With the Glendale City Council expected to adopt a new set of tough zoning regulations one week before the most widely contested municipal election in the city's history, interest in the council's strategy to curb growth is rapidly gaining momentum.
To candidates, community groups and voters alike, the election has become a referendum on the council's ability to plan and control growth in the city's increasingly crowded residential neighborhoods.
"You bet this is a referendum," said outgoing Councilman John F. Day, who has been the lone dissenter in many past council votes on development issues. Day's last-minute announcement that he will not seek reelection brought many new contenders to the race.
'Great Deal of Interest'
In addition to the 13 candidates--the most in city history--vying for three council seats in the April 4 election, at least six new community groups have joined the electoral process by sponsoring candidate forums or distributing questionnaires to candidates.
"People are showing a great deal of interest in this election, and they are concerned about growth, the pace of building and traffic congestion," said Day, who has endorsed challenger Nida Solana Brown. "The choice is between supporting what the council has been doing or what the challengers advocate."
The issue of controlling development has set the tone of the campaign, with most candidates seeking to portray themselves as the toughest on managing growth.
This week, several challengers attacked the incumbents for doing too little too late to stop the city's overgrowth, and incumbents called the challengers' promises unrealistic and opportunistic.
Moreover, several council foes have charged that scheduling the vote on the new zoning ordinance immediately before the election is a ploy by the incumbents and one challenger to appear tough on developers.
All 13 candidates have agreed many times at candidate forums that the city must take greater control over growth.
Six have track records on the subject, having participated in the zoning debate before becoming candidates. Yet in some cases, their past records do not consistently match their anti-growth campaign rhetoric.
Council incumbents Ginger Bremberg and Mayor Carl Raggio, as well as challenger Dick Jutras, former chairman of the Planning Commission, have been directly involved in framing the city's growth-control policies--mainly the city's 1986 downzoning ordinance, the apartment building moratorium adopted in September and the new zoning restrictions being reviewed by the council.
The other three, challengers Nida Solana Brown, Berdj Karapetian and Richard Diradourian, were active in the debate as opponents of the council's growth control policies. They have said the policies are not only unfair to developers and property owners but also flawed and ineffective.
Among the other seven candidates, Ed Dorris has quietly supported the city's zoning policies, while Robin Westmiller and Shirley Griffin have criticized the incumbents for not being tough enough.
Joe Ayvazi in turn has criticized the council for being too vague in spelling out its zoning policies and thus being unfair to developers. Gary Siglar, Richard Matthews and Richard Seeley have yet to take a clear position on the issue.
Jutras' involvement dates back to 1986 when, as Planning Commission chairman, he recommended zoning restrictions to limit Glendale's population to 200,000. That year, Bremberg and Raggio voted for the restrictions.
All three hailed the 1986 changes as historic decisions to curtail uncontrolled growth and piecemeal development.
Solana Brown resigned from the Planning Commission midway through evaluation of the 1986 changes, citing irreconcilable differences with Jutras and the rest of the commission. The zoning changes lowered the city's property values, amounted to excessive downzoning and contained many loopholes, she said.
Even the incumbents now concede that the changes didn't work.
The revisions limited the number of units developers were allowed to build on property but not the size of buildings. As a result, developers began erecting large four- and five-bedroom apartments instead, many of them boxlike structures that took up the entire lot.
In a move to end construction of these "giant cubes," as Bremberg called them, the council ordered staff in September to draw up a new ordinance addressing the problem.
At the same time, with Bremberg and Raggio's support, the council adopted an apartment building moratorium to prevent an overflow of building permit applications during reevaluation of the zoning code, as happened in 1986.