The Top 10 Stories Of 2009

Station blaze gets nation’s attention

1 The foothill communities of La Crescenta, La Cañada Flintridge and North Glendale were thrust into the national spotlight in September when residents found themselves on the front lines of the largest fire in Los Angeles County history.

The Station fire, which started Aug. 26 as a small 30-acre blaze about a mile above the Angeles Crest Fire Station, began drawing attention and resources from the then-larger Morris Fire in Azusa when a towering column of ash and smoke rose from the Angeles National Forest the next day.

Spurred by triple-digit temperatures and low humidity, the blaze grew rapidly, pushing firefighters to their limits and inspiring a sweeping call for aid that drew resources from as far as West Virginia and Alaska during a monthlong effort to contain the fire.

Firefighters initially had more than 20% containment of the blaze and were making progress in rounding the flames, but officials said poor weather conditions and visibility prevented overnight operations from water-dropping aircraft, allowing the fire to rage through the forest out of control.

Airborne debris from the fire collected as the flames spread, transforming into a massive mushroom cloud that was visible from throughout the county.

Officials briefly lost all containment of the fire, which grew to 5,100 acres in two days and was at 105,000 acres after six days with 5% containment.

Feeding off dry brush, much of which hadn’t been burned in more than three decades, the fire eventually expanded to 160,577 acres, encompassing more than a quarter of the forest after having destroyed 90 structures.

Two county firefighters died while battling the blaze, which officials determined was intentionally started.

Even after the fire was contained on Oct. 16, its aftermath has continued to present problems for residents.

Charred hillsides, left bare of vegetation from the flames, have been identified as major hazards for mudflows into nearby communities, with the U.S. Geological Survey estimating a 60% to 80% chance of high-volume debris flows in the foothills over the next three to five years.

And concerns have persisted about poor firefighting decisions that may have allowed the fire to expand at a time that it could have been countered more aggressively.

Elected representatives have called for inquiries into the U.S. Forest Services position that rugged terrain prohibited the use of air tankers and helicopters for battle the fire.

Canyon resident’s water bill overflows

2 Officials, residents and experts were baffled in October when a resident received a water bill for 1.5 million gallons during a two-month period.

The bill, which was eventually rescinded after public debate regarding its legitimacy, would have charged Chevy Chase Canyon resident Escott Norton $5,474 for using enough water to overflow a 3.5-foot-deep pool the size of a football field.

Glendale Water & Power had investigated Norton’s water meter and found that its reading had been accurate, but could not account for where the water had gone during that period.

Hydrologists could not explain where the water might have gone and argued that even if Norton’s home had an underground leak, it would have created massive puddles or sunk the structure into the ground.

Norton argued that if he had been stealing the water, he would have had to have filled six 4,000-gallon water tankers daily, working around the clock, or run a hose line directly into a storm drain or other location to account for that much water being taken without noticeable puddles or streams flowing from his property.

Utility officials argued that the meter was correct and agreed to let Norton pay for his bill in $950 monthly installments, but eventually backed down and offered him a refund.

A month later the utility erroneously sent a bill for more than $30,000 to a North Glendale resident.

The bill was a result of a data-entry mistake by a trainee and was revised, officials said.

Incumbents lose seats to challengers

3 It was a year of upsets in local elections as voters in several races ousted longtime incumbents in favor of challengers.

In April’s City Council election, Councilman Bob Yousefian, a two-term incumbent, lost his seat while challenger Laura Friedman was the top vote-getter. Council incumbents Ara Najarian and Frank Quintero rounded out the No. 2 and No. 3 spots, respectively.

Many credited Friedman’s win to a largely grassroots campaign. She started campaigning months ahead of the other candidates, holding small meet-and-greets in living rooms throughout the city as early as October. The election was also marked by significant fundraising on behalf of Friedman and the three incumbents.

During her time so far on the dais, Friedman has been vocal in supporting bicycle and pedestrian improvements, environmentally friendly building practices and improving the artistic and cultural offerings in a city largely known for its retail centers.

In the election for the Glendale Unified School District Board of Education, newcomer Christine Walters unseated 12-year incumbent Chuck Sambar. Walters earned her place on the board with the third most of the 55,263 votes cast. Incumbents Greg Krikorian and Joylene Wagner were reelected.

And in one of the most competitive races in recent years for the Crescenta Valley Water District Board of Directors, two incumbents lost their seats in November.

