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Terry Tornek

Episode 35

Journey to Old Pasadena

Terry Tornek was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He attended the Yeshivah of Flatbush and Erasmus Hall High School, where he met his future wife, Maria Mascoli, and served as President of the New York City Student Council.

Terry then graduated cum laude from Princeton University’s School of Public and International Affairs.

After marrying and serving in the US Army National Guard (Airborne), Terry worked for the US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development and then earned a Master of Science in Urban Planning from Columbia University’s School of Architecture while Maria was a public school teacher on the Lower East Side.

Maria and Terry moved to Springfield, Mass., where he served as Planning Director, Administrator of the Pioneer Valley Regional Transit Authority, and a planning consultant. Their three children, Joshua, Jessica, and Rachel, were born in Springfield, where Terry was also elected to the City Council, and Maria continued to teach.

In 1982, the family moved to Pasadena, where Terry accepted the position of Planning Director. He was hired because of his history of neighborhood improvement and historic preservation. Terry served for three years and helped to rewrite the Zoning Ordinance and the General Plan and establish the redevelopment plan for Old Pasadena.

After leaving city government, Terry built a career in real estate as a developer and manager of residential and commercial properties all over Southern California.

He worked as Senior Executive Vice President for a large Japanese development company before founding his own company to own and manage garden office projects. He remained active in Pasadena through his 20-year service as a Board Member of Pasadena Neighborhood Housing Services, a non-profit organization devoted to affordable housing in Northwest Pasadena. In 2005, Sid Tyler appointed Terry to the Planning Commission.

He also served as a member of the Design Commission. He was elected to represent District 7 on the City Council in April 2009, was reelected in 2013, and was then elected as Mayor in April 2015, serving until December 2020.

As Mayor, he was Chairman of the Finance Committee, a member of the Municipal Services, Public Safety, and Legislative Policy Committees, the City Council appointee to the Fire and Police Retirement Board, and a member of the Burbank Airport Authority and the LA County Sanitation District.

He was deeply involved in the City’s finances, affordable housing, and planning and development decision-making process. He also initiated the creation of the One Arroyo effort, Sales Tax Measures I and J, and the creation of the Community Police Oversight Commission.

Terry and his wife Maria have been married for 54 years. They are blessed with three children and seven grandchildren, all living in Southern California.

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Terry Tornek Quotes

  • “Cities must change, and grow, and evolve because they’re like living things you; you can’t just sort of freeze them in amber.”
  • “My family is such a critical part of my life, and what matters to me, we can talk about Pasadena all day long, but it’s really about the family and the ability to interact with them that is the driver for me.”
  • Terry grew up on the East Coast in Brooklyn.
  • Terry’s wife’s family moved to the West Coast and was tired of the harsh winters Terry’s family followed.
  • Terry started working in Pasadena to develop Old Pasadena.
  • Terry and his family love the San Gabriel Valley.
  • Terry became the Mayor of Pasadena and continued to work for the future of Pasadena.
  • Today’s guest was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and shares that reverence with Scott. His background in development helped keep part of the soul of Pasadena. Scott and Russell are joined by Terry Tornek, former mayor of the SGV Master Key Podcast.

How did you end up in the San Gabriel Valley?

Terry came to the San Gabriel Valley because of his wife. They had been living in Massachusetts when Terry’s wife had decided, like several members of her family, that she was tired of the New England winters.

Like her parents and sister, she decided it was time for the family to move west.

Terry’s family lived in Florida, but his wife kiboshed that plan because she had a distaste for the state, so California it was.

The city of Pasadena was looking for a planning director. Terry and his wife took an exploratory trip and loved it, and it worked out.

He had a sense of self-peace, and Terry had a connection to this place.

Terry got hired because the city was in a battle over the future of Old Pasadena.

Pasadena had just stopped the destruction of old buildings that gave Pasadena its character. So Pasadena was looking for a person specializing in historic preservation, which was Terry’s specialty.

Although he appreciates the past, Terry sometimes gets nervous that people mistake respect for the past for an unwillingness to change. He says Pasadena is not about that. Pasadena can hold onto its history but can adapt to the future.

What was Pasadena like in the early 80s?

Terry says it’s pretty much the same. The components that make Pasadena now were there in the past. Cal Tech, the Arts Center, the College of Design, and the Fuller Entomological Seminary were established by that point.

However, the city had fallen in challenging times because people viewed it as a place with nothing to offer. They were there, but Terry helped dog the diamond out of the rough.

When people invest in a place, the herd mentality takes over, and others start to do the same. Terry utilized that to his advantage, along with regional infrastructure, to make Pasadena more desirable.

What were the things that made city planning an interest of yours?

When Terry was at Princeton, his last year, he went to work on his thesis on the teamsters and its political arm.

Then Terry had to enlist in the army for Vietnam. After that, he worked with HUD (Housing Urban Development) after being considered as a field agent for the CIA.

He worked with HUD in NYC for about a year. He then got his masters from the School of Architecture from Columbia on a free ride while his wife thought on the Lower East Side.

When Terry went to Columbia, there was a lot of anger between the residents of Harlem and the institution. Terry says that most institutions, schools, churches, hospitals, and things of that sort have a similar issue. They aren’t good neighbors in neighborhoods. They are too caught up with their mission statement; they think too internally.

Cal Tech also had this problem. They had an issue swallowing the neighborhood.

They would buy up the land and make it hard for locals to live in the area once they were finally told that their campus was big enough and they needed to constrain themselves inside of it.

Before doing anything without any prompting from outside the school, they consider the area and surrounding neighborhoods.

Terry’s item he brought was a picture.

It’s a picture of an incredible family vacation to Israel. A place that is significant to him and his family because of their religion and relationship to their Jewish faith.

This trip was to give context to Terry’s grandchildren going through their bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs. It also is a way to show their hard work context.

He promised to take all his grandchildren there, so instead of doing it individually, they had a massive group trip to the city.

They had such an incredible experience they all learned and grew from that he wanted to share it with the podcast.

Passover is a big deal in Terry’s family. Unfortunately, because of Covid the last couple of years, they have had to do the Passover in a virtual way.

However, it was almost a blessing in disguise; they included a family that lived in other places. Terry’s brother lives in Miami, and his nephews live in the eastern states.

Now that Covid has subsided a bit, the family will meet traditionally for Passover, but they will still include family from out of state. It’s kind of like the city of Pasadena itself. They still have their old tradition but with education, technology, and change.

What does it take to move to a city?

It’s a challenge, and you need to be comfortable with the idea of inevitable change.

There are only so many local officials who can do it, but they can make a difference if they put forth that effort. They need to have a vision of their city. Pasadena realized one of its strengths was education, with its beautiful institutions. So, their goal was to emphasize that.

They also capitalized on hostility and tourism, with over 500 restaurants in the city. Terry is also an advocate for multi-family housing because that is how the future will be.

One of the strongest pulls for people to come to Pasadena is the closeness to open space.

The Arroyo has so many unique activities in nature that really help shape Pasadena and encourage youth and prosperity to come to the city.

The Arroyo has the Rose Bowl, the archery range, hiking, swimming, and anything outside you can imagine.

The people who use the area think of it as their sport, which is why it’s such an exciting but scary park in terms of planning. Terry has given the city of Pasadena all he could and tried to turn it into a place he knew could prosper, and it will continue to do so.

Picture of Terry Tornek

Terry Tornek

The first is the place where Terry worked so hard on Old Pasadena.

The second is Lower Arroyo.

The third is the Hahamongna Watershed, Arroyo.