Year in Review: Jewel City had a busy 2016

New 2017 school calendar disappoints

After Glendale Unified school officials hosted several public meetings and created a committee to gather input from parents, teachers and students about when the 2017-18 academic year should begin, school officials in November approved a calendar with an Aug. 16 start date.

Glendale Unified administrators hosted the community meetings after parent Sarah Rush spoke out against the Aug. 10 start date during the 2015-16 school year, which she believed prematurely ended summer vacation.

She wasn't alone. An online petition she created went on to collect more than 2,000 signatures in support of a later start date for the 2016-17 school year, which was scheduled for an even earlier time — Aug. 8.

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That start date, however, and the remaining academic calendar had already been negotiated and agreed upon with the Glendale Teachers Union, so school board members told parents they would wait to create a new calendar for the 2017-18 school year after gathering parent input, instead of opening up teacher negotiations.

On Nov. 15, the Glendale school board voted 3-2 to adopt the calendar with an Aug. 16 start date for next year despite concerns raised by several parents, including Rush, that the date was still too early. Armina Gharpetian, board president, and member Greg Krikorian voted to oppose the calendar in favor of a start date later in August.

"I just wonder sometimes, is staff really listening?" Krikorian said during the meeting when the calendar was approved. "I will be voting, 'no.' It goes against everything we talked about."

Verdugo Hills Golf Course to close

The Verdugo Hills Golf Course will close Saturday, Dec. 31 amid concerns from residents about its future.

While some residents want to preserve the land as open space, Snowball West Investments, LP, the property's owner, submitted plans to Los Angeles city officials to develop a gated residential community on the site.

The plans propose building between 221 and 229 two-story, single-family homes on 28 acres of the 58-acre site.

City officials plan to release findings from an environmental impact report on those plans in early 2017.

An unwelcome Hindenburg sign

Hindenburg Park, the west end of Crescenta Valley Park has been part of La Crescenta since the 1930s and, although today it honors the German-American community, it was once used as a site for Nazi rallies.

That led to controversy as soon as a large wooden sign was erected displaying German World War I Gen. Paul Von Hindenburg's name as a way to greet visitors to a section of the park. Although considered a hero in the country, Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler as Germany's chancellor in 1933.

The Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation Department immediately received complaints from residents who found the sign offensive.

After public hearings, petitions and deliberation, the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations voted to remove the sign and soon replaced it with another that would instead honor the German-American ties to the area without a mention of Hindenburg.

Voters reject repeal of city tax

A large majority of Glendale voters decided against the repeal of the city's utility user's tax over concerns that disposing of the revenue would threaten key public services.

Measure N would have eliminated an existing 7% tax on electricity, water and gas bills that brings in $17.5-million annually into the city's General Fund. The measure went before voters on June 7, and 27,513 residents, nearly 72%, rejected it, according to the L.A. County Registrar.

Supporters of Measure N said the drop in revenue for the city, about 9.5% of the General Fund, would be easy to address because of the number of city officials who make more than $100,000 a year, salaries the measure's supporters claimed are excessive.

However, city officials argued the passing of Measure N would mean the reduction of public safety services, such as fire, police and medical, as well as library service and infrastructure maintenance.

Glendale Unified adopts district-based voting

This past May, Glendale school officials voted to adopt a map representing five voting districts: A, B, C, D and E.

Glendale Unified abandoned the former at-large system in which board members were elected no matter where they lived in the city. The move came on the heels of a similar switch made by Glendale Community College, whose five new districts are identified as 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.

Glendale school officials made the change as part of a lawsuit settlement, after the district was sued for allegedly violating the California Voting Rights Act. The college made the change in 2015 under the threat of litigation. This spring will mark the first time voters will elect college and school officials based on the new districts.

Sagebrush hearings draw GUSD warnings

Hundreds of residents attended two heated public hearings — one in September and the other in November — regarding the possible transfer of a portion of La Cañada Flintridge known as Sagebrush from the Glendale Unified School District to La Cañada Unified.

In early 2017, the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization, which oversaw the hearings, will vote on whether the transfer can take place.

The loss of the few hundred students who reside in the Sagebrush area would, for Glendale Unified, equate to a $2.7-million reduction in enrollment funds annually, the district said.

Glendale school officials warned the financial hit could result in 10 teacher layoffs and the potential closure of a school. However, those warnings came even as Glendale Unified avoided any layoffs during several years of consecutive budget cuts and after school officials assured residents in 2014 they would not close a school upon losing the Sagebrush territory.

Spanish textbook stirs concerns among parents

In June, the Glendale Unified School Board adopted a new Spanish language textbook series named "¡Qué chévere!" despite concerns from some teachers who said the book was not in line with academic standards.

Following the board's adoption, some parents took a closer look at the book's content and raised allegations that the book reinforced negative stereotypes about Hispanic cultures and women.

Some parents took issue with a line about Mexican cuisine that read: "'Excuse me waiter, there's a fly in my soup.' Well, in some Mexican dishes, it might be part of the recipe!"

The line aimed "to connect a current trend in Mexican cuisine with the pre-Hispanic custom of eating insects as a protein source," according to EMC Publishing, which ultimately changed the line to read: "In some Mexican dishes, insects might be part of the recipe."

Despite the change, the school board voted in September to rescind the adoption. Staff also proposed a new system for inviting parents to review textbooks before they go to the board for consideration.

State ordered to pay Glendale more than $40M

The California Department of Finance was ordered to pay Glendale more than $40 million, which it owes as part of loans tied to the city's now defunct Redevelopment Agency.

The result stems from a dispute over loans Glendale made to the agency during the past 40 years to aid in revitalization projects. The state government dismantled the redevelopment program in 2011 and attempted to repay loans received through various redistribution methods until eventually alleging Glendale was disqualified from recouping the money, despite the city's cooperation.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang shot down the state finance department's claim that Glendale lacked documentation of compliance and that the state could retroactively reject old loans.

"The record shows that [the department of finance] has had multiple opportunities to review the Oversight Board's approval of the loan agreements and that [the finance department] has already reviewed the loan agreement and determined that they are enforceable obligations," Chang wrote in her February ruling.

The Alex Theatre reverses its deficit

The Alex Theatre celebrated its 90th anniversary this year and the milestone was made all the more sweeter after it reported a $148,000 gain in its first fiscal-year quarter.

Around the same time last year and in 2014, the Alex Theatre was facing a six-figure deficit. This year, it was able to post a gross amount of $430,000 before paying into other expenses, according to a city staff report.

Elissa Glickman, chief executive of Glendale Arts, the nonprofit that oversees the Alex Theatre, attributed the net gain to strong fundraising and bucking the trend of a normally slow summer for productions.

A $5.2-million renovation of the venue completed in 2014 also helped, Glickman added, because it can now bring in larger productions that can generate more revenue.

Donors also contributed more than $65,000.

Glendale Unified hires new superintendent

For eight months, Glendale Unified operated under three different interim superintendents until this past February. That's when the school board ended a national search for a permanent hire and voted to bring on Winfred Roberson Jr. to oversee the district's 30 schools.

Roberson's unanimous appointment also made history. He is the first black superintendent to lead Glendale Unified since its inception in 1913.

His four-year contract began April 1 and lasts through March 31, 2020.

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