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City Changed Into Urban Center During Turbulent '89 : Looking Back: Glendale experiences an apartment moratorium battle, a hotly contested City Council election, runaway school crowding and emerging gang violence.

December 28, 1989|SANTIAGO O'DONNELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

1989 was the year Glendale became a metropolis.

It was a year of turmoil, and the city's leaders as much as conceded that the small-town era of polite stewardship by a benevolent clique has become a thing of the past.

Beginning with a rough-and-tumble battle over an apartment construction moratorium, the year also brought the city's most hotly contested election campaign ever, runaway school crowding and the emergence of gang violence. City services were stretched by new waves of non-English-speaking immigrants, and the city faced the prospect of its first deficit budget.

Once known as a mostly white, upscale bedroom community--a nearby retreat from Los Angeles' urban woes--Glendale seems to have suddenly awakened to discover that it is urban, dynamic and diverse.

Public spending jumped to levels previously unheard of, and the City Council adopted more laws than ever before. It was the year that Glendale's government tossed out its traditional hands-off approach in a last-ditch attempt to keep the city the way it was.

"In the old culture of Glendale," Mayor Jerold Milner said, "the basic political conservative philosophy was to leave as many decisions as possible to the individuals. But these days, people are asking the government to protect their quality of life, so we have to intervene."

The year's biggest battle was fought over the growth of south Glendale neighborhoods zoned for apartment construction. The issue remains unresolved.

In September, 1988, the council quickly and unexpectedly enacted a citywide moratorium on apartment construction. The city spent most of 1989 in court defending the moratorium against attacks by developers whose projects had been stalled in the plan-approval stage.

A Superior Court judge ruled in November that the 20 or so projects held up by the moratorium should be allowed to proceed, but the council immediately approved an ordinance that prevented any additional apartment construction.

The new freeze avoided the legal glitches of the first one. So far it has not been challenged.

Both moratoriums were adopted for the same reason--to give voters time to approve a slow-growth ordinance to keep the city's population within the 200,000-220,000 range, as recommended in its General Plan.

The new ordinance requires an extensive environmental impact review in which the city will have to justify why Glendale needs to stop growing. City planners acknowledge that finding a legal justification for stopping growth won't be easy.

The city's rampant growth seems to respond more to international events and national trends than to local politics. About 25,000 new residents arrived in the past decade--mostly from Armenia and Mexico--with more than 3,000 coming in the past year alone. The flood of immigrants, which swelled the city's population to about 165,000, has created an unprecedented strain on city services.

Most burdened are the schools and the Police Department, but public housing, sewer usage and refuse collection have also been affected.

Plans were drawn to expand the city's sewer capacity, and a mayor's task force was formed to propose garbage disposal alternatives to extend the life of Scholl Canyon landfill, which is filling up.

This also was the year that the phrase "affordable housing" became part of the City Council's vocabulary.

"A couple of years ago the phrase 'affordable housing' was a very unpopular cliche," Councilman Larry Zarian said. "But my own sons have grown up and can't afford to stay in the city. To me that realization was a very awakening thing. We can't allow Glendale to become a city only for the wealthy."

After years of delays, the city accepted a state mandate and set aside $2.9 million in property taxes from its redevelopment zone to finance low-income housing programs, with almost all of the money going to land purchases and developer incentives for three senior citizen housing projects.

About the same time, officials learned firsthand that city residents are in dire need of direct housing subsidies.

In June, more than 3,000 applicants--the vast majority recent immigrants from Soviet Armenia--erupted in a semi-riot during a sign-up session for federal housing vouchers in a south Glendale park.

Their names were added to a waiting list of 1,400 for the city's 1,000 federal rent subsidies. Five months after the incident, the City Council voted to fund rent subsidies for the first time to complement the federal program--$200,000 for 60 rental units.

Enrollment in the Glendale Unified School District rose to 24,000, up by more than 1,000 from the year before and the highest in the past two decades.

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