The final City Council candidate forum this week further teased out differences and similarities between the five vying for a single open seat on June 3.
The candidates disagreed on issues from pension reform to bicycle infrastructure improvements at the Thursday event hosted by the Rossmoyne Mountain Homeowners Assn. at the Glendale YWCA.
Candidates Mike Mohill, Rick Barnes and Vartan Gharpetian opposed — to varying degrees — adding bike lanes to main arterial streets. Paula Devine, on the other hand, said the future of Glendale is multi-modal and the council should embrace improving the bike infrastructure. Chahe Keuroghelian said his support for bike lanes would vary depending on the neighborhood, although he added that putting in bicycle lanes by taking away street surface from drivers could be dangerous.
As for pension reform, Mohill unsuccessfully called on his opponents to join him in pledging to swap Glendale’s current pension system for 401(k) plans, continuing his doomsday politics regarding the city’s pension system, which is 84% funded by the city, a threshold commended by retirement experts.
It would cost Glendale $578 million to pull out of its current pension system, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, according to a city report. That’s more than two-thirds of the current total city budget proposed for next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Devine said during the 10-month term on council — which is shorter than the typical four years because this will be a special election to replace an appointed council member — she would put pension reform at the forefront.
After the forum, she said she would push for a “blue-ribbon” panel helmed by a pension expert to recommend changes for new employees.
Glendale adopted several changes for new hires, such as increasing the retirement age, as part of a new state law, last year. Glendale’s highest pensioner is set to make more than $211,000 annually in 2039, while the average retiree would make about $39,000 per year, according to city records.
This year, Glendale’s pension costs, minus employee cost-sharing, was $18.9 million, but that amount is expected to climb to $34.4 million by 2021.
Despite their differences, all five candidates unanimously agreed on two issues.
They all would support a slow-down in development as Glendale continues to experience one of the largest multiunit housing building booms in decades. In addition, the candidates would not approve transferring money from Glendale Water & Power to the General Fund, which pays for police, parks and other general services, if it prompted utility rate increases.
For years, the council has approved transferring more than $20 million from the utility to the General Fund and, at the same time, approved utility rate increases. Meanwhile, officials plan to continue to reduce the transfer by about $250,000 annually, according to a city report. They began that reduction this fiscal year.
The legality of the transfer is currently in question as two separate groups — the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, a city union, and a community group called Coalition for a Better Government — both sued the city in Los Angeles Superior Court this year over the practice.
While legal proceedings remain ongoing, all of the candidates said, even if it was found to be legal to move the money from one fund to the other, they would not support doing so if it would increase rates.
That’s a contrast from current council members, who have said they support the transfer because they do not want to cut library and other quality-of-life services, steps they’d have to take if the transfer ended.