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Building Bridges with Bill Bogaard

Published by Aubrey Hicks on

by Jeremy Loudenback

Despite his soft-spoken public persona, Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard casts a long shadow.

Over the course of his 16-year tenure, most current Pasadena schoolchildren have grown up knowing only Bogaard as their mayor. During that span, Pasadena has undergone dramatic change, shifting from a sleepy town known for its time-honored traditions to a city with a vibrant urban center.

The Iowa-born Bogaard is the longest-serving mayor in Pasadena history, and during his four terms, he’s overseen the addition of the Metro Gold Line light rail system, large investments in housing, the bolstering of arts institutions across the city, and the establishment of a new convention center, among other notable endeavors. But perhaps Bogaard’s greatest accomplishment is a legacy of thoughtful and patient consensus building, a standard that his forthcoming successor will be hard-pressed to duplicate. (Pasadena City Council members Terry Tornek and Jacque Robinson are vying to replace Bogaard in the Pasadena general election on April 21.)

Last month as part of a Lunch with a Leader event, Bogaard met with Bedrosian Center Director Raphael Bostic, faculty members, students, and community members to explain more about his leadership vision, why he thinks that Pasadena is in a great position to excel in the 21st century, and what students can do to get a start in local government.

Under Bogaard’s watch, Pasadena is uniquely situated to meet the changing demographics and economic needs facing cities today. The city can lean on an enviable set of science and technology resources: the California Institute of Technology, Art Center College of Design, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. But Bogaard has helped the city bank on its educational and engineering advantages by developing the Innovate Pasadena program and other tech initiatives, including the newly opened Cross Campus collaborative work environment.

Deirdre Flanagan (Frank Zerunyan, Bill Bogaard, Raphael Bostic, and Jeremy Loudenback at Lunch with a Leader February 24, 2015)

Deirdre Flanagan (Frank Zerunyan, Bill Bogaard, Raphael Bostic, and Jeremy Loudenback at Lunch with a Leader February 24, 2015)

All these exciting developments are built in part by the work of Bogaard and other city leaders in making the city especially attractive to young people.

“Pasadena offers an urban lifestyle, which is rare in California, at least for cities of our size,” Bogaard said. “Thirty years ago, Pasadena was seen as a bedroom community, but today it’s the center of lots of activity, much of which is founded on the Gold Line.”

Investments in new stocks of transit-oriented housing developments in the downtown area have coincided with the growth of more retail, including restaurants, bars, and cinemas, that are attracting a new demographic to Pasadena.

“We’re in a better position than many other cities to deal with trends that are important to young people as they grow up and get established,” Bogaard said. “We offer that urban lifestyle with less reliance on cars that many young people want.”

In his time in office, the well-liked Bogaard has earned widespread recognition for his calm, deliberative and undramatic style of governance. His goal, says Bogaard, is to avoid corrosive confrontation and encourage all parties to participate in the decision-making process together as much as possible.

“One of the ways I describe my leadership style is to forget any Bogaard agenda and think about what those who are interested in this issue want to accomplish,” he said. “And how I can bring my values to bear with their values to accomplish something.

“In my view as a leader, I don’t think it works to insist on a particular or specific program, but rather it’s better to establish our core values and then see what opportunities come up and be open to considering those circumstances if they are positive and consistent with my values, even though I were a czar I probably wouldn’t do.“

Deirdre Flanagan. (Bill Bogaard at Lunch with a Leader February 24, 2015

Deirdre Flanagan. (Bill Bogaard at Lunch with a Leader February 24, 2015

Ever modest, Bogaard downplayed his successes and chalked up his ability to forge consensus as a byproduct of his natural instincts rather than because of any formal training. But following a path of communication and collaboration can provide leaders with more than just feel-good moments, he said.

“I have come to believe having a measured, respectful, circumscribed expectation about the people that I deal with and the organizations I deal with is a very significant factor in the success I might enjoy or the city might enjoy,” Bogaard said. “If there’s an atmosphere of volunteerism and cooperation, that city is more likely to succeed, more likely to be open to new ideas, and good things are likely to happen that otherwise wouldn’t be possible if the attitude were contentious as opposed to collaborative. The whole potential for a community to succeed is changed.”

The one-time lawyer and army meteorologist also encouraged students to think about building meaningful relationships with community organizations before considering a run for elected office.

“The most credible way to get a start in local government is to serve some time as a board member of the YWCA or the Boys and Girls Club or Chamber of Commerce or whatever it may be,” Bogaard said. “It’s not realistic for someone to calculate that in five years I’m going to be involved in city council so therefore I’m going to take whatever organization I can get to get some awareness.

“There has to be some kind of authenticity given to the allocation of time that you give, but without that record of community service of one kind or another, it seems to me that it’s hard to get your start.”


Deirdre Flanagan (Students ask questions at Lunch with a Leader, February 24, 2015)

Deirdre Flanagan (Students ask questions at Lunch with a Leader, February 24, 2015)

Bedrosian Center