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Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian. (MP)

California Globe Interview with Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian

‘We’ve become the city with the most open, transparent, and strictest rules in California’

By Evan Symon, February 25, 2020 6:46 am

For almost a year, Ara Najarian has been the Mayor of Glendale. A City Councilman since 2005 and a former member of numerous commissions around Southern California and Glendale, Mayor Najarian is ending his fourth one-year term soon thanks to Glendale’s revolving one-year mayorship of City Council members. The California Globe talked with the Mayor about where he is leaving Glendale as another Mayor comes in, as well as what lies ahead in the future for the Los Angeles-bordering city.

Government Transparency

“When I became Mayor in April of last year I set a bunch of goals and I feel like I accomplished a lot of them,” said Mayor Najarian. “We’re dealing with one now. Lobbyist registration. Earlier we passed a law saying that lobbyists would have to identify themselves as lobbyists and not just another position they have.

Right now many lobbyists also hold positions of power. In Glendale and other cities, lobbyists could use those titles to get into meetings with lawmakers only for them to lobby a law change or new project instead of any business expected through their title.

“A lot of lobbyists were commissioners,” continued Najarian. “You could just sit down with them for a cup of coffee and suddenly you could be in a full court press as they explain a property development with you.

We’re eliminating secrecy. You need to register as lobbyists and you can’t be on city positions anymore if you register as one. We passed that.”

Najarian and the city are now going one step further.

What we’re trying to do now is require that relationships to applicants before council discovers them. This would require letting the council know if someone on a project is a brother or a relative, or a fraternity brother or something. One degree of separation. The public and the rest of the council has the right to know.”

Glendale has also been busy on making government business more transparent and increasing political fairness through actions like donation restrictions. For example, collecting campaign donations is no longer year-round, ending some candidates from massing a huge monetary advantage for races.

“We’ve become the city with the most open, transparent, and strictest rules in California regarding it,” added Najarian. “All the cities around us, like Pasadena, Burbank, and Los Angeles, they have pieces of what we have, but not everything. Los Angeles can collect campaign money all year round for example. But not us.”

Transportation

Glendale City Hall in Glendale, California. (Evan Symon for California Globe)

Transportation has also advanced in Glendale in the past year. While there have been a few restrictions, most notably on keeping e-scooters out of the city, Glendale has also been keeping up with the region.

Among the projects Mayor Najarian discussed was the new connection between Pasadena and Noho. A Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line would connect the Gold and Red lines, stringing together those two areas, as well as Glendale and Burbank in the middle.

With no Metro itself going up in the city in the near future, Glendale is planning something else: a trolley. Or more accurately, a streetcar.

“We’re looking at a streetcar. It would go from the Glendale Transportation Center, which has services like Metrolink and Amtrak for linking with Union Station, up Broad Street to Burbank. We have the feasibility study next month, then environmental findings.”

Future methods of travel, most notably the overground BYD monorail, was called a ‘possibility’ by the mayor. An electric bus line is also in the works, with a pilot electric bus entering the fleet in Glendale in the next few weeks with the hope of future expansion.

Perhaps the largest future endeavor for the city is the pilot MicroTransit system currently being developed by the LA Metro. Under the pilot program in Glendale, small bus carriers would be designate to certain areas where riders would be picked up and dropped off to local stations and stops.

“Many live away from public transportation stops left out because of transit distance,” explained Mayor Najarian. “This fills in the gap. They take you to the local stop or station.”

Distance has been cited in Glendale, as well as in many cities across California and the nation, in not wanting to use public transportation when a stop is so far away. Under MicroTransit, long walks become short rides.

Affordable Housing

“We’re trying to add as much affordable housing as we can to the city,” said Mayor Najarian on the issue of affordable housing, a big concern as it is in Glendale as it is across the state.

The Mayor explained what Glendale is doing both actively and passively.

“Actively, we’ve added a sales tax increase about 18 months ago and so far that has added $25 million for affordable housing in Glendale,” began Najarian. “We also added $5 million in subsidies for certain elderly and disabled residents. And if they’re both elderly and disabled, and it’s proven, they get a $300 a month subsidy.”

Passively, Glendale has been adding more units. The city now has an inclusionary housing percentage of 15%, meaning that 15% of all units in a new complex have to be affordably priced, similar to the situation in nearby cities such as Pasadena.

The Mayor also noted a push beyond single bedroom units. Najarian noted that new housing attractive to single, young people with no families was growing while two or three bedroom units for families was becoming rarer in the city. The city has encouraged builders to create more units with more than one bedroom, thus attracting families back to the city.

Homelessness

Another quintessential California issue, homelessness has had an impact on Glendale. Although it was pointed out to the California Globe that the city is on the issue.

“Homelessness is concerning in Glendale too,” said Mayor Najarian. “It’s gone down in the last year and it is at about 240 at this point in time.”

“We’re working closely with homelessness providers and we have two vans going out each day with people asking if homeless people they see want to come out of the cold. Many still don’t want that and prefer to live on the street. We’ve been keeping up with the new influx, and the numbers are slowly declining. We’ve even built affordable housing specifically for homeless vets called ‘Veteran Village.'”

“Every department is involved, especially the police.”

And that led to a great success story.

“The Glendale police picked a young woman off the street. She was homeless and had lost contact with her mother. They managed to contact her, and we provided the girl with a makeover and a new wardrobe. Her mother took her back and they reunited up in Seattle.”

“We have success stories.”

Other Areas of Focus

  • Pedestrian Safety

“Overall traffic safety is high here,” explained Najarian. “For cities our size we’re near the top in 6th place. We’re also on the safe end of things like drunk driving.”

“On pedestrian safety we’re way down on the list. We’re last in pedestrian safety.”

“We have a large elderly and immigrant population who may not know all the rules and we also have a lot of younger people who think thew world is their oyster. We also have a problem with distracted drivers. Every day I see that.”

The city is currently working on alleviating the number of pedestrian accidents. It was noted that projects like the Metro MicroTransit can help, as not as many people will need to walk longer distances for public transportation.

  • Hotels

To the surprise of many in the city numerous hotels are targeting the city.

“We’ve received several unsolicited offers from hotels,” said Mayor Najarian. “We already have an abundance of one and two star hotels, so we’re looking hotels above that for the city. Especially four stars and above.”

“Glendale is adjacent to tourist-drawing cities such as Pasadena and LA which may account for some of the public interest. However another factor, the higher traffic at Burbank airport due to Santa Monica diverting many flights there, is another possible reason, as it brings more passenger traffic and many are reluctant to stay at larger and more expensive hotels near the airport because of the noise.”

  • Renewable Energy

“We’re one of the greatest cities in the state when it comes to renewable energy,” boasted Najarian. ” We’re well ahead of our neighbors. We have over 40% of our power coming from solar, wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal. Coal power is only 2% or 3% here.”

Glendale in 2020

Mayor Najarian is due to leave office in April, and his successor will need to keep up with many of these programs, many of which have already drawn the attention of many local, state, and even national lawmakers. For example, many cities looking to possibly add MicroTransit systems of their own are waiting for American projects for raw numbers of feasibility. Glendale will largely be the test case.

Many cities are thinking of ways to get out of the several crisis’ the state is currently in, and Glendale may prove to be one of the leaders going into the new decade.

Evan Symon
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