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Andy Lippman: City Management Team Sets Its Sites on Staying Connected

I enjoy going to the city manager’s office.
There is lively conversation, great ideas flying around the room, and lots of chocolate.
That’s right. Ghirardelli chocolate squares on the table and chocolate balls in a jar on the desk.
I think City Manager Arminé Chaparyan is trying to sweeten my judgment.
She doesn’t need to do that — not that I don’t like chocolate.
I always enjoy listening to her ideas or hearing her explain her take on a problem.
Chaparyan is a great communicator, and so is her deputy, Domenica Megerdichian.
“Every city wants to improve its communication evolves,” said Chaparyan when I visited her and Megerdichian last week. “Communication has to evolve. It can’t be stale. You want to enhance it if you can.”
“We have found that we want to get people where they are at,” Megerdichian added.
Chaparyan did just that when she arrived. One of the first things she did when she was named to the position by the City Council nearly three years ago was to meet with as many organizations, clubs and individuals as she could in her first few months on the job.
She’s taught her leadership team to find ways to tell their story and reach out to people in creative ways.
“There are different ways of communicating and we are trying a bit of everything,” Chaparyan said. “We want to be customer friendly. We want to respond to the needs of residents. Most of all, we want to be authentic and genuine.”
That’s why I was in her office last week to hear about the redesigned city website, which is being unveiled within the next two months.
I don’t know about you, but I never considered the city website to be my “go-to” place to find information. It is sort of just there.
I don’t mean that it isn’t a place to find information, but it is sort of vanilla in its feel.
Well, from what I hear, the new and improved website, and the newly launched city app now available in Apple and Android versions, provide an interactive feel and response to residents; as well as giving us a way to really “see” what’s been going on around town.
“It’s going to be a grand opening, but a virtual one,” Megerdichian said.
Added Chaparyan: “There will be simple access to information about city services. There’s going to be a science behind it. In the past, no one really managed the website. We’re not going to have people going on wild-goose chases.
“We’ve created this from scratch — the look and feel. Everything. There’s a uniformity that people will enjoy.”
There will also be training on the website at places in the community, including the Farmers Market and the Senior Center.
The website is just the latest attempt by the city to improve its online footprint. In over two years, the city Instagram account has gone from 2,000 to 4,000 followers in a city with a population of 25,000, according to the city manager’s office.
That’s probably helped to bring a new segment of the community seeking information. Sixty-one percent of Instagram followers are between the ages of 35 and 54; 13.5% of followers of the city on Facebook are between 25-34, and 57% are between ages 35-54. Of the 5,600 followers of the Facebook page, many use the site to post news, videos and other flyers.
The South Pasadena Police Department has 12,600 followers on Instagram, and 10,400 followers on the social media platform X.
The city’s reach on major social media accounts is now 51,625. That’s nothing compared to Beyonce or Caitlin Clark, but it’s major news when you’re talking about what was the norm two years ago.
Megerdichian said the goal with the new website is ensuring all of the city’s platforms are connected. Visitors to the new website will be able to find all social media platforms and how to download the mobile app — SouthPas Mobile.
The new website will be home to information about the city, council meetings, upcoming events in a more modern and accessible design.
There is trained staff — with a multigenerational background — helping with the new website development and the City Council has provided input on what is important to include in the website.
The app is different, Megerdichian said, in that residents can make service requests and access quick information. Another highlight of the app is to provide notifications from the city about upcoming traffic closures, water main breaks and other urgent information.
Residents, of course, still can call or email for any level of service or information.
The app and website are also great places to watch City Council meetings. There are also City Council recaps on both the website and the app.
“It’s been quite a bit of work,” Chaparyan said. “We’ve had lots of feedback. Things are evolving on a daily basis. People want things that provide quick information that is easy to find.”
Chaparyan and Megerdichian provided the statistics quoted above in a handout prepared by Mary Jerejian, a management analyst in the city manager’s office.
Jerejian has been a blessing for people like me who cover the city as she provides daily news releases from all departments.
She’s also been a point person in working with the Chamber of Commerce on the monthly city tours that are being used to highlight small businesses around town.
“We’ve leveraged our strengths to solve problems,” Chaparyan said.
The partnership between Chaparyan and Chamber President Laurie Wheeler can only be a good thing for the small businesses.
The word has gone out to all of the city’s departments. Think of how public works reached out through a series of charettes — or public meetings — to gather ideas for consultants planning improvements in the Fremont-Huntington-Fair Oaks corridor.
“We’ve had an all-hands-on-deck attitude in this area,” the city manager said.
Chaparyan also is vice chair of the San Gabriel Development Commission and South Pasadena’s strategies have drawn compliments from officials in other cities.
“We want to create a stronger trust with the community as we hit the reset button,” Chaparyan said as the city prepares to unveil its redesigned website.
“We want to have a transparency and better relationships with the people we serve.”


