Pandemic’s Second Year Drafts the New Normal

First published in the Jan. 1 print issue of the Glendale News Press.

Many activities returned in person in 2021. Few returned the same.
The coronavirus pandemic induced a wave of changes — some small, others major — across the United States, California and Glendale in 2021. COVID-19, which has killed more than 800,000 U.S. residents, still leered over the resumption of public events, in-person classes and crowd-thronged sports games. And with the rise of the virus’ Delta variant, as well as the more recent Omicron variant, officials announced additional restrictions and requirements, often influenced by the coronavirus vaccines.
But not only health orders reshaped daily life. Other movements, sometimes spurred by inequities and systemic gaps exposed during the pandemic, called for societal reforms both local and national. With an assault on the U.S. Capitol, there was continued outcry for racial justice, large-scale labor disputes and warnings from scientists about the effects of climate change. It became apparent the “new normal” wouldn’t simply mean seeing more masks.
As the spread of COVID-19 in California declined and vaccinations increased, state officials gradually rolled back many of the restrictions to which residents had grown accustomed. On June 15, Gov. Gavin Newsom — who later soundly defeated a recall attempt — lifted most of the state’s coronavirus-related rules. Customers returned to bars and restaurants, capacity limits gone.

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When Los Angeles County began permitting some elementary schools to reopen for in-person instruction, Horace Mann Elementary School led the way for the Glendale Unified School District.

At the start of 2021, the county had confirmed that 11,483 Glendale residents had tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic, while the death toll approached 300. As of the News-Press’ deadline this week, the cumulative case count for the city exceeded 28,000 infections, with 726 recorded deaths. (The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health only logs positive test results and does not indicate whether residents have tested positive multiple times.)
In unincorporated La Crescenta-Montrose, 614 residents had tested positive by the end of 2020, with fewer than a half-dozen deaths. As of this week, the area stands with at least 1,676 positive cases and 19 deaths.
Meanwhile, with the yearlong rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, just 62.4% of Glendale residents aged 5 and older have been fully vaccinated, including 75.6% of those 65 and older, according to statistics compiled by the L.A. Department of Health. As of this week, only 14% of children ages 5-11 were fully vaccinated, while just 56.8% of kids 12-17 had gotten full doses.
By comparison, 78.1% of La Crescenta-Montrose residents ages 5 and older have been fully vaccinated; this includes 51.1% of children 5-11, essentially all 12-17-year-olds and 91.5% of those 65 and older.
In the wake of the winter surge, Glendale Unified School District began to resume in-person instruction in a voluntary hybrid system last spring, beginning first with the elementary schools and eventually bringing middle and high school students back. Athletics resumed, with nearly all sports having abridged and often chaotic seasons back-to-back.
For the current school year, GUSD engineered a successful resumption of in-person instruction and a more typical athletic schedule, with mandatory testing of in-season athletes and masking for indoor sports.
Of course, plenty happened here in the Jewel City outside of the coronavirus pandemic. The News-Press has highlighted some of the more important, meaningful, bittersweet and tragic of those stories here, in no particular order.

Long-Awaited Armenian American Museum

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Glendale council members Ardy Kassakhian, Ara Najarian, Vrej Agajanian, Mayor Paula Devine, Dan Brotman and City Manager Roubik Golanian pitch some dirt during the groundbreaking for the Armenian American Museum in Central Park. The long-awaited project broke ground in July and has garnered millions of dollars in private and public donations.

It was a sweltering summer afternoon, but it was also a major public outing during a lull in the pandemic.
Thus, thousands simply dealt with the heat in July when, at long last, officials with the Armenian American Museum and Cultural Center kicked off construction of the hotly anticipated civic project. Politicians and many other dignitaries spoke at the ceremony, highlighting how vital such an institution would be to the Armenian diaspora here and abroad, as well as those in the nation itself.
The museum, which has garnered millions in private and government funding, is being constructed at Central Park.

Glendale Woman Dies Hiking in Angeles National Forest

Search crews comb through a snowy Angeles National Forest last March after a Glendale hiker, Narineh Avakian, was reported missing there. Her body was found after she died of hypothermia.

Nearly a week after beginning a hike in the Angeles National Forest, search and rescue crews found the body of Glendale woman Narineh Avakian after a sudden snowstorm appeared to have stranded her.
A search crew of, at its height, more than 80 had been combing the forest for three days, after Avakian’s family discovered her car parked at a trailhead there; her body was found near the Mount Waterman Trail. Those crews had to overcome snow and ice barriers, as well as a lightning storm, in its around-the-clock search for her. The six days between her being reported missing and her body being found gripped Glendale residents, and a GoFundMe launched to help her family cover funeral expenses garnered more than $34,000 in donations.
The Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner ultimately determined Avakian died of hypothermia and without foul play.

City Council Narrowly Approves Scholl Canyon Biogas Plant

Glendale Fire Chief Silvio Lanzas takes a woman’s information as she signs up for vaccination against COVID-19 at one of the city’s various mobile clinics last spring.

After contentious public comments and lobbying from a nearby homeowners association, the City Council bucked the concerns of many and elected to move forward with converting a portion of the Scholl Canyon Landfill into a power plant that uses the dump’s methane emissions.
With the landfill slated to close in a few years’ time, city engineers hope to use its forthcoming decades of methane emissions — which are already being flared off — to help bolster the city’s clean energy generation portfolio. The project earned the key endorsement of Glendale Fire Chief Silvio Lanzas, who deemed the modern facility being proposed as safer than the current flaring infrastructure.
Opponents remain concerned about wildfire risks associated with the power generation facility, particularly in the context of earthquakes, and also whether further industrializing a portion of the public space will dissuade other development or use there.

