Since arriving in the United States from Lebanon 30 years ago, Charbel “Charlie” Kamar has bootstrapped himself from gas-station manager to owner of that business to one of the more active figures in local affairs.
Kamar, 58, moved to La Cañada Flintridge from Montrose after purchasing the La Cañada Union 76 gas station in 1999. His wife Taleen is a real-estate agent, and their 7-year-old son George attends Palm Crest Elementary.
While Kamar has served for five years on the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and volunteers with the local Merchants Association, his deepest commitment appears to be supporting local public education. Kamar, who said he graduated college in Lebanon, has been an active supporter of the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation, donating both time and some of the proceeds of his business to that cause.
Civic involvement helped Kamar raise $4,470 for his election bid as of Jan. 22, including donations from schools boosters and Planning Commissioner Michael Cahill, according to campaign documents.
Kamar says his candidacy arose out of a desire to increase his service to the community from supporter to decision-maker. He credits both the LCUSD Governing Board and City Council with jobs well done, and said his decision to make a run for council came only after incumbent Greg Brown announced that he would not seek reelection.
Valley Sun: Briefly explain why you want to be on the council and your top priority if elected.
Charlie Kamar: I’ve been serving this community, which I love, for 23 years. I’m trying to raise my service to a higher level. I figure I can help more by being a decision-maker. I’m going to try my best to help the schools, which are facing budget cuts, and help local merchants. We have a lot of [commercial] vacancies that we need to fill.
What would you describe as the city’s most important accomplishment over the past several years?
I give them a lot of credit for making the community safer. Year by year, crime is going down. And all of the fields for the schools are open because the city maintains them and helps pick up the tab. We’re blessed to have the opportunity for our community to enjoy them after school hours.
What would you identify as a missed opportunity?
The structure of the Town Center could have been better. They could have brought more business to this town by building it a different way, like the Americana [at Brand in Glendale]. We need more people to walk, shop and eat, not park, shop and leave.
Which personal qualities that you possess are most relevant to being a council member?
I believe in customer-oriented service. Being affiliated with the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation, with the Chamber of Commerce and the Merchants Association, I gained a lot of experience [relevant to] City Council.
If the city experienced unanticipated and significant revenue loss in the near future, where would you look first to make cuts?
If we had consultants working with the city, that would be first. You don’t want to lose the people who’ve been working for you for several years and are doing a good job. You need them to keep the city going.
Is City Hall user-friendly?
There is always room for improvement, so you could improve customer service for the city. We could make it easier for people and make the process faster when they apply for permits to build new homes.
How strong is the city’s general plan?
So far, it’s working for the city. It’s settled [issues such as] the highlights for Foothill Boulevard, new homes built in the hills, safety for the community, environmental issues.
All candidates have opposed the 710 tunnel, but what should a council member be doing about it?
We can work with our state representatives, our congressman, and we can lobby in Sacramento. We can talk about the negative effects. We have many schools close to the freeway, and if you bring in 1,500 trucks a day, that’s going to bring a lot of pollution. One accident and we’ll have all that traffic in our town. We have to educate and keep people aware.
Any thoughts on sewers?
We need sewers to cover the whole of La Cañada, but when the assessment came in [south of Foothill], the cost was ridiculously expensive and unfair. We have a lot of people who can’t afford it, so we have to come up with a better solution to make sure everyone is treated fairly.
What about peacocks?
I would keep some of them and relocate the others.
And property tax breaks in exchange for historic preservation agreements?
If we have to do this to keep our historic homes, we’ll do our best, but we don’t want a lot [of these agreements] because it will take money away from the city and the schools.
Why should voters choose you?
I run a business and deal with a lot of people. I built my business on communication. I’m a listener. I take every comment in a positive way, and I’m here 24/7, so if people are having problems, they can come and talk to me. They don’t have to wait to go to City Hall.