Firefighters agree to major concessions
Glendale firefighters have agreed to salary and benefit concessions that will save the city more than $3 million in the next three years, city officials announced Tuesday.
The Glendale Firefighter's Assn. voted to approve the tentative contract, which would run through June 30, 2014.
The City Council next week is expected to ratify the contract, which includes no pay raises through 2013, higher employee contributions to pension plans and a higher retirement age for all new hires.
The tentative agreement makes firefighters the first of the city's four employee groups this year to take major benefit concessions, a key component of the $174-million General Fund budget approved by the City Council last week.
Included in the budget, but not yet secured, was at least $3 million in savings from employee concessions in order to balance a projected $8.1-million gap in the city's General Fund, which pays for most public services, like libraries and public safety.
Firefighters last year voted to postpone a scheduled pay increase for two years. Under the proposed agreement, the raise would be pushed out two more years, meaning firefighters would remain at current salary levels until July 2013.
Firefighters would also pay more into the California Public Employees Retirement System, bringing the firefighter's contribution to 11% out of every paycheck.
Mayor Ara Najarian said the agreement would help maintain current staffing levels during the economic downturn.
The contract would also create a two-tier retirement system for all new hires that would raise the retirement age from 50 to 55.
Under a plan approved by the City Council in 2003, firefighters can now retire at age 50 with 3% of their highest salary per year of service.
City officials said the changes would help make the city's long-term pension obligations more sustainable.
Human Resources Director Matt Doyle said the agreement was "very positive" for the city.
Negotiations continue with the city's three other employee unions.
The agreement ratchets up pressure on the Glendale Police Officers' Assn., whose members are due a 5% pay increase starting July 1.
The police union last year declined to reopen its four-year contract, keeping a scheduled 6% pay increase despite City Council pressure to follow the lead of other employee unions.
Council wary of utility hike
Glendale Water & Power officials faced a skeptical audience Tuesday as they presented the City Council with a proposed water rate increase aimed at recouping lost revenue.
Utility officials have proposed a 3.8% net rate increase that would translate into about $2.35 more per month. The utility's budget has been pared to the "barebones," and the increase is needed to maintain financial stability, they said.
The proposal comes a year after the City Council voted to restrict outdoor watering to three days per week, which led to an 18% drop in water and a $6 million loss in revenue.
The utility has also grappled with price spikes from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which supplied about 56% of the city's water supply this year.
But on Tuesday, some council members said it would send the wrong message to consumers.
The council did not vote on the proposed increase, which will return to the dais for approval after a required 45-day notification period of all utility customers.
Councilman Frank Quintero said the increase was counterintuitive and could discourage future conservation.
But officials said that without the mandatory conservation, the utility would have incurred higher water costs and penalties from Metropolitan, which also would have resulted in a rate increase.
Glendale Water & Power Commissioner Zanku Armenian urged the council to wait for the development of a new multi-tier rate system that encourages conservation by charging higher rates to customers who use more water. That system, which has been adopted in other cities, is expected to be presented to the City Council next year.
While Burbank and Pasadena recently approved rate increases of 13.5% and 5.1%, respectively, average water bills there would remain lower than in Glendale, according to a report from Glendale Water & Power. Average water bills are higher in the nearby Crescenta Valley Water District and Los Angeles.
Summer college courses a harder find
Students continue to compete for seats at Glendale Community College's summer session, continuing a year-long trend of soaring enrollment.
Amid fewer classes on the schedule, students are filling classes beyond capacity, President/Supt. Dawn Lindsay said.
There are 40% fewer classes than last summer, but the college is accommodating 70% of last year's total students, Lindsay said.
Community colleges saw enrollment jump 4.9% last year from 2008 figures, according to the California Department of Education. Fewer admissions into four-year colleges, and a still-high unemployment rate propelled the growth, officials said.
In Glendale, that meant stressed-out students trying to get the classes they need, or risk losing the degree or certification requirements.
Outgoing student trustee Lilya Avagyan said she knew one colleague who was on track to transfer to UCLA after graduating with an associate's degree. But she instead had to transfer to Westwood without her associate's degree.
In other cases, students who failed a class during the year couldn't get into that class in the summer, Avagyan said.
Glendale Unified defends program
The school board on Tuesday approved a $105,000 contract extension for an internal instructional program that remains unpopular with the Glendale Teachers Assn., with representatives calling it a waste of resources, especially amid district layoffs.
Funding the educational development program, called Focus on Results, is part of a pattern of wasteful district spending, Glendale Teachers Assn. President Tami Carlson said.
Through Focus on Results, teachers leave their classroom to observe and record their peers at other campuses. By design, teachers help one another develop the best and most effective teaching methods, advocates of the program say.
Incoming Supt. Dick Sheehan cited the 170 teachers who regularly participate in observations and presentations as an indication of strong participation from a staff of less than 1,300 teachers.
