With the Glendale City Council expected to adopt a new set of tough zoning regulations one week before the most widely contested municipal election in the city’s history, interest in the council’s strategy to curb growth is rapidly gaining momentum.
To candidates, community groups and voters alike, the election has become a referendum on the council’s ability to plan and control growth in the city’s increasingly crowded residential neighborhoods.
“You bet this is a referendum,” said outgoing Councilman John F. Day, who has been the lone dissenter in many past council votes on development issues. Day’s last-minute announcement that he will not seek reelection brought many new contenders to the race.
‘Great Deal of Interest’
In addition to the 13 candidates--the most in city history--vying for three council seats in the April 4 election, at least six new community groups have joined the electoral process by sponsoring candidate forums or distributing questionnaires to candidates.
“People are showing a great deal of interest in this election, and they are concerned about growth, the pace of building and traffic congestion,” said Day, who has endorsed challenger Nida Solana Brown. “The choice is between supporting what the council has been doing or what the challengers advocate.”
The issue of controlling development has set the tone of the campaign, with most candidates seeking to portray themselves as the toughest on managing growth.
This week, several challengers attacked the incumbents for doing too little too late to stop the city’s overgrowth, and incumbents called the challengers’ promises unrealistic and opportunistic.
Moreover, several council foes have charged that scheduling the vote on the new zoning ordinance immediately before the election is a ploy by the incumbents and one challenger to appear tough on developers.
All 13 candidates have agreed many times at candidate forums that the city must take greater control over growth.
Six have track records on the subject, having participated in the zoning debate before becoming candidates. Yet in some cases, their past records do not consistently match their anti-growth campaign rhetoric.
Council incumbents Ginger Bremberg and Mayor Carl Raggio, as well as challenger Dick Jutras, former chairman of the Planning Commission, have been directly involved in framing the city’s growth-control policies--mainly the city’s 1986 downzoning ordinance, the apartment building moratorium adopted in September and the new zoning restrictions being reviewed by the council.
The other three, challengers Nida Solana Brown, Berdj Karapetian and Richard Diradourian, were active in the debate as opponents of the council’s growth control policies. They have said the policies are not only unfair to developers and property owners but also flawed and ineffective.
Among the other seven candidates, Ed Dorris has quietly supported the city’s zoning policies, while Robin Westmiller and Shirley Griffin have criticized the incumbents for not being tough enough.
Joe Ayvazi in turn has criticized the council for being too vague in spelling out its zoning policies and thus being unfair to developers. Gary Siglar, Richard Matthews and Richard Seeley have yet to take a clear position on the issue.
Jutras’ involvement dates back to 1986 when, as Planning Commission chairman, he recommended zoning restrictions to limit Glendale’s population to 200,000. That year, Bremberg and Raggio voted for the restrictions.
All three hailed the 1986 changes as historic decisions to curtail uncontrolled growth and piecemeal development.
Solana Brown resigned from the Planning Commission midway through evaluation of the 1986 changes, citing irreconcilable differences with Jutras and the rest of the commission. The zoning changes lowered the city’s property values, amounted to excessive downzoning and contained many loopholes, she said.
Even the incumbents now concede that the changes didn’t work.
The revisions limited the number of units developers were allowed to build on property but not the size of buildings. As a result, developers began erecting large four- and five-bedroom apartments instead, many of them boxlike structures that took up the entire lot.
In a move to end construction of these “giant cubes,” as Bremberg called them, the council ordered staff in September to draw up a new ordinance addressing the problem.
At the same time, with Bremberg and Raggio’s support, the council adopted an apartment building moratorium to prevent an overflow of building permit applications during reevaluation of the zoning code, as happened in 1986.
Last Tuesday, however, Solana Brown said during a candidate forum that the moratorium was a bad idea. She said it lowered residential property values while the city allowed the erection of office towers in Glendale’s booming downtown district. She said she favors an unspecified period of “no growth” until the city can overcome its parking, traffic congestion and school overcrowding problems.
Solana Brown was not the only candidate to criticize the moratorium.
At a public hearing three weeks after the freeze became effective, Diradourian was one of 28 developers, real estate agents and architects to voice opposition.
Diradourian said that even though he did not have a project delayed by the moratorium, he believed that the freeze unfairly penalized about 150 projects in the plan approval stage, thereby punishing developers who were following established procedures when they applied for building permits.
