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WISPPA Party Celebrates Organization’s Advocacy

By Eric Licas
The Review

Local lawmakers last week mingled with community members at an annual cocktail party promoting the efforts of the nonprofit Women Involved in South Pasadena Political Advocacy and celebrating its 14 years of helping keep residents informed and involved.

All five members of the City Council, outgoing Fire Chief Paul Riddle and city staff shared toasts and ideas with members of the organization as well as elected officials representing nearby communities on June 26. The latter included Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, Alhambra Mayor Sasha Renée Pérez and other public servants from neighboring cities.

The evening’s menu was light, and a fitting compliment to the gathering’s relaxed, semi-formal tone. Guests helped themselves to plates of chicken enchiladas, rice and grilled veggies self-served from chafing dishes. They either stood to cheers and chat at tall bar tables or sat alongside lily pad-filled fountains. Later, as the sun set, music by bass and dual guitar trio Wine and Song, acoustic singer-songwriter Robbie Hecht and other artists bathed the lawn of Mary Urquhart’s home.

Urquhart, the longtime host of WISPPA’s cocktail party and one of the organizations founding members, joined Barger in addressing the evening’s attendees.

She kicked off speeches by thanking the organizations supporters, reminding them of the difference their advocacy has made. Specifically, she said WISPPA’s lobbying was critical in drawing attention to an explosion of massage parlors that had opened in the San Gabriel Valley and throughout Southern California, some of which were illicit businesses masquerading as legitimate establishments.

She also pointed out that when the nonprofit held its first meeting in March 2010, there hadn’t been a woman on South Pasadena’s City Council since former Mayor Dorothy Cohen left office in 2003. Urquhart described the group’s founding members as civically engaged residents who felt that, alone, they weren’t being heard by their local elected representatives.

“We had no one to go to,” Urquhart said. “Also, there were no women City Council members for a really long time. So, we don’t endorse any particular individual. But we did encourage women to run for office. And now we have a mayor who is a woman, and we have our lovely Janet Braun, who is on the council.”

Mayor Evelyn Zneimer isn’t a member of WISPPA, but said their work was part of what inspired her to run for office in South Pasadena. She pointed out that their advocacy highlights candidates seeking seats on advisory commissions, the South Pasadena Unified School Board and other roles beyond the City Council.

Councilwoman Braun is a member of WISPPA and, like Urquhart, one of its former presidents. She said the organization remains active in educating the public regarding issues bound to impact them now and in the foreseeable future. Currently, these include the implementation of the housing element, the overhaul of South Pasadena’s library, the city’s budget, management of the Arroyo Seco Golf Course, plans to sell property formerly owned by Caltrans to help fund affordable housing and more.

“WISPPA is all about bringing the community together, but starting at the community level, built by women who saw a need, a void in the area,” Barger said.

The group’s advocacy touches on matters relevant to people of any gender. In recent years some men have become members of WISPPA, Urquhart said.

“We would change our name,” she told attendees. “You know, we’ve got a lot of men who are members, and we’re thrilled. But we thought ‘people… that would be WISPPA’… So we’re sticking with WISPPA, but we want you to know we appreciate you.”

Although the organization’s focus and structure has adapted to meet the needs of the community over the years, its mission to promote equality and civic engagement has remained unchanged, Braun and Urquhart said. Barger said the work of groups like WISPPA opened pathways for women in politics that didn’t exist before, resulting in elected bodies made up of members who more fairly represent their constituents.

“I think it’s important for women to come together,” Barger said. “Men have done it for a long time. That’s not a bashing — that’s just a fact. So, for an organization like this to come together and recognize the value of a woman’s voice, they were ahead of their time.”

She described WISPPA as a grassroots organization, one of many she turns to in order to monitor the pulse of the people she represents. The supervisor said their input often guides the decisions she makes at the county level.

“At the end of the day we can make decisions at the top, but if we don’t take into account the impact it’s going to have on our communities we’re doing a disservice to our communities.”

WISPPA does not make donations to elected officials or candidate, Urquhart said, though they do make monetary contributions to Women’s Wire and the League of Women Voters.

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