Political Landscape: Panel will discuss Station fire problems

Members of Congress are coming to Pasadena next week to hear about problems during the Station Fire, but Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich already knows what he wants Congress to do.

In an interview, he said he wants the U.S. Forest Service to allow night flights to battle blazes, which would require a reversal of current policy. He wants the agency to have more and better mechanized firefighting equipment. He wants the feds to allow Los Angeles County Fire Department to take the lead the next time a blaze breaks out in the local mountains.

Antonovich expressed frustration that the federal government has not moved more quickly. "Look how long ago the fire was and where we are today," he said. "We're still talking.

"Because our county is faced with the fire season, I would have expected the federal government to move expeditiously to resolve the problems that took the lives of two of our firefighters and burned 160,000 acres."

The congressional panel will hear from state and federal firefighting authorities, as well as residents and environmental advocates. It takes place Tuesday, Oct. 12, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the U.S. Court of Appeals Building, 125 S. Grand Ave., Pasadena.

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Gatto aides want restraining order

Two aides to Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake) testified in court earlier this month that videographer Pete Musurlian intimidated them at political events. They are asking a judge for a restraining order to bar Musurlian from coming near them.

At an Oct. 1 hearing at Los Angeles Superior Court in Burbank, senior field representative Stacey Brenner and aide Christina Aghakhani said Musurlian accosted them on two occasions: once at an April candidate forum and once at a town hall meeting in July. Musurlian, who has not yet testified in the proceedings, denies the claims.

The case stems primarily from Gatto's July 24 town hall meeting at Glendale's Central Library.

At that meeting, Aghakhani and other Gatto aides told Musurlian, who had set up his video camera in the back of the room, that library rules barred him from filming inside without prior permission. Glendale police officers ultimately escorted Musurlian outside. He later returned without his video gear and observed Gatto's discussion of the state budget in front of an audience of about 30 people.

Aghakhani claims that Musurlian attempted to intimidate her before he was forced to remove the camera. "He leaned toward me and said, 'You are a disgrace to the Armenian race. You better watch your back,'" Aghakhani testified.

"I felt threatened," she said. "I felt violated."

Brenner testified that Musurlian is known among Gatto staffers for his aggressive attempts to capture the Assemblyman on videotape. He then posts controversial videos , which she said casts the lawmaker in a negative light.

She said that at an April 5 candidate forum, Musurlian ripped a sheaf of papers from her hand and put his camera too close to those he was taping. Asked about Musurlian's camera, Brenner said, "It is most definitely a weapon."

While Brenner and Aghakhani were represented by an attorney, Rhett Francisco of Encino, Musurlian acted as his own lawyer.

Musurlian cross-examined Aghakhani and Brenner, and showed a videotape that captured part of the encounter at the library. The two sides have filed competing documents giving different sides of a dozen clashes, dating back to March, between Musurlian and Gatto's staff.

Musurlian, through his questions and comments, alleged that the charges against him are part of politically-motivated "smear campaign" from the Gatto camp and powerful Democrats. He said Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and others have tried to quiet him or influence the case.

Superior Court Judge William Stewart was not interested in the alleged political skullduggery or claims about Sherman.

"He never called me," Stewart told Musurlian. "I'm the only one who can influence this case."

Stewart also seemed removed from the political hurly-burly. When Aghakhani explained that the library meeting involved the assemblyman from the 43rd District, Stewart asked, "Is that around here someplace?"

The hearing is scheduled to resume on Oct. 22.

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Taxpayers Assn. endorses Ramani

The political action committee of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. has endorsed Burbank businessman Sunder Ramani in the Nov. 2 election for the 43rd Assembly District. Ramani, a Republican, is running against Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake). Gatto defeated Ramani in June to win the right to complete the term of former Assemblyman Paul Krekorian.

"Sunder Ramani will be a powerful advocate for fiscal accountability and legislative reform," Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association President Jon Coupal said in a statement.

Ramani, a former chairman of the Burbank Chamber of Commerce and a member of the National Federation of Independent Business board, has said that if elected he will oppose any new state taxes.

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Brown receives endorsement from ANC

The Armenian National Committee of America, Western Region, has endorsed Jerry Brown for governor of California. Brown, the current state attorney general and former governor, faces Republican Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay, on Nov. 2.

The ANC cited Brown's support of the effort to gain official recognition of the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in the 1920s. "We urge all Armenian-Americans to cast their vote for Jerry Brown, a proven ally whose contributions to our issues have spanned the course of almost 40 years," Aida Dimejian, Chair of the ANCA Western Region board of directors, said in a statement.

FOR THE RECORD: This corrects an earlier version that mistated the title of Stacey Brenner.

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