Challengers Kerry Erickson and James Bodnar and incumbent Richard Atwater won the three available seats on the district’s five-person board, while incumbent board president Vasken Yardemian and incumbent director Charles Beatty were unseated.

Though candidate forums during the campaign saw meager attendance, the election represented a more than 40% jump in turnout from the 2007 election, when about 1,000 residents cast ballots.

Protocol on Armenia- Turkey talks panned

4 Thousands of people came to Glendale from across the state in late September to rally against the protocols for new talks between Armenia and Turkey.

The talks were part of a “road map” agreed upon last spring for normalizing diplomatic relations between Turkey and Armenia and opening the border between them. The two countries have long clashed over the mass killings of Armenians in 1915 at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey has refused to categorize the deaths as genocide and has strongly fought against any formal recognition of the massacres.

The thousands of protesters who gathered in Pelanconi Park on Sept. 27 said they wanted to send a message to Armenia’s government to not approve the protocols, which they argued were unfair to Armenia’s history.

The following week, a group of local youths staged a hunger strike in front of the Armenian Consulate on Glenoaks Boulevard

The Armenian Youth Federation and members of the Stop the Protocols campaign organized the 96-hour hunger strike with more than 30 protesters. Organizers said they were most enraged about the proposed formation of a historical commission to look into the validity of the Armenian Genocide.

Despite the protests, which took place in locations across the world, Armenian and Turkish leaders approved the agreement in October.

The Armenian National Committee of America denounced the agreement, which it saw as a backward step encouraged by the Obama administration and Turkey. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), who has pushed for federal genocide recognition, was also critical of the protocols.

$9.7M budget shortfall puts City Hall on edge

5 Faced with major drops in property and sales tax revenue, the City Council this year was forced to institute widespread budget cuts to fill a $9.7-million shortfall.

Nearly all of the cuts came out of the city’s $164.8-million general fund budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 and included millions in savings from wage concessions, a hiring freeze, the elimination or downgrading of roughly 30 positions and a restructuring of the way the city pays for street and capital improvements.

The budgeting process kept City Hall on edge for months, even as the City Council managed to avoid unpopular mandatory unpaid work furloughs or widespread layoffs. The citywide cuts started in the spring as city officials proposed mid-year budget reductions to begin to shore up a projected deficit for the coming fiscal year.

At the same time, state legislators struggled to balance a $24-billion deficit, a looming shadow that kept city officials wary of the state’s take away of local dollars.

The state budget cuts also a major impact to Glendale Unified School District and Los Angeles County health service programs. No teachers were laid off this year, but officials have warned more than 100 layoffs could come next school year.

The city’s budget woes also resulted in a major change to the way the Glendale Police Department operates on a daily basis.

In October, the department implemented a new area policing model, where the city is divided into four command areas, each overseen by a lieutenant who coordinates routine patrols and targeted enforcement of neighborhood safety issues.

Council members lauded the department for bringing the reorganization to the dais after the council had rejected proposed cuts to the department’s Vice Unit and other programs during the summer budgeting process.

While the budget cuts initially resulted in pink slips for three sworn officers, police officials in October said unexpected vacancies freed up budget dollars to keep the officers.

The changes have been overseen by Police Chief Ron De Pompa, who assumed the department’s top position on an interim basis when Randy Adams announced his retirement in June.

Earlier this month, the council unanimously confirmed De Pompa as the permanent chief, citing his strong leadership in overseeing the budget issues.  

College president resigns amid criticism

6 After months of mounting criticism, Audre Levy announced she would resign in May, leaving Glendale Community College without a superintendent/president to fill the shoes of John Davitt, who retired after 21 years in the position.

Levy worked three years at the college and her style was a shift toward a more hierarchal governance, a significant departure from Davitt’s open-door style.

She was credited with boosting attendance figures, expanding the health sciences program and updating college policies, as well as making the college more accessible with a parking structure and building up financial reserves.

But tempers flared when a leading faculty member presented a letter signed by 100 instructors that questioned the college Board of Trustees’ decision to buyout Levy’s contract for more than $300,000. The college faculty had recommended the trustees not extend Levy’s contract into 2009.

Trustees selected Dawn Lindsay to fill the position temporarily a few weeks after Levy announced her resignation. Lindsay’s appointment was quickly met with approval from college stakeholder groups and she reinstated a bottom up leadership style similar to Davitt’s.

