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Council flip-flop on ordinance was a rare thing indeed

Upon learning there was community-wide opposition to a proposal

approved in June, last week, Glendale’s City Council members

overturned their own decision. No, they didn’t change their minds

about the 60% council pay raise. They celebrated the one-month

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anniversary of an ordinance providing for inspection of rental units

every three years by repealing the ordinance providing for inspection

of rental units every three years.

A council majority reversing itself is rare. The last example I

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can remember was in 1997, when the council reversed an approval for a

plan to remodel City Hall offices. That turnaround came when a

council member belatedly discovered there was some truth to

allegations about the remodel feathering official nests.

With the inspection ordinance, no new facts were uncovered.

Instead, the opponents simply didn’t give up, doubtless setting a

precedent for all future council actions. They multiplied, kept

howling long after the fat lady had sung, and applied particular

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pressure to two councilmen believed to aspire to higher office, or at

least to reelection in early 2003.

I remain puzzled by contradictions in the proclivities of Glendale

landowners, and this episode provides yet another example. That

“government” dared to inspect apartments every three years to assure

they meet minimum standards of habitability was characterized by

opponents as a treasonous intrusion, including comparisons to storm

troopers kicking in doors. But add a bathroom to your own house, and

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many of the same defenders of freedom don’t mind that a

council-appointed panel can tell you what color to paint the exterior

walls, or forbid your use of a square window where government

arbiters believe only a rectangle is acceptable.

Assuring that exposed wiring is rendered safe to protect a tenant

who fears being evicted if they complain is an outrageous

infringement on American principles. But if a panel of appointees

rejects your plan for a Craftsman-style home because a majority

prefers a Spanish style, that’s the city taking steps to protect

sacred “property values” from the dreaded ravages of personal choice.

I don’t claim one of these perspectives is pure and the other is

evil incarnate. But how both extreme attitudes live, thrive and even

multiply in the same community baffles me.

In a refreshing change, the repeal of the rental inspection

ordinance is something of a vindication for Councilman Dave Weaver.

When the ordinance was approved in a 4-1 vote, he was the holdout.

Some hope to milk the appearance created by the fact that Weaver is

the one who introduced the ordinance he later opposed, but it makes

more sense when you know the whole story.

“All the years I’ve been on the council, there has always been

talk about creating a rental inspection ordinance,” Weaver told me.

“I’ve never heard anyone suggest we shouldn’t have one of some kind.”

So, when city staff finally reached the point of proposing an

ordinance, “I was glad to be the one to introduce it” Weaver said.

It wasn’t until deliberations began that Weaver found cause for

concern. He asked city staff which groups had been given an

opportunity to review the plan while it was being developed.

At least in its most recent incarnation, City Hall wouldn’t

consider a sweeping policy for hillside development without urgently

asking the opinions of homeowner groups. The list of business groups

and business people consulted before a change in downtown parking

rules is considered is a long one. And, as seen in recent months, the

city doesn’t consider traffic-calming measures without at least

notifying residents of the affected areas that the issue is being

discussed.

So, obviously, a program compelling landlords to submit their

units to an inspection every three years was developed only after

hearing input from landlords.

Well, not exactly.

“I couldn’t believe it when I asked staff if the ordinance had

been looked at by different landlord and business groups, and the

answer on every one was no,” Weaver said. “That’s what made up my

mind.”

Agents for some of the groups did attend the June meeting, but

Weaver’s colleagues weren’t swayed by their arguments.

Those groups kept up the pressure even after the vote, perhaps

emboldened by their success months earlier in quashing the council’s

rent mediation program. In that case, a newly formed group of

landlords rushed in a plan to have landlords police themselves, and

the program has faded away into a meaningless fog.

Council members were deluged with complaints from landlord and

business groups after the inspection ordinance was approved, and the

pressure finally produced results.

Councilman Frank Quintero and Mayor Rafi Manoukian went along with

killing the ordinance, this while insisting inspections will not fade

away like rent mediation. “We are going to pass something to get

units inspected regularly,” Quintero told me. “And it’s not going to

take months or years to do it.” Councilman Bob Yousefian stood by his

support for the ordinance, and this time he was the lone holdout in a

4-1 vote.

Council discussion of the need for inspections leads to some odd

conclusions. That is, it almost appears a council majority would

approve of an ordinance that applies only to properties south of

Broadway, because one after another made references to the need being

in “south Glendale.”

Some truly ludicrous ideas were given more respect than they

deserved, such as allowing landlords to decide which unit in a

multi-unit building would be inspected, a representation of what

every unit in the building is like. That’s no more goofy than the

handful of tenants who worried that inspections are a government

scheme to invade private property and snoop.

Considering this city’s history, I won’t be surprised if the

inspection program ends up being voluntary, with landlords who allow

inspection of one unit being “rewarded” with shiny plaques for their

buildings. They’d announce every unit is a “100% Glendale Choice

Property.” Or, perhaps officials could arrange a trade in city

restrictions -- that is, allow inspectors to occasionally make sure

tenants don’t have to live with threats to health and safety that are

the landlord’s responsibility.

In exchange, the landlords could be allowed to paint a remodeled

structure whatever color they choose, or to build a home with a

Colonial design, even if some council appointees like English Tudor a

lot more.

* WILL ROGERS’ column appears Tuesdays and Fridays in the

News-Press. He can be reached 24 hours a day at 637-3200, voice mail

ext. 906, or by e-mail at WillColumn@aol.com.


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