Top stories of 2013: Political shifts topped Burbank headlines

Burbank marked a busy, busy year in 2013. The City Council welcomed a new member and ushered out a five-term councilman. Many of the top positions in city government — police chief, fire chief and city manager — were either hired or had their position made permanent. The long-awaited Verdugo Pool opened, voters approved a $110-million school bond measure, and a Burbank police officer, involved in a strange love triangle, was indicted for supposedly lying to investigators.

The city was not without its tragedies, too. A body of a missing Burbank man was found off the Angeles Crest Highway, and five teenagers died in a fiery crash. The driver of the car had evidence of drugs and alcohol in his system, which investigators say may have been responsible.


In this year's municipal election, voters brought a new face to the City Council, while also booting out a familiar one, changing the dynamic of the city's governing body.

During the February primary, Bob Frutos was elected outright, bypassing the need to compete in the general election, forcing the three incumbents — Jess Talamantes, David Gordon and Dave Golonski — to a match-up in which only two seats remained.

Golonski — who first took office a few months after Bill Clinton became president — lost his bid in April for an unprecedented sixth term.

Since taking office, Frutos has aligned more with Gordon, a controversial figure who often stands alone on issues.

It's a stark contrast from the council dynamic before the election, during which Gordon and Golonski often butted heads.

Also, for the first time after seven years on the council, Gordon was selected as the city's vice mayor.

The largely ceremonial post, which requires the approval of the council, is almost always the step prior to becoming the city's mayor, an annual rotating position that has so far eluded Gordon.

Management changes in top city positions

The different makeup of the Burbank City Council wasn't the only change among top city leaders.

The council in June hired Mark Scott as the city's top executive after a six-month search that included months of closed-door meetings and public forums.

The Fresno-native spent two decades building his career in the city of Beverly Hills — while living in Glendale — six years leading Spartanburg, S.C. before a brief stint managing Culver City and, most recently, three years helping to stabilize his hometown after the crippling effects of the economic recession.

When he was hired, he became the highest paid public official in the tri-city region, with a nearly $300,000 salary.

Additionally, Scott LaChasse was hired as the city's permanent police chief in April, roughly three years after the top cop was brought on to reform a police department that at the time was facing allegations of discrimination and excessive force.

Tom Lenahan, a 25-year fire department veteran, was named the city's fire chief after former Fire Chief Ray Krakowski retired late last year.

Verdugo pool reopens

After years of anticipation and delays, the city opened the Verdugo Aquatic Center in June after it underwent a $7.3-million renovation.

On top of that, the Burbank City Council signed off on plans to keep it open year round — at least for a yearlong pilot period.

The aquatic center features an Olympic-size pool, an "aquatic playground" with two water slides and a play area for kids, new locker rooms, bathrooms and first aid and lifeguard offices.

Officials said running the facility year round would cost $180,154, but added that they expect to generate $145,585 in revenue through pool rentals and program fees, leaving the cost to the city at roughly $35,000.

Recreational swimming costs $2 for resident children and $4 for adults. It costs an extra $2 to access the activity pool.

The renovation had its share of setbacks.

Closed in 2008, the pool was originally projected to reopen in the fall of 2011. Then it was pushed to the following summer. And again to the following Memorial Day weekend.

But when the pool was finally opened over the summer, hundreds flocked to the new facility to cool off from the summer heat.

BPOA president is fired

The president of the Burbank Police Officers' Assn. was fired in July, nearly two months after being placed on administrative leave.

City officials continue to decline to divulge details of Mark Armendariz's termination.

Armendariz, however, has requested his case be reviewed by an arbitrator, who will hear the case and issue an advisory decision to the city manager.

The city's top executive will then make the final call on whether to uphold the termination.

Dates for the administrative proceedings have not yet been set, officials said.

Burbank Police Sgt. Claudio Losacco, former vice president of the association, assumed the role as union president.

Missing man

Reports of a missing Burbank man spread through social media over the summer, leaving the public on alert and prompting police, the man's family and strangers to search for clues about his disappearance.

Gevork Boyadzhyan was last seen leaving his home on the evening of July 20.

At about 8:30 p.m., he sent a text message to a friend that read "Call me."