Talking Points From Visit With City Manager

My conversation with City Manager Arminé Chaparyan and Deputy City Manager Domenica Megerdichian was wide-ranging and some of the topics were covered during later communications (there’s that word again).
Here are some topics I asked about:

There were 80 accessory dwelling units permitted in 2023, and nine more have been permitted so far this year. Megerdichian said that building these units will continue to be of interest to homeowners.

Megerdichian said the old school district building was put up for sale for $15 million and still stands vacant. She added that the city has seen significant slowing in development due to rising construction costs.
A hearing for a music entertainment tenant was approved by the planning committee for the band Said the Cat. Megerdichian said officials hope that this is the start of some creative tenancy approaches.

Megerdichian said that the staff is working with Mayor Evelyn Zneimer and Councilwoman Janet Braun on creative approaches to Mission Street. Staff recently met to discuss pop-up retailers and other temporary uses where the city could work with property owners and managers interested in using vacant spaces.
The bottom line, Megerdichian said, is that the city is “open for business” and not shying away from creative opportunities to revitalize commercial corridors.

South Pasadena staff heard positive feedback on the safe streets charette process that took place last year, Megerdichian said, and the team recently received the draft design memorandum from the consultant. The draft documents are being finalized to be presented at a future Mobility, Transportation and Infrastructure Commission meeting for discussion, and shared with the community for feedback.
The outcomes will be prioritized and presented to the Council with a plan to move forward into the design phase of the project later this year, Megerdichian said.

Chaparyan was delighted with response to volunteer for the Library Ad Hoc Committee. She said there were 57 applications for five at-large positions to work with Councilmembers, community services commission, library board of trustees, Senior Citizens Foundation and Friends of the Library.
There was also a good response, Chaparyan said, from consultants who wanted to work on the project.
The applications are now being reviewed by Zneimer and Braun.

Megerdichian said city manager staff continues to share the latest financials and true costs of programs and services with City Council as part of the budget kickoff for 2024-25.
“Everything is being reviewed and discussed as we develop a prudent budget,” Megerdichian told me in an e-mail, “and fiduciary responsibility — as top priorities — including staffing levels, levels of services and program opportunities and more.”
Megerdichian said that over the past nine months, the staff has worked with Council to inform them and ask for direction and funding in a few areas — all of which were approved. The midyear budget report provided an update on areas such as a slightly softened sales tax revenue, as well as the financial impact of slowed planning and filming permits.
City management staff is working closer than ever with the finance committee, Megerdichian said, and there are a number of meetings coming up to discuss the budget kickoff, special study sessions on key areas of importance and resources.

Editor’s Note: I want to wish Megerdichian best wishes as she goes on maternity leave.
I also want to wish best wishes to Mickie Sullivan as she departs as general manager of Outlook News Group, owner of the South Pasadena Review. Best of luck to Simon Grieve who succeeds her as Chief Operating Officer.

First published in the April 11 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.

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