Mayor Ken Ude wrapped up the most recent iteration of the virtual rubber-chicken circuit last week with an address to the Chinese Club of San Marino, where dozens of community members witnessed as he laid out his plan for the upcoming year.
With City Council meetings being held remotely, it’s a method with which Ude has become comfortable as he spoke from an office in his San Marino home.
With Jennifer Dai serving as an interpreter, Ude touched on most every topic of interest in the city and began with a proclamation of wonderment.
“It’s amazing that this pandemic has been here a year,” said Ude, who was elected to the city council in November 2017. “Our goal through the pandemic has been to be as open as we can be, with Lacy Park, our businesses and our restaurants and city hall has not closed during the pandemic. We have always had staff on site.”
From the moment he launched his campaign, Ude has been a strong proponent of public safety, so it was no surprise when he used it as his starting point and mentioned that city workers answered 25,000 calls for service last year. Ude said the pandemic has brought a decrease in residential burglaries — they were down 17% in 2020 — but an increase in larcenies, which were up by 26% to 155.
“Most of these were from cars,” Ude said. “Lock your cars and keep things out of sight. [Police] Chief John Incontro would say ‘lock your cars and keep things out of sight.’”
Ude informed the virtual attendees that the city has installed 22 solar-powered cameras that read license plates and has resulted in an increase in arrests. The San Marino Police Department also plans to restart its motorcycle patrol unit in the next couple of months in an effort to beef up traffic enforcement.
“The officers are going through training,” Ude said. “The net result we hope will be slower speeds.”
Ude then thanked San Marino Fire Chief Mario Rueda, who aside from leading the SMFD on its 1,088 responses “did a lot of heavy lifting” as the head of the city’s COVID-19 response team.
Ude also touted the city’s 1.4 miles of new sidewalks and 56 new street segments — which equal an area the size of 32 football fields — as examples of the city’s capital improvement fund.
“This council started it with $14 million and have increased it with another $5 million to help take care of our infrastructure in town,” said Ude, who mentioned the rebuilding of Lacy Park’s rose arbor and restrooms as similar projects.
“The only one of those that was not ahead of schedule and maybe that is why we shouldn’t have picked the lowest bidder on a government project, and that is the restrooms at Lacy Park,” Ude quipped.
The mayor then turned his attention to the proposed remodel of the San Marino Center, which he said is “a very special project to me,” to the extent Ude used it as his screensaver during the meeting.
“We put together an incredible task force and sought a lot of input through the community for this project,” Ude said. “The building was originally built in 1952. I am the same age and like the building have had little care and attention over the years. The plan is to make the San Marino Center look like it belongs with the library on the outside. The task force noted that the library has an entrance to the south, but that’s the back of the San Marino Center. So we are going to add some detail to make it look like family with the library.”
Ude explained that the exterior footprint of the San Marino Center is going to remain the same but will be augmented by an open courtyard between the library and San Marino Center “to make it easy for guests to go back and forth between the two properties.” The Fireside Room will be upgraded, a conference room and catering kitchen will be added, as will new office space for the community services department. The expected cost for the improvements is $5.6 million, including $3.1 million in ADA upgrades.
“When I look at it in that context, it’s not a $5.6 million decision,” Ude said. “It’s a $2.5 million decision because we really have to bring it up to standards.”
If all goes according to schedule, Ude said the final design would be approved by summer and the city would break ground in the fall.
“And hopefully, two years from now be able to enjoy the new San Marino Center,” Ude said.
The mayor also touched on the subjects of community engagement, historic preservation and trees, a favorite topic of discussion in the city.
“I want you to be aware of the city council’s passion for trees,” Ude said, introducing San Marino’s new tree ordinance.
“If you are going to trim your tree, it’s best to go to the website and see what the guidelines are,” he said. Ude later touted that during 2020, 71 of San Marino’s trees were removed but 112 were planted, “so we grew our tree population by 41.”
A relatively new program is aimed at helping local businesses, offering grants of up to $10,000 to help shop owners improve the look of their store and add directional signage.
“We are spending money to improve the look and walkability of the Mission District and the Huntington Drive shopping district,” Ude said. “The bottom line is that we are really trying to build on the San Marino brand for the benefit of the local community, but particularly those who take the risk of opening up a business in town, either a restaurant or a shop.”
Ude then praised Aldo Cervantes, the city’s director of planning and building, for his leadership in that area.
While the city would love to see more shoppers and diners, it can certainly do without what Ude referred to as “our uninvited two-footed and four-footed friends,” referring to peafowl and coyotes.
“We do have a program for our two-footed friends, who we can trap and take to a vacation home in Ventura County,” Ude said with a chuckle. “Unfortunately, with the coyotes, there is not much we can do about that. We keep looking, but I am not sure what we can do to help remove them.”
Ude said that he felt the “two biggest pressures from outside San Marino” are the state requirement for low-cost housing inventory and the age-old issue of traffic.
“Our ADU [accessory dwelling unit] has allowed us to meet its fair share of low-income housing for now,” Ude said. “Our second-biggest concern is traffic. Huntingtin Drive is a big thoroughfare. Metro and traffic continue to put more and more pressure on that corridor.”
Financially, Ude said the city is in “great shape,” and last year was 1% within plan while generating an operating surplus of $3.4 million on a budget of $37.4 million.
“Our operating revenue base is very stable and consists of primarily property taxes,” Ude said. “We are much more predictable than most.”
Going forward, Ude said he would continue to make public safety a priority and upgrade the city’s infrastructure. He said he hoped the city council would obtain final approval for the San Marino Center project and also address the issue of “the property that has Stoneman.”
Ude then closed by issuing what he called “my invitation or my challenge.”
“Consider running for city council,” Ude said, explaining that he would not seek a new term in 2022.
“I do not intend to run again,” he said. “I am not sure what my colleagues Susan [Jakubowski] and Gretchen [Shepherd Romey] are thinking. But if you decide to run, I will coach you through it.”
Ude, Shepherd Romey and Jakubowski were all elected to their first terms in November 2017. After the November 2019 election, the City of San Marino adopted even-year elections to follow a state law that requires alignment of local elections with the State of California. Because of this, council members elected in 2017 and 2019 are serving five-year terms. Council members Steven Huang and Steve Talt were reelected in 2019.
“Five years is enough,” Ude said in a phone conversation late last week.
“We had a wonderful opportunity to meet our new mayor last week,” said Maggie Lee, the 2021 president of the Chinese Club of San Marino. “This meeting helped us better understand and work together as a whole for our beautiful city, now and in the future.”