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Glendale appointments spark fireworks

The nomination this week of a real estate agent who has locked horns with homeowner groups and historic preservation advocates to a city commission that deals with those very issues drew the ire of the politically influential Glendale Historical Society.

At issue was the nomination of Vartan Gharpetian — a one-time City Council candidate who has served on other commissions — to the Historic Preservation Commission.

Gharpetian was the subject of scorn from members and supporters of the historical society years ago during his tenure on a city Design Review Board and his role in a side group that purported to advocate for homeowner rights over city restrictions and government meddling.

"The Glendale Historical Society strongly opposes the nomination of Vartan Gharpetian," said Sean Bersell, the society's treasurer, at a City Hall meeting Tuesday. And he noted, "It's extremely unusual for us to take this position."

Despite the group's influence and support among the voter-rich areas of North Glendale, the City Council approved the nomination, which was made by Councilman Ara Najarian.

Gharpetian opposed historic preservation guidelines the city outlined in 2006 and his involvement in the property rights group got him into hot water in 2007. He eventually was unseated from the Design Review Board after weeks of public criticism.

He later served on the Parks, Recreation and Community Services Commission.

For his part, Gharpetian said the historic preservation supporters have misunderstood his positions in the past and vowed to "iron things out with them."

Najarian asked that Gharpetian sit down with the Glendale Historical Society to hash things out.

Gharpetian wasn't the only nominee this week to stir up some controversy.

Mayor Dave Weaver tried unsuccessfully to block Councilwoman Laura Friedman's nomination of Alek Bartrosouf, a bicycle advocate, to the Transportation & Parking Commission. Weaver has been a staunch opponent to plans to slim down some roads in order to add bicycle lanes while Bartrosouf, who works for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, has been a strong advocate.

And Najarian's nomination of Ara Kalfayan — owner of a restaurant that gained the most from Najarian's proposal to increase the size of smoking areas for outdoor dining — to the Parks, Recreation and Community Services Commission also raised eyebrows.

Kalfayan's restaurant, Phoenicia, which sells hookah, is one of the few establishments in town that can now have 66% of its outdoor dining area designated for smokers. Najarian proposed the plan that increased that ratio from 25% to 50%, or 66% for larger spaces.

The plan was opposed by anti-smoking advocates but was backed by a majority of the council.

Najarian hosted his campaign kickoff for the April election at Phoenicia. Kalfayan did not directly contribute any money to his campaign, according to campaign finance records.

Steven Gallegos, an anti-smoking advocate, said he wasn't surprised by the nomination but feared that it may impact no-smoking rules in the city's parks.

"These are the ties that bind," said Gallegos, who is suing Najarian and Glendale Adventist Medical Center, his former employer, for allegedly conspiring to fire him after he criticized the looser outdoor dining smoking restrictions. "One hand doesn't wash itself."

For his part, Kalfayan said that had he wanted to have a wide-reaching role in crafting city policy, he would have applied for the Planning Commission, which makes zoning decisions, not the parks commission.

Kalfayan said his 15 years on the Glendale YMCA board and his involvement with the American Red Cross Glendale-Crescenta Valley Chapter is what factored into this nomination.

"I'm there to help," he said.

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Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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