By Ted AYALA
Representatives and residents from East Los Angeles crowded into the Glendale City Council chamber on Tuesday, with several news cameras from local Spanish television news agencies in tow. The reason was over a remark that Councilman Ara Najarian had made at last week’s City Council meeting during a discussion on a signage ordinance affecting the southern stretch of Brand Boulevard.
During comments he made referring to oversized signage in violation of civic ordinances, Najarian used East Los Angeles as an example for Glendale to avoid.
“It’s a matter of aesthetics,” he was quoted as saying. “These signs are something you see in East L. A.”
Residents in East Los Angeles were furious with the comment, decrying what they perceived as an attack on their community and a perpetuation of a negative stereotype.
“We’re very upset,” said Martin Gamez, treasurer for the East Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. “Mr. Najarian’s remarks are every unfortunate. Our community has been working very hard to change the perception that others have of East L.A. His words really take away from that.”
Many members of the East Los Angeles community – with over 25 in attendance – took to the council dais to voice their outrage. Among them were business owners, school teachers, volunteers and residents.
“As business owners, we work diligently to make East Los Angeles a better place,” said Omar Loya, owner of Cities Restaurant. “To utilize blight as the only characterization of East Los Angeles is short-sighted and false. Before you make irresponsible comments about the blight in East Los Angeles, I invite you to educate yourself and see the new Civic Center, Whittier Boulevard streetscape, and the beautiful parks and libraries.”
“I’m upset,” added resident and businessowner Yolanda Duarte. “I thought the comments were made very lightly.”
She later commented that Najarian’s “disparaging comments” are “the kind of seed that’s planted to eventually create a dysfunctional city.”
A defense of Najarian came from an unlikely source via resident Mike Mohill.
“We have sparred on many subjects many times,” he said. “But he is not a racist. He’s not mean-spirited when it comes to ethnic backgrounds. I know he didn’t mean [his signage comments] in a bad way.”
For his part, Najarian made fulsome praise of East Los Angeles before making an apology.
“My only intention in referencing [East Los Angeles] – a fine community with much diversity, much the same as we have in Glendale – was to highlight the large number of signs; the sizes and disparity of those signs,” said Najarian. “I do apologize if my comments in any were in any way a slur upon the fine people and rich cultural diversity of the East L.A. region.”
The councilman also promised to come visit East Los Angeles in the near future along with Councilman Frank Quintero.
For some, though, Najarian’s apology and offer to visit wasn’t enough.
“It’s not a sincere apology,” said Gamez. “It seems like he’s just trying to hush up what he mentioned.”
Still some residents were pleased with the Councilman’s apology and were willing to put the comments behind him.
“In reality, a lot of us don’t think before we speak,” said East Los Angeles resident Clara Garcia. “But that’s something I feel we can forgive him for. I know I accept his apology and if he decides to visit us, he’ll find himself very welcome in our community.”