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Catching Up With….Clem Bartolai

Published 7/28/06


Clem Bartolai has been quite active in the community during his forty-five years as a resident of Sierra Madre.  He served on the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Planning Commission prior to election to the City Council in 1980.  His first term on the Council was from 1980 – 1984, and he later served two terms from 1986 – 1994.  He was mayor in 1983 – 1984; again in 1988 -1989, and served his last term as mayor in 1993 – 1994.  Clem and his wife Nina (a 66-year Sierra Madre resident) have been married for 46 years.  They have two adult daughters, Lisa and Renee, who are both married.  He and Nina have two granddaughters.  Clem retired from the office furniture manufacturing industry in 2001 after 31 years with his last position as Director of Administration.  Currently his principal involvement is as Board Development Chairman with the Friends of the Sierra Madre Library.  He has been a member of the Sierra Madre Kiwanis for 21 years.  His hobby is ultra-marathon cycling where the events he enters are 200 miles in length.  They must be completed within 13 to 17 hours.  These are held within many areas throughout the State of California.  A resident of Sierra Madre suggested Clem as a good person to conduct one of these Catching Up With segments, and I agreed. 


I sent Clem a series of questions by e-mail, and he responded to them.  This obviously gave him a chance to review his responses and revise them, which would not have been the case had we just sat down and talked.  I do not know if Clem did review and revise his answers, I just know that he could have if he so chose, and think I should let you, the readers know this as well.

SGV WEEKLY:  What have you been doing with yourself now that you're out of office?

Clem:  Throughout the years I have accepted appointments to the Utilities Undergrounding Committee which was responsible for planning and directing the undergrounding of the utilities on Baldwin Avenue from Sierra Madre Blvd, North to Carter.  I served on the Planning Committee to develop a Community Foundation and then I served a term on the Foundation itself.  Throughout the years I have volunteered with the Kiwanis Club and served a term as President.  I enjoy my responsibilities with the Friends of the Sierra Madre Library.  I usually train on the bicycle throughout the week riding about 150 miles.  My wife Nina and I enjoy frequent rides on our tandem and occasionally enter Century events.

SGV WEEKLY:  What do you feel were the three most important issues that you dealt with while in office?

Clem:  (1) Curtailing random development in the hillsides by establishing a moratorium on building and then getting the Hillside Preservation Ordinance underway.  (2)  The establishment of the Utility Users Fee that served to prevent a huge economic shortfall due to unfunded state mandates.  (3) Downtown economic stagnation with too many service businesses and not enough sales tax generating businesses. 


SGV WEEKLY:  What do you feel were the three greatest accomplishments the council achieved during your time in office?

Clem:  As noted above: Preventing random development.  Utility users fee to stave off economic problems.  Encouraging business development downtown.

SGV WEEKLY:  What is the most under-rated accomplishment of the council during your time in office?
Clem:  Negotiating a formal contract with the T.V Cable company.  So many problems existed and we were dealing with high powered attorneys from New York.  Our little town was being looked at by quite a few communities throughout the United States that were in the same situation with the same cable provider..  Due to this we were in a stronger negotiating position and we demanded immediate upgrades which they accomplished in thirty days. 


SGV WEEKLY:  What is the most over-rated accomplishment of the council during your time
 in office?
Clem:  Can't think of any.


SGV WEEKLY:  Can you talk a little about your feelings regarding the community's attitude toward you while you were in office? 
Clem:  I felt the community had a great deal of respect for us and a willingness to help and be of assistance.  I think the position of Councilman was looked upon highly, probably more so than now.  I was extremely gratified to have had the public's confidence and their electing me to three terms.


SGV WEEKLY:  And now that you're out of office?
Clem:  People tend to forget the enormous amount of time a person devotes to being on the City Council.  I occasionally get the feeling of being a has been. 


SGV WEEKLY:  What do you miss the most about being on the Council?
Clem:  Being able to grapple with major challenges. Working with City Administration and the others on the Council you solve the problem and move forward.


SGV WEEKLY:  What do you miss the least?
Clem:  The late night meetings that often times would just drag on and on.


SGV WEEKLY:  What are you proudest of having done while on the council?
Clem:  Bringing people together with divergent viewpoints but finding common ground that ultimately would create a consensus.


SGV WEEKLY:  What event or activity that you got to participate in because of your
position brought you the greatest pleasure?
Clem:  As Mayor the year we had the devastating fires that moved across our hillsides I got to see first hand how departments from the City, County and State came together.  I visited various locations in the morning and evening and was so impressed at the high degree of cooperation.  In the aftermath I was asked to speak at various events and it was gratifying to be able to tell others of how impressive their departments performed and personally thank the firefighters and law enforcement personnel.


