pasadenan candidate forum, the question was raised about quotas for underrepresented groups serving on commissions and committees. While I don’t believe setting quotas for individual legislative bodies is practical for a variety of reasons, the City can absolutely measure its ability to utilize proactive outreach programs to increase representation of minority groups and renters, at a City-wide level, by tracking the aggregate number of citizen commission/committee members from underrepresented community groups at any one time and developing a trend analysis over time.
2. Anti-Racism means actively working to end racism, systemic racism and the oppression of marginalized groups. Describe the specific Anti-Racist actions you have taken in the past and how you intend to continue this work moving forward as a City Councilperson of South Pasadena.
In high school and college, I volunteered as a backpacking- and rafting-trip leader for a division of the Sierra Club called Inner City Outings. The group was based out of Oakland Technical High School and offered inner city youth an opportunity away from the gang violence they experienced daily in Oakland. The objective was to teach students leadership skills, through wilderness adventures, growing their confidence and hopefully highlighting a different path than that experienced by many of their classmates.
After college, I volunteered to teach reading skills to students at Wilson Middle School in Pasadena.
In more recent years, my wife and I have supported, and protested in support of, same-sex marriage, anti-war movements, Black Lives Matter, and participated in the Vanessa Marquez anniversary march. And this past summer, Sheila and I supported local young leaders from marginalized groups by sponsoring them to take leadership courses, facilitating their ability to better engage with the community.
As a Councilmember, I intend to implement the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion program within the City and broader community. I also intend, as part of the DEI program, to create proactive, early outreach to underrepresented groups within South Pasadena with the purpose of building a “bench” of qualified candidates to serve on commissions and committees.
3. Please share your views on the Black Lives Matter movement. Are you in support of this movement and actions being taken both locally and nationally?
I do support the Black Lives Matter movement on a national, state, and local level. Racism is a learned behavior, and education and engagement are the keys to stopping the cycle in this country. However, despite our best intentions – and sometimes because of our worst intentions – many of our institutions have historically been manipulated, through regulations like red-lining, stop and frisk, and voter disenfranchisement, to prevent equal treatment for all individuals regardless of race. There shouldn’t be one level of incarceration for people of color and another for Caucasians – for the same crimes. And as a community, all residents, regardless of race, should have the same reaction to seeing a person in uniform. But that can only happen when systems are in place to ensure that all members of the community are treated equally, always.