News stories to keep tabs on in 2011

A federal grand jury investigation into millions in fraud allegedly perpetuated by an affordable housing developer. A small hotel owner's battle against a real estate giant. A manslaughter arrest for alleged texting while driving.

While these stories all took hold in 2010, they are some in a variety of issues that are sure to roll over into the coming year's news cycle.

Here's a look at stories to watch for in 2011:

ADI AND THE 2011 ELECTION: City Hall has been on edge for months since news broke in that prominent Los Angeles affordable hosing developer Advanced Development & Investment Inc. had allegedly bilked Glendale and other cities out of millions.

Since then, subcontractors, some who have received subpoenas as part of a federal grand jury investigation, have said they were pressured to donate to elected officials in cities where ADI had projects. In Glendale, money from ADI subcontractors represented more than $100,000 raised by the top four candidates in 2009.

And Glendale City Councilman John Drayman has acknowledged that several subcontractors were involved in a remodel of his condo, although he says he was unaware of the ADI connection at the time.

In coming months, expect continued revelations of the extent of the alleged fraud as well continued efforts from the city to recover the allegedly misused tax dollars.

The campaign donation funneled by ADI will also likely play a large role in the April City Council election, in which Drayman and Councilman Dave Weaver are expected to run for reelection against a long list of challengers.

BUDGET WOES AND UNION NEGOTIATIONS: Glendale city officials are already bracing for a General Fund budget deficit of as much as $8 million for the next fiscal year as pension and health-care costs continue to rise amid stagnant city revenues.

The City Council is expected to begin budget meetings early this year as they are forced to fill a significant budget gap for the fourth year in a row.

The budget crunch will likely mean another year of tough and potentially contentious negotiations with the city's employee unions.

With the city's pension obligations continuing to skyrocket, expect pension benefits to play a big part in the negotiations as city officials continue to push for a two-tier retirement system from the police and general employee unions. Scaled-back benefits for new hires have already agreed to by Glendale firefighters, managers and executives.

A bid from the Local 18 chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to represent a group of Glendale Water & Power employees will also be in the fray.

Meanwhile, officials in the Glendale Unified School District — which rescinded layoff notices this year only after receiving an infusion of federal cash — will be looking anxiously to the state budget in the wake of Governor-elect Jerry Brown's warning that this year's budget will likely include additional school funding cuts.

AMERICANA EXPANSION: In recent months the City Council has supported expansion plans from Americana at Brand developer Rick Caruso, which he says add 60,000 to 140,000 square feet of new retail space that would generate an estimated $800,000 in annual tax revenue for the city.

But Ray Patel — the owner of the Golden Key Hotel, one of the properties Caruso wishes to purchase — has so far indicated he does not wish to sell.

The Golden Key Hotel and adjacent empty building are in a redevelopment zone established in the 1970s, which gives the city the power of eminent domain, though city officials have said that process has not yet been discussed

The public tussle has already generated significant media attention and public opinions on both sides, so expect the issue to become larger and louder in 2011.

FOOTHILL EVACUATIONS: While a February debris flow caused major damage to La Canada homes last year, so far La Crescenta and north Glendale residents have yet to see major damage.

But with the threat deemed ongoing, foothill residents will likely see additional evacuation orders in the coming year during any major storms.

Residents say they have becoming increasingly disenchanted by evacuation orders and the news crews that invade their neighborhood anytime rain hits. But with the threat of a major debris flow expected to last for several years, this story will last through 2011 and years to come.

VOSKANIAN: When a 20-year-old Tujunga woman was arrested for vehicular manslaughter allegedly connected to texting while driving, media outlets across the country seized on the story.

The woman, Ani Voskanian, was taken into custody in December on one felony count of gross vehicular manslaughter after police said a nearly three-month investigation showed she was texting at the time she drove through a stop sign and killed 80-year-old Misak Ranjbar.

Elected officials and community members have pointed to the accident as a tragic example of Glendale's poor driving and pedestrian safety record.

Her attorney has since said the sun was in her eyes during the accident and that she was not texting. With Voskanian expected to enter a not guilty plead at her arraignment on Jan. 6, developments are likely in this story early this year.

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