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City Clashes Over Proposed Districts Plan

Amid a heated City Council discussion regarding a potential vote-by-district electoral system, in which Glendale would be divided into six districts with one Councilmember each and one mayor elected at-large, Councilman Ara Najarian threatened to sue the city “for spending city money to have a ballot measure passed,” referencing the city’s outreach efforts with residents to draw district maps.
City Attorney Michael Garcia responded to Najarian by saying the city is required by law to do outreach in preparing potential districts so that residents can better understand the process and be involved in drawing district maps before voting on the new plan, adding that “the tone and tenor of the language cannot be construed, in our view, to be advocating for these ballot measures.”
Despite the city moving forward with drafting proposed amendments to its charter to be able to form Council districts with a directly elected mayor, as well as changes to Councilmember salaries and compensation, the Glendale City Council remains starkly split on these issues.
Based on Councilmembers’ preferences discussed in a July 11 meeting, Garcia drafted the potential language of these charter amendments and presented them to the Council during Tuesday night’s meeting. In the model presented, he specified that if the ballot measure is approved in 2024, it would not be put into practice until 2026.
Though Mayor Dan Brotman pointed out that Council’s discussion following the presentation was intended to be a review of Garcia’s outline “not a debate about going to districts,” Councilmembers further shared their opinions on the matter.
Najarian reiterated his disapproval of moving to the district system, implying that district Councilmembers would only have their own district’s interests at heart, while Councilman Ardy Kassakhian said he has faith Councilmembers will want what is best for the entire city in addition to representing their districts.
“When I, a district representative, vote for a $25 million park in Mr. Kassakhian’s district, you’re damn well sure I’m going to get something in return for my district or I’m not going to vote for that,” Najarian said as an example of what he believes will happen with district Councilmembers. “[Kassakhian] is talking about character but let’s not be naive because this is the way district politics work.”
During public comment regarding the matter, community member Emanuel Gulakian expressed his concern that district Councilmembers will ignore broader issues that affect the whole city. He also discussed voter turnout surrounding Council districts and pointed to statistics from Pasadena that showed a varied range of turnout among its districts.
“It can be argued that candidates in districts where the voter turnout is relatively low do not have the same legitimacy as districts where the turnout is higher,” he said.
After raising concerns that his opinions were not being reflected on the city’s website — which states that the majority of the Council believes moving to districts will create a more equitable system — Najarian suggested there must be a reason “behind the scenes” for why the city is advocating for districts.
According to the city’s website giving background to the district elections, “The Council majority that voted to initiate the process to transition to districts believe that districts will diversify the Council geographically and socioeconomically.”
Najarian continued, saying “This is what the city is doing as they push, push and push towards districts and the elected king, mayor I mean,” he said. “It’s improper.”
Brotman responded: “To say that staff has lied, to suggest that there’s a conspiracy theory that we’re trying to ram this through and that something is amiss, is shameful. I think it’s not in keeping with the role of a Councilmember.”
Najarian later walked out of the meeting and did not return for the remainder of the session.
In his presentation, Garcia also clarified the roles and duties of a directly elected mayor, stating that the mayor would be the presiding officer during City Council meetings and an active participant and voter. The mayor would not have veto power and would be the head of the city for ceremonial purposes with a four-year term and a two-term limit. There is also a provision that the mayor and Councilmembers are prohibited from interfering with the city manager’s role and duties.
Councilwoman Paula Devine reiterated that she is against having a directly elected mayor and, while she is not in favor of districts in general, she would prefer to have five Council districts and a mayor elected by the Council, rather than six districts and a directly elected mayor.
Garcia also pointed out that, in cities with a similar system, traditionally someone cannot run for Council and mayor at the same time — meaning that if a sitting Councilmember’s term is ending in the same election cycle where a new mayor is being elected, they would have to forfeit their option to run for Council reelection in order to run for mayor. However, if a Councilmember’s seat is not up at the time a new mayor is being elected, they are able to keep their seat and run for mayor at the same time. Garcia noted that this can be amended because of Glendale’s status as a charter city.
Brotman is interested in changing this rule as he feels it is “structurally unfair,” and Kassakhian shared similar thoughts.
If the ballot measure is approved, Garcia said that in 2026, the mayor seat would be open as well as three Council seats for four-year terms and one seat for a two-year term. Then in 2028, three Council seats would be open for four-year terms and the system would rotate every two years.
Resident Mary-Lynne Fisher expressed concerns over this system as it would leave out two districts from having representation on Council for the first two years, suggesting that all seats should be open for the 2026 election.
Another discussion item was salaries for the Council. Per majority of Councilmembers’ suggestions a few weeks back, Garcia moved forward with the mayor earning 100% of the median area income and with Councilmembers earning 80%. Brotman suggested this take effect in 2026 so that he and current Councilmembers would not be increasing their own salaries. Devine and Najarian are against any salary increase in the future.
With the new proposed structure of the Council, Garcia also adjusted the number of votes required for various actions. For a quorum or specified action such as budget or appropriations, four votes would be required. A supermajority would be five affirmative votes and an urgency ordinance would need 4/5th vote.
Overall, Brotman and Kassakhian agreed with Garcia’s presentation. Councilwoman Elen Asatryan was not present.
With the threat of a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit as a major reason the Council is considering a move to districts, Najarian pointed out that a CVRA lawsuit in Santa Monica is currently being heard in the state Supreme Court. He suggested Council wait to see those results before proceeding further.
Garcia told the News-Press separately that the court should reach a decision by Sept. 25 and that city staff will review the court’s findings and Council will have all the information to consider before deciding to place a measure to transition to districts on the March ballot.
The next public hearing for district maps is Aug.15. Thus far, 21 maps have been submitted and uploaded to the city’s website — 19 of which were from residents.

First published in the August 12 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.

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