However, as a candidate, Diradourian has labeled himself as “the slow-growth candidate” and criticized the incumbents for quietly encouraging development downtown while closing the doors on apartment construction.
Developer Group Formed
The moratorium also prompted formation of a developer group called the Glendale Fair Growth Coalition, which soon emerged as the most vocal opponent of the moratorium and the zoning changes being evaluated by the council. Karapetian, a public relations executive, was hired by the coalition as its official spokesman.
For months, Karapetian took advantage of every opportunity to voice his client’s opposition to the retroactive aspect of the moratorium. Karapetian said it unfairly discriminated against developers who had already submitted their building plans in good faith.
As for the zoning changes that the city is considering, Karapetian criticized the council, claiming that members were paying token attention and virtually excluding the coalition from the decision-making process.
“Just because we are developers, everyone assumes we are the bad guys,” Karapetian said after a Jan. 9 Planning Commission meeting where the new changes were discussed. “But we agree that Glendale needs zoning changes and we want to participate in the process.”
Karapetian later said his personal views on the moratorium and the proposed zoning restrictions are not identical to those of the coalition, yet he acknowledged that his ideas are closer to those of the coalition than those of the City Council.
Meanwhile, acting on what he called “an informal request” by the City Council, Jutras in November formed an ad-hoc committee of real estate agents, developers and homeowners to study the proposed zoning changes.
Backed Modified Version
Unlike the Glendale Fair Growth Coalition and the homeowners associations, Jutras’ group met several times with the planning staff in private to discuss changes to the city proposal.
Eventually, the ad-hoc committee endorsed a slightly modified version of the staff proposal at a Planning Commission meeting Feb. 13.
Jutras has insisted throughout the campaign that his main assets are experience and his ability to work as a “team player,” the only candidate who has worked successfully with the City Council in the past.
Bremberg and Raggio make no apologies for their records on growth. “I’m proud of Glendale and I’m proud of our City Council,” Bremberg said at a forum Monday. “When we adopted the building moratorium, we said, ‘Enough is enough,’ ” agreed Raggio.
After six months of public comment and debate, the new zoning ordinance was placed on the agenda for the Feb. 28 City Council meeting. However, at Bremberg’s request, the council moved quickly to continue the item until March 28--one week before the election--to allow for more public comment.
The timing of the vote fueled speculation that Jutras delayed his report and that the council deliberately postponed acting on the changes to give a last-minute boost to Raggio and Bremberg’s campaigns.
‘Helping Each Other’
“It’s very apparent that they’re playing it up for the elections,” said Haik Vartanian, chairman of the Glendale Fair Growth Coalition.
“It seems to me Jutras, Raggio and Bremberg are part of the city’s good ol’ boys network and are helping each other,” Solana Brown charged.
On Monday, Raggio implicitly endorsed Jutras. “He is clearly the most experienced challenger, and we’ve worked together in the past,” Raggio said.
Bremberg, however, merely listed Jutras among the three or four challengers that she believes are qualified to be council members.
Among the seven candidates who did not participate in the city’s zoning debate before the election, Ayvazi, Griffin and Westmiller have made clear why they are unhappy with the status quo.
Ayvazi, a real estate broker and developer, has been challenged in the last year by a preservation group unhappy with his plans to build a 40-unit housing project for senior citizens in a U-shape around the E. D. Goode House, one of the last Queen Anne-style Victorian houses in Glendale.
The Friends of Heritage doggedly fought Ayvazi’s development plans for 18 months, but Raggio, Bremberg and the rest of the council voted twice to approve the developer’s project.
However, in his candidate statement, Ayvazi took a stab at the City Council by writing: “We need to plan our city’s future growth so that builders know up front what our city will and won’t permit.”
Westmiller and Griffin unloaded on the incumbents in every campaign stop for being too soft on growth. At the Woman’s Republican Glendale Study Club forum Monday, Westmiller accused the council of allowing the city’s “overcrowding, traffic and congestion.” And Griffin, the only representative of a homeowners association in the race, said the incumbents have done nothing to stop the “guerrilla developers who rape and pillage our hillsides.”
After the forum, Raggio responded: “None of the challengers, with the exception of Dick (Jutras), have done anything in the past four years to stop growth. I think their interest is belated.”
Added Bremberg: “Their demands are unrealistic. They obviously don’t know what City Council can and cannot do.”