The friend returned the call an hour later, but Boyadzhyan's phone had been turned off.

The following morning, Boyadzhyan didn't show up to give his mother a ride to the airport.

Since then, no activity has been reported on his credit cards, and there has been no sign of him at local hospitals or jails, according to his family.

Two months after he was reported missing, Boyadzhyan's Lexus sedan, along with human remains, were located off Angeles Crest Highway.

Los Angeles County Coroner's officials identified the body last week as Boyadzhyan's.

Five die in fiery crash

Shock waves were sent through the Burbank community in September when a fiery wreck claimed the lives of five young people and left one severely injured.

Those killed — Stephen Stoll, 23, Malak Hariri, 19, Sugey Cuevas, 19, Sebastian Forero, 20, and Sameer Nevarez, 18 — had all graduated from Burbank schools within the last several years.

The lone survivor, Savannah Underwood, 18, managed to crawl out of the vehicle before it caught fire. She sustained broken bones in her right leg and a crushed pelvis from the crash.

Earlier this month, the public learned that alcohol, drugs and a high rate of speed were involved in the deadly crash, with the driver Stoll having a blood alcohol level more than twice the legal limit, according to toxicology reports.

Stoll also reportedly had marijuana in his system.

The other four passengers killed also had alcohol in their systems. According to the records released, the victims were seen drinking at a house party.

In the weeks after the accident, friends said the deadly crash was a wake-up call for Burbank's youth.

Shortly after the crash, a friend of the victims created an online pledge in which she vowed never to allow herself, or others, to drink and drive.

More than 600 others — friends and family of the victims, along with strangers — followed suit.

Valento case

A veteran Burbank police officer was indicted last month on federal corruption charges for his involvement in an alleged bribery scheme involving his girlfriend and her estranged husband.

The officer, Anthony Valento, 42, pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Valento is accused of agreeing to attempt to influence prosecutors to reduce or dismiss domestic violence charges against his girlfriend's estranged husband, Jeremy Bassett, in exchange for money for his girlfriend, Gayle Bassett, as part of the pair's divorce settlement, records show.

Additionally, Valento is accused of falsifying records and disabling his patrol car's GPS device to make it appear as though he was working when he was not, according to the indictment.

Valento remains on paid administrative leave with the Burbank Police Department, according to city officials.

Burbank Police Chief Scott LaChasse called the alleged misconduct of a Burbank police officer "an isolated incident" that didn't involve any other police personnel.

Burbank voters approve Measure S school bond

The thought of securing $110 million for long overdue upgrades to Burbank Unified schools had school board members knocking on doors and former Mayor Marsha Ramos distributing thousands of yard signs and rallying stakeholders across Burbank as the appointed leader of the Measure S campaign.

In March, Burbank voters responded. Of the 6,595 votes counted, 4,053, or 61.5%, were in favor of the bond, according to the Los Angeles city clerk's office, which administered the election.

The $110-million Measure S bond comes 16 years after voters approved the 1997 bond, and school officials have expressed their goal to remain transparent as they tackle spending plans.

As of Nov. 30, a district report stated Burbank Unified had spent $3.5 million of the first $40 million in bond funds that have been issued.

The bond funds have so far allowed the district to invest in its technological infrastructure, replace and repair roofs, asphalt and playgrounds.

Outside spending impacts local school board race

When school board member Charlene Tabet won her seat on the board in April, she had raised $650 in direct contributions to her campaign, but benefited from tens of thousands of dollars more from the indirect contributions of political action committees.

The Sacramento-based Alliance for California Tomorrow spent about $12,000 for mailers and phone banking in support of Tabet's candidacy as of April 3, days ahead of the April 9 election.

By mid-March, two political action committees of StudentsFirst, led by controversial educator Michelle Rhee, had spent $26,000 on promotional material supporting the campaigns of Tabet and unsuccessful candidate David Dobson.

Meanwhile, the political action committee of the Burbank Teachers Assn. spent about $2,000 on postage and postcards opposing her.

The political action committee of the Burbank Teachers Assn. had sunk $26,479 into the race as of April 3. The group supported Steve Ferguson's campaign from the start, as well as that of Armond Aghakhanian, who failed to move past the primary election.


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