District officials said that the criticism is unfounded, and that the benefits of Focus on Results are many. It's allowed the central office to cut costs by shrinking staffing in certain departments, and it underscores the importance of continuous improvement, Sheehan said.
But the program's cost is greater than the contract renewal indicates, Carlson said. Last year, it cost more than $300,000 to replace teachers with substitutes, she said.
And while the program is funded through federal grants, Carlson said those funds could replace other expenses, which could go toward keeping class size lower than 30-to-1 teacher-student ratios.
Sheehan disputed that characterization because grants are awarded for specific items.
The cost has dropped every year that Focus on Results has been in place, because the system is designed to be a self-sustaining program, Sheehan said.
SUV hits man in wheelchair, feels
Police are searching for a motorist who fled the scene Friday after running over a man in a wheelchair at West California Avenue and North Kenwood Street.
Witnesses said the motorist, wanted on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, was attempting a left turn onto Kenwood Street. As the vehicle went through the unmarked crosswalk, it slammed into 46-year-old Marcel Carrion, Glendale Police Det. Mike Wenz said.
Carrion was escorting an elderly woman home from a peace vigil at East Broadway and North Brand Boulevard about 8:40 p.m. when he heard the loud honking. He could not identify the driver or the make and model of the vehicle.
The witnesses who saw Carrion traveling east on California Avenue across Kenwood Street contacted police. The driver of the SUV, which was believed to be carrying one passenger, honked the horn "as if telling the victim to hurry up," Wenz said.
A witness told officers that Carrion was ejected from the wheelchair and left in the middle of the street.
Police said another witness chased the suspect north on Kenwood Street. The vehicle was last seen making a right turn onto West Lexington Drive toward North Glendale Avenue. Carrion was treated at the scene for a bump on the back of his head and cuts on his elbow and thumb.
Verdugo Road hair salon burglarized
A hair salon on Monday was the latest victim in a recent trend of burglaries in north Glendale, officials said.
Witnesses reported the break-in at Hair Studio, 3720 N. Verdugo Road, about 8:54 a.m. Monday to Glendale police, stating the store's front window had been shattered, Sgt. Tom Lorenz said.
Owner Patti Harmon said she found glass scattered on the sidewalk and throughout the store. The family-owned business had never been burglarized before.
The salon's cash drawer, which contained $20, a new palette of hair colors and beauty products were stolen, Harmon said. She estimated the loss, in terms of both items stolen and damage, at $1,300.
She said she never imagined her small business, located just off the main Montrose Shopping Park, would be the victim of any crime.
Harmon has driven by her salon several times every night since Monday, fearing the worst.
Man, woman hit in crosswalk
Two people suffered minor injuries Tuesday morning after they were struck by a motorist while using a crosswalk at San Fernando Road and Chevy Chase Drive, police said.
The collision is the second involving pedestrians reported in four days. The crash occurred about 8:50 a.m., Officer Larry Ballesteros said.
The Subaru bumped a man's hip, causing him to fall into a woman, whose head hit the ground, Ballesteros said.
The driver of the Subaru told police he had been monitoring opposing traffic and did not see the pair when he turned into them. The driver and his two children were not harmed, Ballesteros said.
The pair complained of pain but refused medical treatment.
Ballesteros said the collision should be a reminder to motorists to watch for pedestrians.
Restaurants seize on World Cup madness
When Argentina has a match at the World Cup, Rene Vildoza, owner of El Morfi on Brand Boulevard, arrives at 3:30 a.m. to get his restaurant ready.
On Sunday, he hosted dozens of devotees who came to watch Argentina's Albiceleste top Mexico 3-1 to advance into the quarterfinals.
Most of El Morfi's early-morning visitors are Argentina natives, Vildoza said.
Some local restaurateurs have taken advantage of World Cup fever to market their spots to crowd-seeking fans.
On game days, El Morfi provides coffee, empanadas and Argentinean tostaditas — crust-less, grilled ham-and-cheese sandwiches — for the 30 or so fans who've arrived for the pre-dawn matches, which take place nine time zones away in South Africa.
At the Korean eatery Hello Pizza in La Canada Flintridge, owner Brandon Tak has kept similar hours this month on the days South Korea plays.
Cold breakfast pizza may be a tradition among American college students, but Tak said he offered only pastries and coffee to those who arrived at his restaurant before sunrise. Tak, an avid soccer player who participates in pick-up games at Foothill Intermediate School in La Cañada, said throwing the World Cup parties is "marketing, but not selling your product."
People enjoy the experience, he said, "and some of them come back the next day to buy pizza."
Tak said his visitors also pulled for the North Korean team, despite the tense political situation between the two nations. "Sports is sports," he said. "Politics is completely separate."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun