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Year in Review: Fire, crime, big changes in the Jewel City

Year in Review: Fire, crime, big changes in the Jewel City
Residents watch the La Tuna brushfire in the Verdugo Mountains above La Crescenta from Deukmejian Wilderness Park on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017. (Roger Wilson / Glendale News-Press)

La Tuna fire scorches Burbank and Glendale hillsides

While most people would spend their Labor Day weekends going to the beach or having a barbecue, Burbank and Glendale residents living in the foothills had to deal with mandatory evacuations and falling ash because of the La Tuna fire.

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The brush fire raged for over a week in the Verdugo Mountains, and firefighters from across the Southland pitched in to help battle the blaze. By the time it was extinguished, the La Tuna fire burned more than 7,000 acres and destroyed 10 buildings.

Although the fire has long been snuffed out, its impact is still felt as authorities have expressed concerns about potential mudslides during the wet season in areas charred by the flames.

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La Crescenta woman remains missing

Friends and family of Elaine Park continue to be haunted by the mystery surrounding the 21-year-old’s disappearance.

The La Crescenta woman has been missing since Jan. 28, having been last seen leaving her ex-boyfriend’s Calabasas home. Her car was discovered two days later abandoned along Pacific Coast Highway with several personal items like Park’s laptop and cellphone left inside.

Authorities combed through the surrounding area, both by land and sea, for any sign of Park but eventually suspended their search after finding nothing.

Several rewards have been offered since Park’s disappearance for any information on her whereabouts, but she remains missing.

Community comes to terms with park’s Nazi past

A community confronted its Nazi past in late-August with the erection of a historical marker at Crescenta Valley Regional Park.

The sign depicted the area’s German American roots but also acknowledged its past ties to Nazi Germany. The new marker replaced an old sign that welcomed residents to Hindenburg Park — which a portion of the park was once called.

Because it was named after former German President Paul von Hindenburg, critics of the old signed called it a callback to Nazi atrocities and the area’s Nazi past.

During his tenure, Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler as Germany’s chancellor. Historians view the move as a contributing factor to the rise of Nazi Germany.

During the rise of Nazi Germany, several pro-Nazi rallies were held on the park’s grounds.

City sees a rise in homicides for 2017

Glendale saw a spike in homicides during 2017 with three people being murdered within the city; in 2016 only one person was killed.

Fredrick Ford was the first reported homicide in the city this year. On June 30, the 51-year-old was stabbed near his apartment in the 1200 block of East Harvard Street.

His alleged killer, 31-year-old Ernest Culbertson, was arrested on suspicion of murder. According to Glendale police, he confessed to the crime.

However, before his case could go to trial, Culbertson killed himself on July 5 while in custody.

Hye Soon Oh was the second homicide in the city.

The 67-year-old was shot on Aug. 8 in the 2900 block of Montrose Avenue. She was in the parking garage of her apartment complex, having just arrived home from her business in Lynwood, when she was approached by someone who had followed her.

A struggle ensued, and she was fatally wounded.

Police eventually linked 20-year-old Devon White to the shooting. His case is currently going through the court system.

Mary Gligorov-Meeker, 42, was the city’s third death, having been shot and killed by her ex-husband on Sept. 23.

The incident was ruled a murder-suicide by authorities as Gligorov-Meeker’s ex-husband shot himself after murdering her.

The two were discovered by family members at a home in the 1500 block of East Windsor Road.

Cupcake ratatouille

Shoppers at the Americana at Brand got a small surprise several months ago when a rat was spotted scurrying around the inside of a Sprinkles Cupcakes at the outdoor mall.

A video of the encounter was uploaded to YouTube in June, but it was unknown when it was recorded. A woman could be heard in the video screaming the rat was “in everything.”

However, the rat was running through empty display cases at the store and it did not appear to get into any cupcakes.

The company issued a response in the wake of the video going viral that stated it had addressed the issue with its employees as well as the Americana.

Vegas tragedy strikes Glendale

Two Glendale firefighters were among the thousands of people who were shot at by a lone gunman in Las Vegas on Oct. 1.

