By Julie BUTCHER
On Thursday night, the Northwest Glendale Homeowners Association (NGHA) hosted the first candidate forum of the 2022 election season, hearing from all eight candidates running for three available seats on the Glendale City Council.
A group of around 40 spread out in the chapel of the First Church of Christ, Scientist on Brand Boulevard, joined by those watching via Zoom, and politely listened to two hours of questions answered by the candidates, ending with a two-minute closing statement from each.
Three of those running are incumbents: Dan Brotman, Ara Najarian and Vrej Agajanian. They are joined on the June 7 ballot by Isabel Valencia-Tevanyan, Karen Kwak, Anita Quiñonez Gabrielian, Elen Asatryan and Jordan Henry.
NGHA president Peter Fuad welcomed the crowd, explained the format of the forum, and urged everyone to join the organization (https://www.nwglendaleha.org/).
Candidates introduced themselves through their answers to specific local policy questions. The first question asked the participants about work of which they are proud.
Dan Brotman, who said he came to Glendale in 2015, organized what became the Glendale Environmental Coalition saying he pushed the GWP to shelve plans for massive gas at the Grayson Power Plant.
“We’ve shown that a few motivated people can create substantive change; the entire paradigm has shifted, and sustainability is now a top priority of the council,” he said.
Vrej Agajanian told the group that he’s been a member of NGHA for 22 years.
“The first thing I did on the council was to get GWP to reduce the amount of gas it was planning from 262 megawatts down to 93. I steered $4 million to small businesses. I run two TV stations and purchase advertising for them; that’s why I helped businesses,” he said.
Elen Asatryan said she has been an advocate since she was 15 years old.
“I attended my first council meeting at 16,” she said. “I’ve participated in local youth programs, organized Glendale’s Domestic Violence Taskforce, and worked to expand green space across the city.” She is a first-time candidate.
The third incumbent, Ara Najarian, detailed the work he is proudest of: “Keeping Glendale one of the safest cities [with] the fastest fire response. I’m on the Metro board and will chair the board next year. We’ve built thousands of affordable units of housing.”
Anita Quiñonez Gabrielian has lived in Glendale for 30 years. She said she is the oldest of 10, then followed up on the work she has done in business and in the community. She said she is best suited to take on Glendale’s crime spike, to work to keep the “charm of our single-family neighborhoods” in light of SB 9 and 10, and to fight for 100% renewable energy by 2035. Quiñonez Gabrielian said she will “fully fund the police.”
Karen Kwak is the only renter running for council, she said, in a city where 67% of people rent and 57% are rent-burdened; that is, paying more than 30% of their income in rent. Kwak called herself the candidate for housing and the “candidate of change.” Among other ideas, Kwak wants to explore potential cooperative arrangements so tenants can build economic equity in the places they rent.
Isabel Valencia-Tevanyan is most concerned about the city’s lack of responsiveness. She hears complaints from voters she speaks with.
“‘Go online,’ they say. But not everyone has a computer,” she said. She believes the city should hire some staff back to address complaints about code violations.
Jordan Henry lives in La Crescenta and is focused on “quality of life” issues including speeding, trash hauling (“rates went up 500% through privatization”), and fighting against SB 9 and 10, which he views as the state overreaching into local governance.
“There’s a web of integrated issues that we need to deal with as a community,” he said.
Responding to questions about the city’s recent change in commercial and multifamily trash collection, Brotman explained, “The decision happened before my time, but I don’t fault it. It’s a new program and it’s not really working out all that well. I’d suggested a centralized call center.”
“I had concerns – I’ve dealt with trash haulers in the past – I wanted two in each district. But the rates had not increased in 12 years,” Agajanian responded.
Most of the candidates also listed affordable housing as a critical issue.
Brotman explained that the city can “force” developers to build affordable housing by requiring (now) 15% of projects to be affordable [and by] encouraging the building of affordable housing units by incentivizing various aspects of developments, or subsidizing the building of affordable housing. “We’re doing all three.”
“No city has done what we’re doing,” Agajanian said. “We’ve built 307 new affordable units.”
“It’s a crisis because government didn’t plan ahead,” Valencia-Tevanyan replied.
“I participated in this year’s homeless count,” Kwak answered one of several questions about homelessness, “and the city does a pretty good job. But while we’ve got 207 homeless people in Glendale, in Los Angeles County there are 227 newly homeless every day. I’m interested in sound housing policy that can prevent homelessness.”
“It is not by a stroke of luck,” Najarian declared of the number of homeless in Glendale. “It’s because of the hard work of city leadership and law enforcement. We don’t turn our backs on the homeless. We come back day after day, offering services and checking in. We will not turn into Los Angeles, not while I’m on the council.”
Henry explained why he moved to Glendale from Highland Park to raise his young family “in a place with a set of values and priorities.”
Quiñonez Gabrielian added that the community organizations that provide services to the homeless depend on a “continuum of care – it takes 14 or 15 contacts to bring someone home.”
Elen Asatryan has served on the city’s parks and recreation commission and believes the city needs more green space, especially in south Glendale. She wants to make neighborhoods more walkable as well.
Henry believes traffic enforcement must aim at “outsmarting young men driving very fast cars. That’s really all you have to do; I don’t think it’s that complicated an issue.”
All of the candidates expressed their enthusiasm for traffic circles. Most spoke in favor of additional bike lanes and of the rapid bus (BRT) expected to run from North Hollywood to Pasadena.
“I’m in favor of increasing rapid and public transit,” Quiñonez Gabrielian shared.
“I took the Beeline here,” Kwak said, “but we need more service. I don’t know how I’m going to get home. Dedicated bus lanes speed up your travel time. And I love protected bike lanes.”
“It’s my project [the BRT],” Najarian reported. “It’s been our goal to bring high-quality transit to Glendale. These will be electric buses, connecting with other transit opportunities. Those bike lanes will transform this city and help get people out of their cars.”
In making their final statements, the candidates expressed their priorities.
Henry envisions practical sustainability, safe neighborhoods and quality of life. He said he is the only “non-incumbent endorsed by the police union” and pledges to “fight SB 9 and 10.”
Quiñonez Gabrielian “chose Glendale” to raise her family in the Verdugo Woodlands neighborhood. She wants walkable streets and safe neighborhoods, clean water and air, vibrant shops and entertainment. She said her experience as a retired executive coupled with her years of community-based organizing and three terms on the Glendale Community College board of trustees uniquely qualify her to be elected to the council.
Kwak emphasized the significance of electing someone who needs to “find a way to pay rent or become homeless in a city where 67% are renters.”
Asatryan hopes to “chart a new course.”
“I love Glendale but it needs a culture change,” she said. “We need to be proactive, not reactive. COVID showed us that our outreach and communications left out the most vulnerable.”
Valencia-Tevanyan said she stands for working families and her work as a steward in her union is the kind of organizing that needs to be done to improve the city.
“Glendale is a premier city,” said Najarian. “Compare us to any other city. I am part of that. If you want to know where I’m going, I ask you to look at where I’ve been. I started my law practice in Glendale 40 years ago. I’ve served four terms as mayor, hold an elected position on the Metro board, and chair the Metrolink board. I will never let Glendale turn into LA.”
The election is on Tuesday, June 7.
Ara Najarian https://araforcouncil.com/
Vrej Agajanian https://www.facebook.com/Vote4Agajanian/
Dan Brotman https://www.facebook.com/DanForGlendale
Elen Asatryan https://www.electelen.com/
Anita Quiñonez Gabrielian https://www.vote4anita.com/
Karen Kwak https://kwakforchange.com/
Jordan Henry https://www.henry4glendale.com/