Divided Council Picks New Management for Alex Theatre

After years of tasking the Glendale Arts nonprofit with managing the historic Alex Theatre, the City Council decided to go in a different direction after a contentious discussion and vote this year.
After numerous meetings, which provoked a wave of impassioned public comments and a social media campaign to keep Glendale Arts aboard, the council voted 3-2 to negotiate strictly with SAS Entertainment to run the performing arts venue.
Council members voting for SAS hoped that a change of direction would freshen up operations at the theater and that a management business would more effectively curb the need for city funding, while opponents showcased all of the work that Glendale Arts had done to shore up the Alex as well as the nonprofit’s dedication to keeping programming and hiring as local as possible.

Roubik Golanian Hired as City Manager

After Yasmin Beers departed as Glendale’s city manager last year, one of her assistant managers, Roubik Golanian, took the reins in the interim.
The City Council opted for continuity and stuck with him for the full gig, formally hiring him early into 2021. The longtime city administrator, whose fingerprints have been throughout a variety of city functions, has continued to prepare and present projects and other initiatives for council consideration, and has shepherded the efforts to bring the city out of the worst of the pandemic’s restrictions.

Mia Barnett Wins Fourth CIF Track Title

To cap off her high school career, Crescenta Valley High School’s Mia Barnett won her fourth CIF state title in track.

At Crescenta Valley High School, Mia Barnett bookended her high school athletic career by winning her fourth CIF-Southern Section track title.
The La Crescenta native, ranked the fastest distance running girl in the nation this spring, earned her first two titles, in the 1600- and 3200-meter runs, as a freshman at Sun Valley Village Christian. She won her third, in the 1600, as a sophomore the following year. Additionally, Barnett won three consecutive cross-country state titles at the school.
Barnett now runs for the University of Virginia, where she was named the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Co-Freshman of the Week in September upon finishing first in her collegiate cross-country debut and propelling the Cavaliers to a win.

GCC President David Viar Retires

After the current academic year ends in June, Glendale Community College President David Viar will retire, capping off a career in junior college administration and advocacy.
Viar, hired in 2013, was tasked by the college’s Board of Trustees with stabilizing the finances and operations of the junior college that had gone off track in the wake John Davitt’s legendary tenure. Those board members spoke highly of Viar’s work when he announced his pending retirement and also commended him for leadership during the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition to transitioning to a remote classroom setup, GCC became a player in pandemic response. The college bolstered its Fresh Success program to provide resources to socioeconomically disadvantaged and other at-risk students, including securing more than $1 million in funding from the city to provide emergency housing. GCC also hosted the Jewel City Vax Clinic as COVID-19 vaccinations became available and had its nursing students log clinical hours by administering vaccines at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital.
Viar will continue to live in Glendale.

High-Speed Hit-and-Run Victim Severely Injured

The city offered a $25,000 reward in October after an especially brazen hit-and-run in Glendale that left a 44-year-old father in a coma and in need of multiple surgeries.
The man, Krikor Kassabian, was struck shortly after midnight on Oct. 1 while he crossed East Chevy Chase Drive near Glenoaks Boulevard. Detectives believe that a motorist driving a Kia Forte sedan at about 60 mph on the residential street hit Kassabian before fleeing. The incident highlights the tragic results of Glendale’s infamous joyriding and street racing problem and prompted outcry from residents who contend the city hasn’t done enough to curb the dangerous driving.
With a lack of leads, the Glendale Police Department hosted a press conference announcing the reward, with Kassabian’s family pleading for anyone with information to come forward and for the motorist to turn themselves in. A GoFundMe to help pay for medical expenses generated more than $66,000.

Football Returns to Hoover to Resume Battle of the Bell

Hoover High School quarterback Ethan Davis makes a pass in the rivalry Battle of the Bell game against Glendale High School. After entering a rebuild in 2019, the Hoover High Tornados fielded a varsity football team in the fall and finished with a 6-4 record. Glendale families were especially excited for the Battle of the Bell game’s return.

After taking a hiatus for a few years, Hoover High School brought its varsity football program back in enjoyable fashion this fall.
The young team kicked off the season with a 5-0 start in freelance play and ended at 6-4 on the season — the only Glendale Unified School District football team with a winning record. The team had not played since 2018, when the program was essentially rebooted following a controversial campus brawl involving members of the team.
Hoover’s return to the gridiron meant that the storied Battle of the Bell game with the rival Glendale High Nitros was back. In the anticipated homecoming match, which was livestreamed on YouTube, Glendale won the venerated bell with a 39-8 victory over Hoover.

Glendale High Aquatics Center Finally Completed

The new aquatics center at Glendale High School was completed and filled this past spring, after being in some level of development since 2012.

This spring, Glendale High School could, at long last, fill up the pool at its brand new aquatics center.
The project had been underway since 2012, when the school board first approved the initiative and retained a designer. Unfortunately, that architect died two years later, forcing the district to start from scratch and approve a smaller-scale design that would serve just the school, rather than the other main high schools. Additional delays were prompted by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, as much of the construction materials were sourced from Italy.
Ultimately, the pool was filled and opened this spring, ringing in costs at about $17 million.

– Christian Leonard helped contribute to this report.