With elections just weeks away, candidates attend local forums to address community concerns.
By Jason KUROSU
Candidates for Glendale City Council and the Glendale Unified School District are making their rounds on the debate circuit in preparation for the April 7 election. City council candidates appeared at two local forums, one at the La Crescenta Library and another at the Sparr Heights Community Center, discussing their views on development, districting, traffic and a host of other topics.
Two seats will be available on the council and they are being pursued by two incumbents, Paula Devine and Dave Weaver, along with five new candidates, Erik Yesyan, Edith Fuentes, Evelyne Poghosyan, Vartan Gharpetian and Chahe Keuroghelian. (Chahe Keuroghelian did not attend either of the forums.)
Candidates were asked to weigh in on Measure D, which will appear on the April 7 ballot. If approved by voters, city council members will be elected through districts rather than the current at-large system.
Yesyan said that he didn’t necessarily support or reject the idea of districts, but said that if districts are implemented, an independent citizens’ commission needed to be in place to ensure that the districts were drawn fairly. Yesyan also said that a few at-large council members would still be beneficial even with districts.
“If you don’t like the representative in your district, then there should be at least one or two at-large council members you can go to who represent the entire city,” he said.
Poghosyan said that representing all demographics through districts was a good idea but, in practice, districts would inevitably divide the city’s population.
“We like that the city is intermixed because we’re all in this together. We’re not dividing ourselves into ethnic communities,” said Poghosyan. “You have to make sure someone on the council is representing everyone’s opinion, not just a particular demographic opinion.”
Weaver said that “at-large voting has worked for a hundred years in this city” and that the concept of districts in Glendale was entirely in response to a potential lawsuit against the city, which alleges that Glendale’s current voting system violates the California Voting Rights Act.
“I hope [Measure D] fails because we don’t need it in this city,” said Weaver. “I don’t care to see attorneys waltzing around the state of California making a quick buck at the expense of cities that are spending millions to defend what they have.”
Gharpetian called the measure “a vague ordinance” which did not outline what would ultimately occur after it passes. Gharpetian also said that though attorneys had proven that other cities were not appropriately representing all ethnic groups on their respective city councils, such problems were not an issue in Glendale.
Fuentes also opposed the measure, saying, “I’d rather be represented by five council members than one. One might not really be representing my interests or the interests of the community.”
Fuentes did say that if the measure passes, that the community should be involved with drawing the district boundaries.
Devine said she recognized that districting had both pros and cons, but ultimately could not support the measure for its creation of “empires” within the different districts.
“The different representatives from those empires will be advocating for their own district and not looking at this whole city as one,” she said.
Regarding Glendale’s traffic safety, which has been rated poorly in national traffic rankings among cities with similar populations, candidates advocated for measures that would educate the populace on safer driving habits and increase enforcement of traffic laws.
Devine supported hiring more police, saying, “I think enforcement is one of the most important ways of dealing with traffic safety.” She also supported engineering solutions, such as repainting lanes to make the streets appear narrower, which she said can slow down traffic and prevent accidents.
Countering the enforcement approach, Weaver said that hiring more police would be “impractical” due to a lack of available funding.
Gharpetian said that an increased police presence would not solve the problem without a concerted effort from Glendale’s motorists to adhere to traffic laws.
“They give 900 tickets on Glenoaks Boulevard every morning and people still drive fast. We need to change our driving behaviors,” said Gharpetian.
Yesyan noted the dire reputation of Glendale’s driving and pedestrian safety, calling the situation “unacceptable” and recommended “targeted programs” towards reducing driving hazards. He noted that New York City reduced its casualty rate by 40% over the last 10 years “because they came up with a real plan that used data to find out which streets are problematic and go out there with solutions that work.”
Poghosyan supported the educational approach, such as measures encouraging people to use side streets, public transportation or other forms of transportation such as walking and biking.
Fuentes said “a more aggressive campaign” in terms of enforcement would be needed to curtail the city’s traffic issues, as well as an educational campaign, possibly in participation with the Glendale Unified School District.
Candidates were also asked about local issues affecting the Crescenta Valley, such as the preservation of the former Rockhaven Sanitarium in Montrose.
Poghosyan said that her plan to bring new businesses into the city would provide extra revenue for projects such as the preservation of Rockhaven.
Weaver said that the city does not currently have the money to rehab Rockhaven, nor has the community been able to settle on a unified idea of what Rockhaven should become.
“Once you do, it’s going to end up being a partnership because the city does not have the funding to operate and maintain that structure,” he said. “But I love history and I love archeology so I would never support anything that would take it away.”
Devine said that Rockhaven is a site “we must save,” but echoed Weaver in saying that stakeholders have not yet been able to agree on what Rockhaven should become. However, Devine said that whatever the project may be, “I will not approve a project if it doesn’t improve the integrity of the site[or] if it has a cumulative negative impact on the neighborhood, and it must be sustainable.”
Gharpetian said that Rockhaven “cannot be developed. It’s part of the history of our city and it must be preserved.”
Gharpetian said that funding should not be so large an issue when regarding Rockhaven’s maintenance, citing previous project ideas such as using nearby Trader Joe’s rent for Rockhaven, plans that have since fallen by the wayside.
“It will not take a million dollars to maintain Rockhaven. The community will maintain Rockhaven,” Gharpetian said. “Just allow them to do so.”
Fuentes said she was a supporter of preserving historic sites and believed that regulations for historic preservation must be enforced.
“That’s the only way we can preserve the history of Glendale,” she said.
Fuentes said that the city should work with other organizations on joint ventures to raise revenues for Rockhaven.
Yesyan called Rockhaven “an incredible, underutilized resource” and said that funding for the site’s maintenance could be provided from the city’s developer impact fees.
Candidates for the Glendale Unified School District Board of Education also participated at the forum at Sparr Heights. Two of the five candidates on the ballot will be elected to the board of education, one to incumbent Nayiri Nahabedian’s seat and the other to the departing Sandra Russell’s seat. This year’s candidates include Nahabedian, Kevin Cordova-Brookey, Jennifer Freemon, Todd Hunt and Vahik Satoorian.
The candidates were asked what their top priorities as members of the board of education would be.
Cordova-Brookey said that communication needed to be improved between the school district and the community, an issue at the heart of Common Core, the Sagebrush territory transfer and several other looming issues concerning the district and parents.
Freemon also said that fleshing out implementation of the dual immersion program and the technological aspects of the Common Core were key issues for the district.
Nahabedian said that free summer school should be available for all students, communication on Common Core should be improved between the school district and parents, and targeted class size reduction as a priority.
Hunt said that classroom technology upgrades were important, as well as helping teachers formulate lesson plans utilizing technological resources. Hunt also supported career technical education as vital to future student success in the workforce.
For more information on the candidates, upcoming forums and ballot measures, visit glendalevotes.org.