First published in the January 21 print issue of South Pasadena Review.
South Pasadena Mayor Michael Cacciotti is stepping up when it comes to talking about the environment.
He also pedals talk and light rails when he can’t walk.
“It’s exciting,” said Cacciotti, who officially took over as City manager last month. “I sometimes feel like a prophet – spreading the gospel of caring about your fellow man.”
One of his personal heroes happens to be Saint Francis, widely considered the patron saint of animals and the natural environment, and he often walks or bikes around town to spread awareness of new ways to preserve the planet. . It is an engine in his life.
He moved from upstate New York to Florida as a young man and felt close to the Catholic Church – working there as a young man – and at one point imagined himself becoming a priest.
But during his teaching time, he found he loved coaching youth sports, especially soccer, and he has been involved in the sport for over 40 years.
Cacciotti then moved west, earned a law degree at Whittier College, and became a lawyer, working first for the California Department of Transportation and then as an assistant attorney general in the US Department of Justice. State.
It was while working in the Attorney General’s office in 2001 that he had an environmental revelation. He was pursuing a case involving fraudulent air emissions testing when someone showed him the amount of carbon emitted into the air.
The confluence of this information coupled with the fresh memories of several of his football players with asthma led him to see what dirty air could do to a person.
So he traded in his sports car and bought a Toyota Prius in 2002, a car he still owns. “I thought to myself, ‘How can I drive a gas-powered car and treat people with respect?'” Cacciotti said.
The environment became an important source for the homily of his life. Cacciotti is the city’s representative on the Gold Line Foothill Construction Authority Light Rail Transit and has served on the South Coast Air Quality Management District, representing 34 cities in eastern Los Angeles County, in an elected capacity since 2008. He has also served on the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy as an advisory board member.
In 2015, Cacciotti was instrumental in changing the city’s landscaping techniques at Garfield Park, which was billed as the first city park in the nation to be maintained entirely by commercial lawn equipment without gas. In September 2016, South Pasadena was cited for maintaining all city-owned properties by advancing non-polluting commercial electric lawn equipment.
Cacciotti often walks or bikes around town, and even rode his bike on the Gold Line to work downtown where he was assistant attorney general, a position he retired from after 20 years to devote more time to. his love for South Pasadena and other causes.
He makes it a point to show up at schools, parks, and organizations to advance ways to make South Pasadena a cleaner, safer place to live.
I’ve seen him show up to meetings right after a youth football coaching gig, but if he’s not wearing a tie, believe me, he’s got plenty of experience helping run the town. He has been a council member since 2001 and now represents District 4.
Cacciotti, who served as mayor for the 2011-12 and 2016-17 terms before becoming pro tem mayor last year, is excited about the electrification of City Hall, the purchase of all electric cars for the city and the police department, as well as electric charging stations, and possibly an electric fire truck.
He is also delighted to budget for 75,000 additional trees to be planted in the city to preserve and protect the tree canopy.
Several of these projects are expected to come into effect this year, including one to phase out gas-powered lawnmowers and leaf blowers and another to launch a new waste separation and composting system.
But like many programs, things don’t always go as planned. The exchange of gas-powered lawnmowers and leaf blowers has been postponed until October as the city government tries to secure money to ease the financial hardship of local gardeners.
I asked Cacciotti about the new garbage collection system and suggested that many people hadn’t heard of it or understood the program. He told me he asked his garbage collectors if he got it right when the program officially started earlier this month, and he said they hadn’t even heard of the program. . Do not worry. This program is being rolled out gradually and there will be plenty of opportunities to learn more about it.
In the meantime, he goes to schools and scout troops and tells them to spread the word about the benefits of these programs and how they will improve the environment. He went to the Arroyo Park area with the scouts to pick up debris in the natural park.
“I’m driven by this passion, he says, and I can’t stop. And it can’t just be in South Pasadena, it needs to be done in other cities as well.
One of the issues the mayor wants to work on is taking care of the homeless. He is waiting for two more cities to sign on to a program that would create a mobile crisis program, which would not only work with the city’s homeless people, but also help in other emergencies.
“[Homelessness] becomes more problematic than ever before,” he said.
But not even Cacciotti’s passion for new ideas can drown out the drumbeat of the pandemic, which has hammered the growth of ideas and the realities of personal fortunes and small businesses.
He hopes to be able to bring back a bi-monthly show allowing local businesses to highlight their establishments.
“The pandemic has had a big impact on our city,” Cacciotti said. “It hurt businesses, drove up costs for the city, and delayed the start of programs.”
Cacciotti noted that South Pasadena, like the rest of the country, has been hit now, more than ever, by the politicization of issues. With many new issues and concerns at play, there are bound to be more divergent viewpoints. Changing at any time is controversial.
“We’re getting more emails back and forth than ever before,” he said. “Some think we’re too strict and some think we’re not strict enough.”
Cacciotti still uses this Toyota Prius. He’s rented or borrowed a number of electric cars over the years, but after turning 20 next month he’s still driving the old faithful. He proudly notes that “I didn’t spend a dime on my brakes.” If I didn’t know he didn’t drive much, I might be worried.
“I’m just waiting for the right electric car,” he said, “but I’m not even sure whether to buy a car, depending on what the future holds in terms of technology and [transportation] services available. »
For now, the future is calling and Cacciotti is ready to spread the word about sustainability.
Columnist’s note: In last week’s column on Adobe Flores, I said that Felix Gutierrez’s mother moved to South Pasadena in 1956. That was 1955. Also, it was Jose Jesus Pico which carried a message from then-Lieutenant Colonel (and later General) John Fremont to the Californios, that they deliberated at the Adobe Flores on January 11, 1847, before agreeing to sign a peace treaty. I apologize for the errors.