Smart meters, parade floats and political upsets: 2011 in review

Coyotes and Capote, political comebacks and smart meters, as well as controversy and intrigue in the quaint, but not-so-sleepy community of Montrose, gave us a year that included a fascinating set of story lines that will continue to reverberate into the New Year.

Here’s a look at some the more impactful news events of 2011.


Americana, Galleria go tit for tat

Rick Caruso’s ambition produced another year of tumult and change in Glendale’s downtown retail core.

After a public feud with Golden Key Hotel owner Ray Patel that turned up the heat on redevelopment and eminent domain powers, Caruso struck a deal in March to purchase the hotel, setting into motion a number of major changes for the area.

The biggest among them will be a new Nordstrom store that will anchor the Colorado Street frontage of an expanded Americana at Brand. The project, expected to be completed in 2013, will strip the adjacent Glendale Galleria of a large and prestigious anchor tenant.

But the Galleria had a coup of its own this year when it announced that Bloomingdale’s would move into a long vacant space on Brand Boulevard, formerly home to a Mervyn’s. The mega-mall also submitted plans to revamp its drab red-brick façade.

Wild things

Mountain lions, coyotes, bears, bobcats — during the summer, hardly a week went by without some sort of wild-animal sighting.

Glendale was thrust into the spotlight after a pack of coyotes took up residence in an abandoned home, spurring debate over coexistence after the public learned that “relocation” wasn’t an option, just euthanasia.

The coyote pack quickly moved on as television news vans and others converged on the site.

But while coyotes have certainly played a role in pet deaths, it was the recurring reports of prowling mountain lions that generated the most worry among residents.

In November, a 150-pound lion killed a 4-year-old Chihuahua in the backyard of a North Glendale home as its owners looked on in horror.

Mountain lions were also spotted in backyards — and prowling among parked cars — in the hills above Burbank. Animal control officers also rescued two lion cubs from underneath a parked car earlier this month after they apparently were abandoned by their mother.

Bears also spooked mountain bike riders and hikers in local hills and homeowners in La Cañada Flintridge.

And how could we forget the flock of pigeons near Bob Hope Airport that led to misdemeanor public nuisance charges against a man who authorities say was feeding the flock and creating a safety hazard for airplanes.

Pachyderm pandemonium

It started out innocuously enough. Sharon Weisman, a resident and fixture at City Hall, addressed the City Council to complain about the design of Glendale’s float for the annual Rose Parade — a circus elephant with carriage and the logo, “Stepping out in style.”

The design, she contended, had nothing to do with Glendale and glamorized the mistreatment of circus elephants.

It snowballed from there.

Within a matter of weeks, the issue had been picked up by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — which staged a protest outside City Hall — and sparked a review of just how the city chooses its Rose Parade float designs.

Complicating matters was the fact that by the time the brouhaha started, construction on the float was nearly complete. There was no going back.

So after a bruising couple of weeks, the City Council pounded out what it could — they would rename the float to be more sensitive to animal rights activists, and assume greater oversight of the float design process in the future.

The float had barely escaped the ax earlier in the year due to city budget constraints. That sparked a last-minute public fundraising plea that snagged major donations from the business community after Rick Caruso issued a $25,000-challenge grant.

Smart meters spark outrage

What was hailed as putting the city on the forefront of a new age was, for some, a health hazard and Big Brother intrusion.

Smart meters — which digitally measure and report electricity usage in near real-time — were hailed by utility officials as a way for customers to better manage their energy consumption. But some weren’t having it.

Despite repeated assurances from government agencies that radiowave emissions from the meters were well within federal guidelines and on the same par as cell phones and other appliances, some customers insisted that the technology was harmful.

They also felt the meters were an intrusion on privacy, and they voiced their concerns at public meetings.

State regulators are in the process of reviewing a possible opt-out policy for customers who don’t want the smart meters.

Police shoot-out

Glendale police exchanged gunfire with, and eventually killed, a 38-year-old man on San Fernando Road in September, an event that was newsworthy because of its rarity.

Officers who arrived on the scene at about 2:30 a.m. used their patrol car to shield themselves as Antonio Tafolla-Diaz fired his handgun until it was empty as he took cover behind a light pole.

Investigators found multiple pistol magazines at the scene, which suggested that Tafolla-Diaz reloaded during the gun battle. Incredibly, no one else was injured in the gun battle.

Montrose becomes the center of change, controversy

A new Trader Joe’s? Good. An investigation into alleged embezzlement of funds from the weekly farmers market? Bad.

Throw in a proposed Starbucks, Montrose Shopping Park Assn. board upheaval and the ruckus surrounding the area’s once-mighty political star, John Drayman, and 2011 was a year many in the area won’t forget.

No sooner had the shopping park association reported a spike in Harvest Market revenues after pushing Drayman out of the picture did news surface that police had opened an investigation into possible embezzlement.

That prompted merchants to demand a more active role in how business was done at the association, and for the first time in years, interest in board activities surged.

Political comebacks, new faces and loss

When John Drayman lost his seat on the City Council in April, it was considered a major upset, never mind that it was pulled off by Rafi Manoukian — the former councilman who lost his seat four years prior to Drayman.

A major changing of the guard was also initiated this year when longtime City Manager Jim Starbird announced his retirement. His replacement, Monrovia City Manager Scott Ochoa, starts in January.

But it was the death of Larry Zarian — the first Armenian American to be elected to the City Council and a man who went on to be known as “the People’s Mayor” — that truly shocked the community. He kept his cancer under wraps from all but a select few, so his unexpected passing reverberated throughout the community for weeks.

A Capote controversy

If in life Truman Capote sought and reveled in the spotlight, then in death he’d be proud of the controversy his book, “In Cold Blood,” generated when longtime Glendale High School English teacher Holly Ciotti sought to add it to a list of titles for an Advanced Placement course.

The literary classic raised red flags with the Secondary Education and PTA councils, which pushed the matter onto the agenda of the school board after news of the disagreement made headlines. It wasn’t long before Ciotti and school board member Mary Boger — who argued 11th-graders weren’t mature enough to handle the book’s weighty material — found themselves on the local airwaves defending their positions.

In the end, the school board voted 4-0 in favor of Ciotti’s application. Boger abstained, saying she could neither recommend the book nor deny anyone the opportunity to read it.

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