Jason Bess and Steven Keys were enjoying a night out with friends and family at the Route 91 Harvest Festival when the first shots rang out around 10:05 p.m.

In the aftermath of the shooting, Bess spent over two hours administering first aid the people who were wounded during the chaos.

Keys also helped give first aid to people who were wounded during the shooting, but for some it was too late. The firefighter was wounded himself when a bullet grazed his torso.

The two firefighters were commended for their actions later that month at the Glendale Fire Department’s awards luncheon.

A 32-year-old woman who lived in Eagle Rock and worked in Glendale was one of the 59 people who were killed in the Vegas shooting.

Michelle Vo was a recent convert to country music and the festival was her first concert as a new fan of the genre.

Nestlé announces its departure from Glendale

After nearly three decades in Glendale, food company Nestlé USA announced in January that by the end of 2018, it will be leaving the Jewel City and relocating its U.S. headquarters — along with the bulk of its 1,200 jobs — to Rosslyn, Va.

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According to spokesperson Edie Burge, the company will begin shifting about 750 jobs to its new location in Virginia and 300 to Solon, Ohio, as a way to station itself closer to a majority of the company's stateside business operations and customers.

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The announcement was made without the knowledge of city officials who have since expressed optimism for new tenants to the 518,302-square-foot space.

As a result of the move, Glendale officials created a team tasked with block-by-block outreach toward the city’s businesses to better measure business satisfaction and the city’s growth.

Section of 134 Freeway to be named after President Obama

A little more than a year ago, state Sen. Anthony Portantino introduced a resolution to name a portion of the 134 Freeway that runs from Glendale and into Eagle Rock the President Barack H. Obama Freeway and in September, lawmakers gave their approval.

Portantino’s resolution was inspired by Obama’s time living in Southern California, where he used that section of the 134 Freeway to travel to and from his home in Pasadena and Occidental College in Eagle Rock, which he attended from 1979 until he transferred to Columbia University in 1981.

“I am so proud to have authored this proposal to forever appreciate and commemorate President Obama’s tremendous legacy, statesmanship and direct connection to Southern California,” Portantino said in a statement earlier this year.

The cost of signs for naming other stretches of freeways in honor of public figures, such as the Ronald Reagan (118) Freeway in Simi Valley, has ranged from $3,000 to $7,000, according to previous Caltrans estimates.

City manager leaves Glendale

After six years, the city of Glendale is again without a permanent city manager, as Scott Ochoa announced his resignation to take the top management job with the city of Ontario.

Ochoa’s last day with Glendale was Nov. 17, and three days later he began a four-year employment contract with Ontario to serve as its city manager as well as executive director of the Ontario Housing Authority.

Former Ontario City Manager Al C. Boling — who has served in that top position since December 2013 — announced he would step down due to family issues.

Ochoa is now serving a slightly smaller population — roughly 173,000 residents compared to nearly 201,000 residents in Glendale — but will receive a pay increase from his previous $275,000 plus benefits to an annual salary of $310,000 plus benefits, according to the Ontario city clerk’s office.

Deputy City Manager Yasmin Beers was selected to be Glendale’s interim city manager.

North Glendale gets a little quieter

In a combined effort by Glendale officials and Metrolink, train horns will (mostly) no longer bother residents living in or near the Pelanconi Estates neighborhood as the city instituted a railroad “quiet zone” at nearby railroad crossings.

The “quiet” crossings are located at Grandview Avenue, Sonora Avenue and Flower Street along San Fernando Road, where previously, trains were required by the Federal Railroad Administration to alert nearby drivers at public, highway-grade crossings with their horns.

Trains will still sound their horns as a warning in case of a pedestrian or vehicle blocking the tracks.

In 2016, the Glendale City Council unanimously approved a series of safety infrastructure improvements — funded by a portion of $1.5-million in street enhancements — that would grant the San Fernando crossings a quiet-zone status. These included new signage, fences and railings.

Those final improvements were the tail end of of a broader effort that began a decade ago between the city and Metrolink toward making the necessary safety additions that would result in approval of a quiet zone along the Glendale corridor.

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