As thousands of apartment units continue to fill downtown Glendale, all five candidates for City Council told about 130 people on Wednesday night at the first election forum this campaign season that they believe in slowing down development.
“It’s time for us to take a break,” said Chahe Keuroghelian, who came about 350 votes short of clinching a council seat last year, during a candidate forum sponsored by the Northwest Glendale Homeowners Assn. and held at the Brand Library and Art Center.
Rick Barnes and Vartan Gharpetian, who have both run unsuccessfully for council in the past, called on city officials to study the impacts of the new developments before approving any more.
Mike Mohill, who has also campaigned unsuccessfully before, called for a complete halt, while Paula Devine, a first-time campaigner, said she wants to “take another look at the development process” and zoom in on making Brand Boulevard, the main downtown drag, more bicycle and pedestrian friendly.
All of the candidates for the 10-month term said the city should not use taxpayer dollars to drive more development to downtown.
The candidate who wins the single open seat on June 3 will have to run again next April for a full four-year term because this special election is in response to former councilman Rafi Manoukian leaving his position early after he was elected City Treasurer last year.
The calls for a development breather followed the council's approval on Tuesday of the controversial five-story, 220-unit Tropico Apartments project at 435 Los Feliz Road. There are currently more than 3,800 units built, under construction or in the pipeline for downtown Glendale.
The increased residential density in downtown will impact traffic, candidates said, adding that they support greater police enforcement, including more tickets, to combat traffic safety issues.
But some noted that tight budgets make it difficult to hire more police to do traffic patrols. Both Keuroghelian, a small business manager, and Devine, a retired educator, pitched using more volunteers to do desk work to free up police officers.
“Traffic safety is one of my priorities,” Devine said.
Mohill, a retired businessman and constant critic of city salaries and pensions, suggested a retirement-system revamp to increase revenues for more enforcement.
But enforcement is already underway and the problems still exist, Gharpetian said. Instead, community outreach is key, said the business owner, stressing the need for more school crossing guards, which are funded through the city on behalf of the school district.
One topic that split the candidates was the city’s annual transfer of roughly $20 million from Glendale Water & Power. City officials say it’s necessary to pay for fire, police, parks and other public services, while critics have described it as a backdoor tax. A community group sued the city in February, calling for a stop to the transfer.
Devine and Gharpetian both said they would continue transferring money if they were on council, while Keuroghelian and Mohill said stopping it would force the city to live within its means. Mohill suggested temporarily replacing city fire and police departments with Los Angeles County agencies to backfill city revenues lost by ending the transfer.
“There’s got to be a middle point,” countered Barnes, a Realtor, adding if the transfer is stopped, city services would be curtailed.
Although Devine seemed to reluctantly tackle the controversial transfer issue, she shied away from directly answering some divisive questions, such as whether she would support increasing the enrollment cap at a private Armenian school, a decision made by a city commission that has ruffled feathers with the school's residential neighbors.
After the forum, Devine said she felt uncomfortable giving her take on policy matters that could come before her if elected because she didn’t want to be cast as a flip-flopper if she changed her mind down the road.
All candidates said they would not accept funding from city unions, with many adding they did not want to be beholden to the groups when they have to vote on employment contracts.