The external consultant who is facilitating the superintendent search process said things will accelerate in March and trustees will interview perspective candidates in February and March 2010.

Economy puts stop to annual Love Ride

7 What would’ve been the 26th Annual Love Ride was canceled in October because of a sour economy, organizers said.

The event typically drew motorcycle riders from all over the Southwest in what organizers described as the largest one-day motorcycle charity event in the world. The Love Ride culminated with 20,000 riders who gathered in the Pomona Fairplex for a ZZ Top and Foo Fighters concert in 2008.

The event historically closed down much of South Brand Boulevard and transformed the street into a festival of exhibits, vendors and food.

But poor ticket sales and a difficulty in finding sponsorships sank the Love Ride. Organizers instead held a smaller-scale “Easy Rider” screening and autograph session with star Peter Fonda.

The ride began in 1984 as a way to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Assn. and swelled into a charity with 14 beneficiary organizations.

As a company, Harley-Davidson fell on hard times in the recession. It laid off 1,100 workers in January, and motorcycle sales for were projected to drop about 40% this year compared with 2008, according to an industry publication.

King of Pop, 50, is put to rest in Glendale

8 Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, was laid to rest Sept. 3 at Glendale Forest Lawn Memorial Park amid hoards of international media that amassed outside the cemetery’s gates.

Tight security and privacy measures taken by the Jackson family fueled a media frenzy outside the cemetery.

The Jackson family had originally scheduled his funeral service for Aug. 29 on what would have been his 51st birthday. But they later pushed his service to Sept. 3.

For Jackson’s burial, forest Lawn officials obtained several permits, which allowed Glendale Police to close off traffic on at least nine streets surrounding the cemetery to guard against prying eyes.

Street closures didn’t keep fans away from the cemetery. Dozens of admirers carried signs and cheered for Jackson outside police blockades.

Jackson was interred inside the Great Mausoleum’s Holly Terrace, where his family held an elaborate, private service. A portion of the ceremony was broadcast on major TV networks, but was discontinued at the commencement of the service. Jackson’s five brothers served as pallbearers and wore white gloves as they carried his casket.

His children placed a crown on his casket to signify the King of Pop’s final resting place.

Bank executive’s death is first homicide of year

9 A 35-year-old North Hollywood man was shot and killed July 22 while he was sitting in an SUV at a parking lot on the 300 block of West Colorado Street, police said.

Bank executive Ara Terunyan and his wife were visiting a doctor’s office about 11 a.m. when a gunman approached their car and fired shots through the driver’s-side window, police said.

The arriving officer administered CPR on Terunyan, but was unable to resuscitate him. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

After the shooting, the gunman ran south through the parking lot and got inside a blue, American-made getaway car, which took off on the Golden State (5) Freeway.

Police searched for the gunman and his accomplice, but were unable to locate them.

Hovik Dadasyan, a Terunyan family friend in Armenia, said he had no idea why the bank executive would be targeted. Dadasyan and Terunyan were listed as bank executives for Ararat Bank, which is based in the Armenian capital of Yerevan.

Terunyan’s death was the first homicide of the year, and police are still investigating his death.  

Congregation loses church in court battle

10 After a three-year legal battle, an Anglican congregation was forced to vacate St. Luke’s of Mountain Church on Foothill Boulevard in October so the property’s legal owner, the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, could take over.

The diocese took over the property while the Anglican congregation moved its services to the Seventh Day Adventist Church on Vallejo Drive in Glendale.

The congregation split in February 2006 and pledged allegiance with the Anglican Province of Uganda. They remained at St. Luke’s, arguing the property belonged to them, not the Episcopal Diocese.

In 2003, the now-Anglican parish began eliminating references to the Episcopal Church in their bylaws after an openly gay man was ordained as a bishop in New Hampshire earlier that year, though the congregation did not split from the church until 2006.

That year, the Episcopal Diocese sued St. Luke’s congregation after it joined the Anglican Province of Uganda.

On June 9, a state appellate court upheld a Los Angeles County Superior Court ruling in 2007 that the Episcopal Diocese had the right to restore the church to its authority after the current congregation severed ties.

But the Anglican congregation refused to give up. In December, the congregation petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court, asking them to review the state appellate court’s decision.

A answer from the high court isn’t expected until the spring.

Compiled by Zain Shauk, Melanie Hicken, Max Zimbert and Veronica Rocha

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