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Valley Perspective

Case of Favoritism Points to Bigger Problems in Glendale

Troubling practices revealed in study need to be addressed

March 16, 1997

An independent investigation of Glendale's Building Department last week revealed City Hall favoritism and outright incompetence in the case of a giant mansion that was built nearly 6,000 square feet larger than permitted. That the 13,750-square-foot home was built by a politically connected developer and architect, however, suggests that front-line city workers are not solely to blame.

Angry neighbors first raised questions about how Aram Kazazian was able to build his sprawling El Tovar Drive mansion on a lot zoned for an 8,000-square-foot structure. The City Council referred the mystery to a San Diego law firm, which detailed its investigation in a 36-page report delivered last week. The report assigns much of the blame for the situation to Kazazian, who allegedly used his position on two city building commissions to manipulate normal land-use procedures to his advantage. More troubling, though, the report also concluded that Kazazian received favored treatment from city staff that allowed him to slip around a number of building restrictions.

Even worse, the report suggests that the special treatment Kazazian received was nothing out of the ordinary for well-connected Glendale residents. According to the report: "There is a general perception among the inspectors, and among other city employees, that there is an unwritten rule in Glendale that city insiders and the elite in the community are to get their way. This kind of perception militates against equal application of code and regulatory enforcement."

Indeed. Anyone who has ever applied for a permit to do even the simplest home improvement knows how complex and sometimes frustrating the procedure can be. But most endure with the knowledge that the requirements and inspections ensure safe, legal construction. That someone with the right connections can avoid all the hassle and build as he pleases galls sensible residents who rightly expect a level playing field.

City officials last week vowed to fix the problems that allowed Kazazian's case to slip through, but restoring the faith of the community requires more than simple lip service. Each of the report's recommendations deserves careful consideration. A few should be implemented immediately by the City Council.

* First, the city needs to train inspectors better. The report indicates that some inspectors show up at job sites without ever having looked at the approved plans on file in City Hall. That's just the kind of lax enforcement that allowed 5,750 square feet of extra space to appear on Kazazian's property.

* Second, supervisors must support inspectors in the field and reinforce the notion that building codes apply to everyone equally. As City Manager David Ramsay said last week, perceptions that some residents can flout city rules is "clearly unacceptable."

* Third, city workers need to keep better track of the mountains of paperwork that move through their offices. Inadvertently signing off on the wrong set of plans can be disastrous.

* Finally, the city should require electrical and mechanical plans for projects. According to the report: "The absence of such plans clearly hampers the work of inspectors in the field and encourages defective construction."

Glendale promotes itself as a city friendly to business and developers. To the city's credit, that policy has helped it weather recession better than most cities its size and even thrive in Southern California's competitive marketplace. But as the Kazazian case illustrates, such municipal chuminess can also allow aggressive developers to run roughshod over the city.

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