MEET RICK COLE
FOUR DECADES OF PUBLIC SERVICE
Rick Cole has spent four decades in public service. He has been a Pasadena Councilmember and Mayor as well as City Manager in Azusa, Ventura and Santa Monica. Called “one of Southern California’s most visionary planning thinkers,” he currently serves as a Pasadena Planning Commissioner. A former Deputy Mayor for Budget and Innovation in the City of Los Angeles, he is currently that city’s Chief Deputy Controller, overseeing the accounting, payroll and audit functions for a $13.2 billion dollar budget.
Rick has been recognized nationally as one of America’s “Public Officials of the Year” by Governing Magazine and won awards for his expertise in municipal management from the American Association of Public Administrators and the Municipal Management Association of Southern California. His hallmark has always been how to improve results for people, striving for “government that works better and costs less.”
A HOMEGROWN LEADER FOR PASADENA
He grew up in Pasadena, attending public schools, serving as student body president at Blair High School where he was an outspoken youthful leader during the struggle to integrate Pasadena’s schools. After college at Occidental and graduate school at Columbia, he returned to his hometown and again became involved in his community, this time in the battle to preserve Pasadena neighborhoods from being bulldozed for redevelopment.
Rick was elected to the City Council in 1983 at the age of 29. A staunch defender of Pasadena’s neighborhoods, he also championed parks, libraries, and environmental sustainability. He was re-elected by 78% of the vote and as chair of the Council’s Finance Committee helped steer the city through the deep recession of the early Nineties, when California lost nearly three quarters of a million jobs.
As Mayor he led the successful effort to rewrite the city’s General Plan, championing a civic engagement strategy that drew 3200 members of the community to participate. The award-winning plan called for focusing growth around future light rail transit stations while protecting residential neighborhoods. Voters approved it by 58%. Later, he led the campaign to restore funding to Pasadena’s libraries, ratified by 80% of the voters.
A LEADER IN GOOD GOVERNANCE
After twelve years on the Council, Rick was selected by Azusa as its City Manager in 1998. During his six years at the helm, the financially-strapped city became “the most improved city in the San Gabriel Valley,” according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune. The figures back up that claim – in his final two years as City Manager, Azusa outperformed every other of the 87 cities in Los Angeles County in growth in property valuation.
Recruited to Ventura for his reputation as a champion of smart growth and fiscal stewardship, Rick served as city manager there for nine years. The Ventura County Star summed up his tenure in an editorial: “Mr. Cole led a downtown revitalization, guided Ventura through daunting budget challenges and oversaw important but unsexy work such as improving public works, water and sewer operations . . . his leadership and high standards kindle gratitude in every corner of Ventura.”
He was subsequently recruited to be Deputy Mayor for Budget and Innovation for Los Angeles, closing a $242 million structural budget deficit in his first year. He was credited with spearheading the City’s “back to basics” emphasis on restoring city services ravaged by the 2009 recession.
Two years later he was recruited to be City Manager of Santa Monica, where he successfully guided the unanimous ratification of a new Downtown Plan, oversaw the introduction of the region’s first bikeshare program and made progress against chronic homelessness. He returned to Pasadena at the beginning of the pandemic and was appointed by the City Council to the Planning Commission where he has championed both affordable housing and raising the city’s design standards for multi-family development. His advocacy led him to be honored by Making Housing and Community Happen as an “Affordable Housing Rock Star.”
A PROVEN COMMUNITY ADVOCATE
As Executive Director of the Congress for the New Urbanism, Rick spent 18 months visiting 11 states and working on reconnecting communities. US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg invited him as the only representative of a national non-profit to join him in Montgomery, Alabama to announce the $2 billion “Reconnecting Communities” program – which Pasadena later won a grant to help plan the reclaiming of the 710 Freeway Stub.
His at successor at CNU wrote: “He has stabilized the organization and has been able to elevate it internally, with stronger systems and a more diverse staff, and a more holistic approach to programs and initiatives. He has also been able to elevate the role of CNU on the national stage and connect the organization with areas where major current progress is being made, from transportation and infrastructure funding, to equity in community development.”
Earlier this year, he wrote “10 Grand Challenges to Transform Pasadena’s Future.” The positive reaction to that series prompted him to again seek to represent District Two and the neighborhoods of northcentral Pasadena on the City Council.
COLLEGE PROFESSOR & TRUSTED EXPERT
Rick also teaches urban policy at Occidental College where he is an assistant professor and at Pepperdine University’s graduate School of Public Policy. He formerly taught US History at Pasadena City College. He has been a guest lecturer at USC, UCLA, UC Riverside, University of Wisconsin, Tulane University, Rice University, Cal Lutheran College, Cal Poly Pomona, Creighton University and Santa Monica College. He has also been a speaker at national conferences of the American Planning Association; American Institute of Architects; Government Finance Officers Association; Urban Land Institute; Congress for the New Urbanism; International Making Cities Livable; American Library Association; Code for America; CityLab; CityAge; Emerging Local Government Leaders; International City/County Managers Association; National Black Caucus; National Trust for Historic Preservation; New Partners for Smart Growth; American Association of Blacks in Energy; the U.S. Green Building Council; and VerdeXchange. He has twice been the keynote speaker for the Mayors Institute on City Design.
Read LA Times columnist Patt Morrison’s interview with “Rick Cole, city hall guru, on what’s right and wrong about L.A.”