City Council candidates talk 'McMansions,' utility transfers at forum

During a candidate forum on Wednesday, Glendale City Council candidates said they support copying a Los Angeles ordinance that limits building so-called McMansions on steep hills.

"That's just common sense. I have no problem with that," said Vartan Gharpetian, a business owner and city commissioner, during the forum hosted by the Chevy Chase Estates Homeowners Assn. and held at the Chevy Chase Country Club.


Mike Mohill, a retired businessman, concurred that the city should be more restrictive on hillside home sizes, agreeing with the Los Angeles rule signed into law in 2011 that uses a formula featuring parcel size, slope steepness and other criteria to set a maximum floor-area ratio.

"We don't need any landslides," he said.


But the self-proclaimed gadfly's answer seemed to be an about-face from his answer to the moderator's previous question, in which he asked candidates what they thought about the city's current hillside ordinance, which incorporates similar aspects in the Los Angeles one to determine home sizes.

For that question, Mohill took a property-rights approach, saying that he believed the city's hillside ordinance was too austere and, if city rules restrict one's use of their property, the city should buy the land.

All the other candidates said they supported the current hillside ordinance, but some, including Gharpetian and Paula Devine — a retired educator and city commissioner — called for fine-tuning.

Gharpetian suggested a study of homes that have been built since the ordinance was put in place to see if changes should be made, and Devine said the "application and interpretation" of the ordinance by city staff should be tightened.


Other matters brought up at the forum included the controversial annual transfer of about $20 million from Glendale Water & Power to the city's General Fund, which pays for police, parks and other general services as well as public safety communications.

Referring to a May 2013 brush fire that caused evacuations in the Chevy Chase canyon, the forum moderator, Leigh Torgerson, co-president of the association, asked candidates how they would improve police and fire communication as many residents were concerned about receiving contracting information during the fire depending on which public safety official they talked to.

Rick Barnes, a Realtor and former member of the Glendale Police Partnership Advisory Committee, said the city's "screwy leadership" and a "power struggle" between police and fire departments should be blamed for the miscommunication.

He went on to question the 2013 hire of Police Chief Rob Castro, the former police chief of Glendora, since Glendale had applicants who had commanded larger departments.

"They were so afraid to hire somebody that was smarter," Barnes said.

Castro wasn't sworn in until eight months after the fire and has been lauded by the current council and many officials in both the Glendora and Glendale police departments.

Reached by phone the day after the forum, Castro said Barnes had apologized to him personally for the comment and added that he and Fire Chief Harold Scoggins have put a plan in place to prevent a similar communication problem from reoccurring.

"I take him on his word," Castro said of the apology. "I have a lot of respect for Rick."


Barnes backpedaled Thursday when reached by phone, saying that he supports Castro. He said he didn't intend to criticize Castro, but rather the council's opaque hiring process.

Chahe Keuroghelian, a small business manager and former city commissioner, said he would increase technology, if needed, or encourage more disaster drills to better communication.

Mohill, who has called to get rid of Glendale's public safety departments and contract with Los Angeles County, said he thought the departments don't need to improve because "they're doing a pretty good job" cooperating.

While some candidates reiterated their opposition to the transfer from Glendale Water & Power, Devine and Gharpetian made some tweaks to their previous supportive positions.

At past forums, Devine and Gharpetian said they would continue the transfers, but on Wednesday, Devine said she would only approve a transfer of 25% of the surplus fund if it did not prompt electric-rate increases or bond issuances — both of which the council approved last year while making the transfer.

Gharpetian also said the transfer should only be from the surplus fund and Glendale Water & Power needs to focus on limiting spending.

Transfer opponents and supporters disagree on whether the city charter permits transferring 25% from the utility's total operating revenues or from a surplus fund. City officials say the former, critics the latter, adding that the transfer artificially boosts electricity rates.

Two lawsuits filed this year have requested an end to the transfer.


Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.


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