By Brandon HENSLEY
Sophal Ear said he was floored when he heard the news. He was in San Jose when the call came in, and he couldn’t believe it. Ear is now a member of the Crescenta Valley Town Council.
Ear was one of nine candidates to run in this year’s election, which took place at St. Luke’s of the Mountains Episcopal Church over a two-day period last Friday and Saturday. Ear joined Mike Claessens and Lisa Griffin as the top three vote-getters, which gave them three-year terms. Aram Ordubegian, JoAnn Stupakis and Charles Beatty won the three alternate seats, which are one-year terms. Candidates Kevin Kang, Josh Wade and Alexandria Mirzakhanian did not receive enough votes to win any seats.
Ear said he thought at least his wife, kids and mother-in-law would vote for him.
“My colleagues at work joked that I might not even get that,” he said. “Look, this is a huge responsibility and I intend to do all I can do to be worthy of that trust and [that] of our community.”
The six members will be sworn in at the Dec. 17 town council meeting at 7 p.m. at the La Crescenta Library.
Ear, who is an associate professor of diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College, has four kids in public schools, and said public education is important to him. He acknowledged the recent dismay of some in the area who feel Glendale Unified School District does not represent foothill residents to the best of its ability.
“CVTC has been active in demanding that GUSD do its part,” he said. “We live in an unincorporated [portion of] Los Angeles County and there are pros and cons. The pros are we enjoy a lower regulatory burden and lower taxes. The cons are that we don’t get as much representation as we might enjoy. Two million residents per board of supervisor member? That’s a lot of people. And that’s where the CVTC comes in.”
It’s that kind of spirit that Ines Chessum said is lacking from some candidates, which can lead to residents’ lack of issue awareness and low voter turnout.
“You have to be informed. That’s the point, and that’s where it all fails,” said Chessum, who is a part of the council’s Land Use committee and who volunteered checking voters in on Saturday.
“Councilmembers have to have a banner to wave for an issue,” she said.
There were 220 votes counted for this election, 40 of them absentee. That translates to about a 7% percent turnout among all registered voters in the area.
Chessum said people don’t get concerned about an issue until it affects them directly, which can lead to wasted opportunities.
“Sometimes the resources are available, and people are not interested to push [an issue] forward, so then we lose an opportunity to benefit the community because people are not involved.”
Chessum admitted she didn’t follow the council until the issue of what to do with the Crescenta Commons empty space came up. She was concerned over what might happen with the land, which sits above Foothill Boulevard at the intersection of Rosemont and Orange avenues. Chessum designed 200 tiles that now surround a sundial on the newly beautified area.
Councilmember Harry Leon, who was the election chair this year, said turning to the youth for potential voters is key. Leon is a mentor for the CV Youth Town Council, which consists of middle school and high school students in the foothills who advocate for youth-oriented projects.
“People like high school seniors; we have to encourage them vote,” Leon said. “Some of them don’t vote because they don’t want to go court and be a juror and all that. But we have to start educating them and teaching them [civic] duty.”
Myrna Aboudiab is a young adult who graduated from UC San Diego this past spring. She is a CV High graduate, and turned in her first ever ballot in a CVTC election. Aboudiab, who has voted in general elections before, said issues concerning young people in La Crescenta were important to her. She even mentioned children who are growing up now in elementary school.
“I want to make sure their voice is heard. I had a great experience, but it seems as time goes on the focus is being pulled away from us,” she said, specifically mentioning the issue of a potential departure from GUSD.
“I think it would be really great for us to have control of our own schools, but I know it’d be a long, tough road to get there,” she said.
Aboudiab, who is signed up for the council email newsletter and researched every candidate before voting, also said she’d like to see more done with beautification projects. She said the difference between La Crescenta and La Cañada is apparent.
“Their storefronts are more uniform in a sense. Not to say we don’t want to be unique or anything, but [La Cañada] is up to date. They have really nice medians,” she said.
While Ear is excited to take up causes, potentially ones that Aboudiab supports, he acknowledged change can’t happen overnight.
“In my first year, it’s important I observe and learn,” he said. “As I told my supporters, I’m listening. I think it’s important we figure out what matters to people. On Facebook, if people hit ‘like’ on a certain issue, that’s voting up the issue. That says this issue’s important.”