First published in the April 9 print issue of the Glendale News Press.
It is officially election season and local groups have rung in that time of year by kicking off the various forums inviting candidates to air their campaign goals and political views for their respective offices.
The rounds of forums kicked off last Saturday, when the Royal Canyon Property Owners Association hosted the eight City Council candidates at Glendale Community College. This week, the Northwest Glendale Homeowners Association hosted the same candidates for another forum at the First Church of Christ, Scientist, and the Glendale Council PTA will host candidates for the Glendale Unified School District Board of Education for a forum on May 18.
At the GCC forum, candidates were tasked with answering a variety of questions within a minute, with ABC and Eyewitness News anchor Phillip Palmer moderating the group. The eight candidates are competing for three available at-large seats, with the top three vote-getters to prevail.
An incumbent, Vrej Agajanian leaned on his experience in guiding the city through the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic to appeal to voters. Once an engineer, Agajanian is a program host for the local television station he owns.
Addressing concerns about long waits for permits to be issued and paperwork to be reviewed by the city’s planning department, Agajanian acknowledged the problems and speculated they were exacerbated by closing offices during the pandemic.
“Our community development, and especially city permitting, are in a dire situation. I’ve been told we have lost eight plan-checkers,” he said, pledging to fill those vacancies. “We lost them, and it became harder, but that’s not the only reason.”
Agajanian called the proposed Verdugo Wash linear park project, currently in the visioning stage, a “good concept” but wished to be mindful of the concerns voiced by residents living along the flood-control channel. He also supported keeping city employee salaries competitive, so as to prevent brain drain to other cities, such as Santa Monica.
Regarding growing property crime rates and the need to curb reckless and speedy driving throughout the city, Agajanian claimed that while Glendale employs 1.2 officers per 1,000 residents, other cities have two or three officers per that same number of residents.
“Maybe we have to have more officers, especially on the roads,” he said. “The problem, in my opinion, is with the young people. We have to educate them. Education will be the key to solve this problem. Usually, the young people, they’re racing on Glenoaks Boulevard. All of them are young people — 18-, 16-, 20-year-old drivers.”
Community organizer and policy advocate Elen Asatryan, a newcomer to the field, said she aims to bring “courageous and motivated leadership, embedded with empathy,” to City Hall. To that end, she’d like to more aggressively develop green space such as the Verdugo Wash project, bring in more affordable housing and streamline city processes for residents and business owners.
“While there are a lot of things that are great about our Jewel City, I wholeheartedly believe we need a culture change,” she said. “What I want to see is a City Hall that is proactive, versus reactive, and these are issues that I’ve worked on for the last 20 years as a Glendale resident.”
Asatryan advocated for implementing the city’s pedestrian safety plan, which she said she worked to help develop with the Glendale Police Department, as a method of both improving public safety and slowing down speeding traffic in the city.
“The fact that I get to take a walk at 2 in the morning down the street without worrying says something about our police department and our city,” she said, “and also says something about the people who live in Glendale.”
Additionally, Asatryan pledged to work to add case workers to GPD’s response teams for homeless outreach or mental health crisis calls.
Regarding salaries, Asatryan said, as a business owner, she learned to pay for the work you want.
“I believe you hire the best workforce and let them do their job, and that includes compensating them accordingly,” she said, adding that she supports more workforce housing. “I think when you cut salaries and you treat your staff as just subordinates, you don’t build a culture of a team working together.”
Incumbent Dan Brotman, an economist formerly with the Federal Reserve and Cisco Systems, recalled that he propelled himself to the council as an environmental activist and said he has since broadened his areas of interest.
“On council, I’ve proven to be someone who challenges business-as-usual approaches, gets second and third opinions and actively seeks the input of experts in the community,” he said. “I’ve also demonstrated that I’m not just about the big-policy ideas, but also about solving everyday problems.”
Brotman strongly supports the Verdugo Wash project, but cautioned that it would take time and outside grant funding to see it to fruition.
“The idea of having what’s now just a concrete flood channel be a public park and provide a backbone for active transportation, for biking and walking, is really exciting and we really need to look at it,” he said.
Looking at traffic problems, Brotman strongly advocates for active transportation and public transit and transitioning away from “car-first” engineering. This would help reduce the ability for motorists to speed recklessly in Glendale, he said.
“We’re never going to have enough cops on the street. It’s always going to be whack-a-mole. Education, that’s great, but I don’t think we’re going to educate our way out of this, either. I think the key is engineering,” he said. “We need to shift that paradigm to safety first, and we’re working on it.”
Brotman said hiring a new community development director will create an opportunity to improve the efficiency of the department’s permitting functions, and agreed that Glendale should pay its employees competitively.
“It’s a marketplace. You have supply and demand, and you’re competing with other cities,” he said. “It’s a tradeoff. You can pay what the market requires and get the best, or you can decide to pull back on salaries and potentially get second-rate employees.”
Another newcomer, Jordan Henry, who is a landscape architect with the Los Angeles Department of Public Works, said he is running on community safety, open green space and “feasible sustainability” as the city adds housing and other development.
“I believe that safe streets and neighborhoods are the cornerstone to maintaining the high quality of life that we enjoy here in Glendale,” he said. “As one of the saftest cities of our size in the nation, Glendale police have my respect and I will support them on council, just as they serve and protect all of us.”
Henry pledged to fight Senate Bills 9 and 10, which overrule a variety of local zoning codes to promote development.
“Residential zoning should be a strictly local issue,” he said. “These bills are going to rapidly urbanize single-family neighborhoods with minimal to no off-street parking required. More and more cars are going to be parked in front of your homes, and traffic and congestion will intensify.”
