HomeCity NewsA Time of Pandemic, Protest, Change

A Time of Pandemic, Protest, Change

Photo by Zane Hill / Glendale News-Press
A large crowd marches down Central Avenue en route to Artsakh Avenue in support of Armenia and the Artsakh Republic in their conflict with Azerbaijan. The local Armenian diaspora’s efforts have included activism and donation drives.

For many, Friday, Jan. 1, represented a long-overdue turn of the page from a year that lived up to no one’s expectations.
From the beginning of 2020, news trickled into American airwaves and newsprint that a mysterious virus had secretly wreaked havoc throughout much of China and had begun spreading at uncontrolled levels through South Korea, Iran, Italy and Spain. Reports of overwhelmed hospitals, mass graves and widespread lockdowns also spread.
And then the accounts started coming out of New York City. And Seattle. And a well-known pork processing plant in South Dakota.
By March 11, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 was declared to be a global pandemic. Locally, by March 13 — auspicious, indeed, as a Friday the 13th — school districts were closing, cities were declaring states of emergency and officials were openly discussing what would become the Safer at Home orders. Restaurants were limited to takeout or delivery. Personal care services, entertainment venues and bars closed. Nonessential retailers had to close. The NBA suspended its season.

Photo by Zane Hill / Glendale News-Press
The March for Black Lives in June ended outside of City Hall, where the YWCA Glendale and Black in Glendale organizations held a candlelight vigil.