SGV WEEKLY:  What was the most disappointing aspect of your time on council?
Clem:  Having to meet alone with the City Administrator who had been with the City for over 20 years and to tell him that he must resign his position.  He was highly regarded in the community as a genuinely nice person however circumstances required looking beyond personality.


SGV WEEKLY:  What do you think about the DSP? 
Clem:  It is a plan that requires a considerable number of changes before approval.  But it's just that; a plan.  Nothing is finalized yet and it's a long way from it.


SGV WEEKLY:  What do you think about the job done by RBF Consultants?
Clem:  They were the facilitators in allowing the community to craft a plan and I think they did a commendable job under the circumstances.  What is wrong with the plan should not be viewed as a failure of RBF.


SGV WEEKLY:  Did you participate in the workshops, downtown immersion, etc.?

Clem:  Only the initial one where everything was explained and RBF articulated how things would move forward with the workshops and planning sessions.


SGV WEEKLY:  How do you feel about the two sides that have sprung up, which, seemingly  have the same goal of keeping the downtown the same, or as close to it as possible, but are so far apart in how they are approaching it?
Clem:  I regret that there seems to be so much acrimony and animosity.  The point that should be emphasized is that no one is trying to over develop the downtown.   We should all be working together in the best interests of the community.  Instead there is so many preconceived ideas and an attitude of non-cooperation.  Rumors abound that have no relationship to the truth. 


SGV WEEKLY:  Do you feel the DSP should be put to a citywide vote?  Why/Why not?
Clem:  I do not think it should be put to a citywide vote.  We elect representatives, namely Councilmen and women to make these decisions.  They are the ones who should become educated in every aspect of the DSP especially complex development regulations which aren't even addressed by the DSP.  They should know all the ramifications if it were to pass or fail.  While many citizens of the community will take the time to study the DSP, I think for the most part a majority do not have the time or inclination.  Because this has become an emotional issue I think the Star News Editorial of July 2, was correct in saying "such political campaigns are usually prone to manipulation and simplification...."  I think it would be a major disservice to the community to put it out to a vote of the community.


SGV WEEKLY:  There are two major plots of land whose owners have (so far) been holding
off on developing them until the DSP is defined.  If the DSP process is stalled, they could develop using the General Plan currently in place.  Do you see that as a good thing?

Clem:  Absolutely not.  That's all the more reason for our community to get the DSP resolved in conjunction with the General Plan and City Codes.
SGV WEEKLY:  Do you think it might be necessary for the Council to pass a series of ordinances to deal with specific issues, so that limitations could be put in place while the DSP debate continues?

Clem:  Yes I do.  It appears the DSP debate will go on for quite awhile.
SGV WEEKLY:  What do you think about the current City Council, as a whole?
Clem:  I think it could be a fine City Council if certain individuals would refrain from trying to maintain control with an attitude that we won now it's all our game.


SGV WEEKLY:  Anything you'd like to say about any individuals?

Clem:  NO!
SGV WEEKLY:  How about the MWD hook-up?  Were you for it or against it?
Clem:  I was for it because during one of my terms on the Council we tried negotiating with the MWD for just such a hook-up.  We were very concerned with the potential of inadequate water supplies.  The political climate wasn't right and although we worked hard to reach a beneficial conclusion it wasn't to be.  I am very pleased with what has now been accomplished.


SGV WEEKLY:  What's your impression of City Manager John Gillison?
Clem:  He is an excellent City Manager who unfortunately inherited quite a few problems created by others.  Then there is the heated political climate certainly not of his own making which only makes it more difficult with daily operations and the decisions he must make.


SGV WEEKLY:  What do you feel are the three most critical long term issues currently facing the city?
Clem:  (1) City revenue sources and the financial implications on City services.  (2) Responsible development and the impact on Sierra Madre's unique identity.  (3) Being able to maintain a Volunteer Fire Department as well as adequately funding our Police Department and Community Library.


SGV WEEKLY:  Do you have any suggestions as to how the city might confront these issues?
Clem:  I know there is not enough space or time to answer this question with real substance.


SGV WEEKLY:  Do you think there might come a time when you'd consider running for local office again?
Clem:  I doubt it.  We should continue to nurture others who serve on Commissions and help them develop into viable candidates.  I am a firm believer that to become a candidate for the City Council you should have paid your dues by serving on a City Commission and committees as well as involvement in community clubs and organizations. 


SGV WEEKLY:  Do you have anything you'd like to say to the Community at large?
Clem:  Seek answers to your questions regarding our municipal government from sources who really have clear and concise information.  Do not be swayed by those with "shoot from the hip" style answers or those who appeal to your emotions.  This town has weathered political storms in the past, even a recall but we bounced back and came together as a community of mutual understanding and cooperation.

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