As a father, Henry said he and his wife were “terrified” at the prospect of their children playing outside even on residential streets, where joyriding motorists speed relentlessly. He touted a variety of ways to engineer motorways to reduce these threats.
“As a landscape architect, there are methods by which we can slow down traffic that are effective, affordable and aesthetically very pleasing and would increase green space in our city,” he said, later showing support for using tools like roundabouts. “In a traditional intersection, there are I think 32 or 36 points of collision, with cars or pedestrians, and in a roundabout, it’s four. As soon as we start implementing this urban design, within reason, there’s no doubt in my mind that collisions will decrease.”
Running to be an advocate for Glendale’s rental tenants, newcomer Karen Kwak pledged to continue to be the voice for south Glendale renters that she has always been.
“The pandemic has shown us how important tenant-landlord issues are to the health of an entire city, especially here in Glendale, where renters are 67% of the residents,” she said. “I’ve been working on the frontlines of housing issues for years. I’m confident that I can get these things done because I have already worked with the council to shape laws.”
To that end, she said she would push for new developments, such as tenant-led limited equity co-ops and create other opportunities for tenants to purchase their homes. Kwak added that the community development department needs to do more to support renters, especially those living in poor conditions or illegal units.
“It’s incredibly frustrating to know that everyone knows this is illegal, people are suffering from it and it takes forever to get anything fixed,” she said. “This entire system needs an overhaul.”
Kwak supported starting the work on the Verdugo Wash project now, and include voices from all over the city who might use the amenity. She also pushed for various engineering solutions to traffic and pedestrian problems, while also advocating for stronger active transportation and public transit infrastructure.
On salaries, Kwak argued that the city can actually save money here.
“It’s an absolute fallacy that you need high salaries to lure public servants into public service,” she said, noting her previous public-sector work. “You can absolutely get great people who are dedicated to public service and not directly motivated by salary.”
Seeking his fifth term, Ara Najarian illustrated himself as one of Glendale’s leaders who has helped transform the city of about 200,000 residents into a “premier” city.
“I have been at the forefront of keeping it that way,” he said. “I will never let Glendale turn into a Los Angeles.”
Though shepherding in a variety of development since 2005, Najarian contended that one of the reasons that planning and permitting can take time here is because city officials take care to make sure they’re good proposals.
“Folks, let’s not kid ourselves. We have many residents who don’t go for permits, who submit plans that are deficient and defective,” he said, “It is our duty as a city to make sure that the plans and the designs are up to code.”
Najarian — longtime board member for both L.A. Metro and Metrolink — added that he helped develop the city’s first traffic-calming toolkit, advocated for an air support unit, has supported bringing in new technology for the police department and will continue to support allocating more resources to law enforcement.
“We have a great police department,” Najarian said. “They are understaffed compared to the cities around us and each one of them has a difficult job to do. I want to increase their resources so they have enough.”
He also urged parents to help mitigate speeding and reckless driving issues by not enabling their young adults with high-performance and expensive vehicles.
“That has to go,” he said. “They have to have some parental responsibility and we need to enforce upon them some community responsibility.”
Anita Quiñonez Gabrielian
Though she would be new to City Council, Anita Quiñonez Gabrielian does bring political experience in having once served on the board of directors at Glendale Community College. Calling Glendale where the “American dream came true” for her family, Quiñonez Gabrielian promised to be its advocate.
To start, she said she would push for more technology to be used to ramp up planning and permitting functions, as well as assist the police department in its operations.
“It is one of my priority issues,” she said of permitting issues. “When I say ‘efficient delivery of city services,’ this is one of them at the top of the list.”
Supporting law enforcement can begin with Neighborhood Watch groups, she added, but that support has to translate into more tangible help, too.
“We have to continue that by making sure that it is staffed properly, by making sure that we provide the technology so that we can capture the criminals and have data to make sure that they stay in jail,” she said.
Related to public safety, Quiñonez Gabrielian advocated for a multi-pronged approach to traffic issues.
“Let’s bring back more driver’s ed into our schools and conversations at home,” she said. “Let’s enforce and have traffic police out in the streets, especially at certain times of the day. Let’s talk about engineering.”
She also wants to make sure city employees are paid well enough to stay here and work.
“I’ve heard so many times from other cities that ‘Glendale is our training center,” Quiñonez Gabrielian said. “We’ve got to stop that. It is cheaper to retain good employees than it is to go out, find others and train them from scratch.”
For newcomer Isabela Valencia-Tevanyan, she sought to be a leader and voice for a united community, and to make city functions more proactive for residents and businesses.
“We have many problems like other cities, but we need to come together and help each other,” she said, later adding, “We need an effective way of communication when the city comes with these projects, to involve every citizen of Glendale.”
To curb speeding in the city, Valencia-Tevanyan said she didn’t think engineering or enforcement would be the solution to the problem. Rather, she said she sees it as a wellness issue.
“We need to address the root of the problem. It’s not going to be more police or bumps in the streets. It’s going to be mental health,” she said. “When the person drives and uses the car in that way, that means something is wrong with that person and we need to address that.”
Relatedly, Valencia-Tevanyan argued that law enforcement should be more mindful of how drug use has affected criminals and those experiencing homelessness. She said she was against ramping up incarceration because it doesn’t bring people back into society the right way.
“People are using more than ever before,” she said. “Because of their mental health, that’s the reason we’re where we’re at right now.”
Valencia-Tevanyan added she felt auto insurance could be ripe for more regulation, to reel in the notoriously high insurance rates for Glendale drivers.
“We have good drivers in Glendale,” she said. “We cannot pay the price for the few who are making mistakes.”