Confusion reigned as public officials struggled to keep up with a rapidly changing situation, as hospitals filled with patients and struggled to track down protective equipment, and panicked people emptied grocery stores with months’ supplies of essentials and disrupted the supply chain in doing so. Disjointed federal leadership didn’t help, although Congress ultimately did pass an enormous relief package that bolstered unemployment insurance while also providing a lifeline to businesses and those whose work hours were scaled back.
After the initial surge, California’s case rate stabilized and fell in the summer months, enough so that outdoor dining became permitted and retailers and service providers could open doors again, with restrictions. The state hit its 1 millionth case since March in mid-November.
Six weeks later, California passed 2 million cases, curtailing much of the reopening efforts. Hospitals remain more overwhelmed than they were before, and residents seeking emergency treatment for other ailments are finding themselves turned away at the door. Two vaccines are being distributed, with others well on their way to approval, but it will be many more months before the nation can begin a return to normalcy.
In the meantime — outside of the pandemic, but perhaps in some cases related to it — these are Glendale’s biggest stories from a year that, for better or worse, tested resolve and character.
Protests in June over the death of George Floyd, who perished while in police custody in Minneapolis after an officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes, began to spread among the nation’s major cities.
Soon they trickled down to smaller suburban and even more rural communities, as many Americans cried out for reform to a criminal justice system they saw as overly aggressive and inclined to target Black people and other minorities. A handful of spontaneous demonstrations formed in La Crescenta and ventured through Montrose without incident.
A group of Clark Magnet High School friends sat down and planned a larger and more deliberate moment, dubbed the Glendale March for Black Lives. The teens had watched as large protests became uprisings in Los Angeles and other metro areas, incidents that led Los Angeles County to impose several early evening curfews. In Glendale, the students wanted the focus to be on the messages they were shouting, and planned a route leading from Doran Mini-Park and weaving through downtown to City Hall — avoiding the high-end retail zones of the Galleria and Americana.
Anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 showed up despite the pandemic and began the march, spread out as much as possible and wearing face masks, with few exceptions. Along the way, local organizations including the Armenian National Committee of America set up stands to distribute water and snacks on a hot summer afternoon. The Glendale Police Department blocked traffic for the march, but otherwise maintained a distance.
After kneeling for a moment of silence, the group arrived at City Hall, where a separate candlelight vigil hosted by Black in Glendale and the YWCA Glendale was ready to commence. Speakers remarked on the significance of the moment — Glendale once had a reputation as a sundown town, unwelcoming to Blacks and other minorities — and pleaded with local leaders and officials to help turn the page.
Among the massive crowd were the five members each of the City Council and local school board, then-City Manager Yasmin Beers, City Attorney Michael Garcia, Police Chief Carl Povilaitis, Assemblywoman Laura Friedman and Congressman Adam Schiff.
No incidents were reported in connection with this demonstration.
The moment kicked off a movement locally. The city began endeavors to address its history, presenting a report documenting past prejudice and hosting a forum on anti-racism, while the Glendale Unified School District ramped up its efforts to promote equity and learn from the past.
When Azerbaijan’s military moved into the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region in September to once again fight for control of the territory — home of the breakaway republic Artsakh — it effectively ripped the scab off the wounds of Armenians worldwide who have ties to the area and see it as vital for the Armenian nation.
Those wounds were not soothed in November, when an overwhelmed Armenian prime minister signed a Russia-brokered accord that ceded much of the region back to Azerbaijani control, and established a protected route between the Armenian-populated Stepanakert — Artsakh’s capital — and the home nation and another highway linking Azerbaijan to its enclave.
Locally, Glendale’s prominent Armenian community took to the streets on numerous occasions to showcase pride in its ancestral home and to spur activism to support soldiers engaged in the conflict. Countless businesses advertised they were donating portions of proceeds to relief efforts in Armenia. Groups set up donation drives to send supplies and funds overseas. Members of the diaspora even boarded planes to join the volunteer militias there.
Flags of Armenia and Artsakh continue to be proudly displayed on storefronts, porches, face masks and vehicles. The City Council formally recognized Artsakh as an independent nation and divested from holdings linked to Azerbaijan or Turkey. GUSD hosted speakers to alleviate generational trauma stemming from the Armenian genocide. The Armenian Consulate on Central Avenue remains host to a number of photos, fliers, candles and flowers paying tribute to those who have fallen defending their homeland.
None of this dedication lessened after the accords were signed (indeed, sporadic fighting continues to break out and atrocities committed), and seems unlikely to fade.
Following the presentation of an extensive report, city officials recognized and apologized for Glendale’s prior history of prejudice that earned it the dubious label of “sundown town.”
The formal resolution helped “lift the consciousness of the community,” Councilman Ardy Kassakhian said. The declaration came months after the March for Black Lives through downtown demanded accountability for the past so that it may inform the future.
With assistance from an anti-racism committee, the city produced a document highlighting news reports, housing covenants and redlining maps to showcase how the community made itself hostile to Black people and other minority groups even without a formal city ordinance. Additionally, the city had hosted a number of Ku Klux Klan rallies in prior decades and was home to a branch of the American Nazi Party and other white supremacy groups in more recent decades.
The city was among the first in California to pass such a resolution and comes at a time when much of the nation is reckoning with how past ills continue to resonate in our communities to this day.
When distance learning became the only option for school in the spring, families found themselves scrambling for child care — particularly those families who had to leave home to work.
Starting in the fall term, GUSD distinguished itself and garnered a national look by unveiling its learning pod system for elementary school students, an effort that focused on children of essential workers, teachers and those on income assistance. Basically, a group of around 10 students would be in a classroom during the day under the watch of a substitute teacher or classified employee while doing their distance learning.
The program has proved helpful for GUSD’s families and has resulted in very little on-site transmission of the coronavirus. Many of the hygienic practices employed to protect the students and teachers are likely to see continued use as the district attempts to restart transitional kindergarten and kindergarten instruction at one school this month.
In the aftermath of a number of tragic and destructive wildfires that had spiraled out of control throughout the state, the news that a brush fire had erupted on the foothill area around Brand Park gave Glendale pause one October afternoon.
Luckily, the quick response of the Glendale Fire Department and other agencies helped contain the blaze to just under 17 acres and allowed for no structural damage or injuries. More than 120 firefighters responded to the fire, and a number of planes and helicopters dumped fire suppressant on the site.
The fire’s progress was halted within about two hours and the blaze was fully contained after five hours. The culprit? Some workers cutting rebar nearby.
Ardy Kassakhian, who’d been serving as the city clerk, and political newcomer Dan Brotman were elected to the City Council in March.
Meanwhile, Paula Devine won a second term on the council in that election, which saw eight candidates vying for the three seats. Vartan Gharpetian lost his reelection bid after finishing behind Brotman; Kassakhian filled an open seat.
Whatever honeymoon period the newcomers might have enjoyed was quickly extinguished as the coronavirus pandemic seized the nation a week after the election. The rest of the council, under Mayor Vrej Agajanian, had to hit the ground running, and all have spent much of the year working to ease the burden of the pandemic for Glendale’s residents and workers.
After much debate, the outgoing Glendale Water and Power chief got his wish this year: The City Council banned the sale of metallic balloons — commonly called Mylar balloons — that are inflated with helium or other gases lighter than air.
The decision was made in light of the havoc the balloons wreak on the city’s power grid when they float away and get caught in power line transformers or power substations. After considering a broad ban, the city compromised to allow the sale of inflated-with-air balloons, as long as they’re attached to a structure, and uninflated balloons.
“Big Balloon” was well represented in the debate, with calls coming in from national groups and local wholesalers lobbying for a more forgiving ordinance.
Having spent the prior two years as city manager, Yasmin Beers announced her retirement after spending a 33-year career with the municipality.
That career began in her teenage years, when she worked for the city’s library department, and continued through her college years and beyond. She rose through the ranks and held a number of administrative roles before becoming the city’s first woman to hold the chief executive position. Council members lauded her steady hand this year as the city responded to the coronavirus pandemic.
Roubik Golanian, an assistant city manager, is serving as Beers’ interim replacement while the city uses a firm to conduct a national search.
After a teenager drowned while working as a summer camp counselor at the YMCA, his Glendale family held protests to demand answers from the organization.
Colin Jacobs was a 19-year-old USC student who died on July 1 while on duty. A longtime volunteer for the YMCA, he was less than two weeks away from his 20th birthday when he drowned in the pool of the organization’s La Crescenta facility.
Months later, his family and friends said the YMCA of the Foothills had yet to provide information regarding the circumstances surrounding Jacobs’ drowning, and argued that his death was preventable. They held at least two protests as YMCA branch officials declined to comment on the matter, citing ongoing investigations.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s inspection into the case remains open.
Glendale hit national airwaves in September after a contract driver for the U.S. Postal Service was seen on video dumping bags of packages and mail in a parking lot in the city — just as mail-in ballots were being sent out for the November election.
Dumped mail also was found in a second parking lot in the city. The USPS Inspection Service immediately launched an investigation, which has thus far publicly yielded few details.

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