The City Council voted unanimously this week to sever Burbank’s Friendship City relationship with Hadrut, an action that proponents said was necessary because of Hadrut’s capture by Azerbaijan and the resulting displacement of many Armenians there.
The council also agreed to consider a resolution to recognize Artsakh, a self-declared republic whose jurisdiction included Hadrut until a recent war, as an independent state. Both motions were approved Tuesday at the urging of community groups, as well as state and federal politicians.
The City Council has rarely taken a public stance on international issues, but has made an exception recently for the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Council members voted to condemn Azerbaijani aggression last October, about a month after the two nations resumed armed hostilities over Artsakh, also called Nagorno-Karabakh.
Both Armenia and Azerbaijan claim historical ties to the region. The majority of Artsakh is Armenian and its leaders have expressed support for uniting with Armenia in the past, though it is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan’s territory.
The armed conflict last year reportedly resulted in the deaths of thousands, ending with a peace agreement that ceded parts of Artsakh — including Hadrut, which had been captured by Azeri forces — to Azerbaijan.
For many Armenians, the conflict with Turkey-backed Azerbaijan is reminiscent of the genocide carried out by the Ottoman Empire more than 100 years ago. In Burbank, where a significant Armenian population resides, Armenian groups and individuals have pushed the City Council to voice support for Artsakh.
“Every single one of [the Armenian population] has been directly impacted by the war in Artsakh,” Sarkis Simonian, chairman of the local chapter of the Armenian National Committee of America, told council members on Tuesday during public comment. “The resolution to recognize Artsakh is crucial for the healing process.”
Other groups and individuals who have expressed support for Burbank rescinding its Friendship City status with Hadrut or recognizing Artsakh as an independent state — or both — include the local chapter of the Armenian Cultural Foundation, Burbank Unified School District board member Armond Aghakhanian, Armenian-American journalist Vic Gerami, state Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, state Sen. Anthony Portantino and Congressman Adam Schiff.
“I’ve always been proud for my city to have a city in Nagorno-Karabakh as a Friendship City,” Aghakhanian said, “but unfortunately, due to what happened last year, the city is no longer [part of] the independent Republic of Artsakh.”
He added that he hoped Artsakh would become independent and declare a more formal sister city relationship with Burbank. Hadrut has had a Friendship City relationship with Burbank since 2014.
Gerami, who grew up in Burbank, opposed the city’s decision to revoke that Friendship City status, however. He said during public comment that while he urged City Council members to recognize Artsakh’s independence, he was concerned that rescinding the relationship “would be counterproductive to the aspirations of exiled Armenian citizens to return to their homes.”
“Furthermore, it sends a message to Azerbaijan that Armenians have given up and abandoned Hadrut,” he added.
Councilman Konstantine Anthony referenced similar concerns, emphasizing that the panel’s decision on Tuesday was solely in response to Azerbaijan’s actions.
“The people of Hadrut … didn’t cause this,” he said. “This happened to them.”
DELIVERY FEES CAP NOT PASSED
A potential emergency ordinance that would have capped the fees third-party delivery apps can charge to restaurants narrowly missed passage with a 3-1 vote.
Councilwoman Sharon Springer was the lone holdout of the voting members — Anthony recused himself from that part of the meeting due to his former work with Uber — clinching the fall of the motion, which as an urgency ordinance needed four affirmative votes to pass.
However, the fee cap has a fair chance of passing at a later date. Councilman Nick Schultz, who requested the item several weeks ago, asked city staff members to return the issue to the agenda as a normal ordinance, which would require more voting, but at the threshold of a simple majority.
The ordinance, if approved by the same number of council members who voiced support on Tuesday, would have a month-long phase-in period, meaning the earliest it could go into effect is the end of April.
The emergency ordinance council members considered would have limited fees delivery apps such as Grubhub, Uber Eats, Postmates and Doordash to 20% of the order’s purchase price. Several cities, including Los Angeles, Pasadena and Glendale, have adopted similar caps to help restaurants that depend on the delivery services retain more of their revenue while withstanding coronavirus-related restrictions.
The ordinance would also have prohibited the services from charging additional fees without the consent of the restaurants and from reducing drivers’ pay in response to the restriction, and would have required the apps to provide a receipt to customers. City staff members admitted that enforcing the regulations would be difficult, but added restaurants would be able to sue the services in small claims court if necessary.
“The issue is that … we have to constantly look at who we’re fighting for,” Schultz said, “and what’s on the top of my mind is our local restaurants, and I fear the prospect of losing the Tallyrand, for example.”
Despite support from her fellow council members and an endorsement from Jamie Keyser, CEO of the Burbank Chamber of Commerce, Springer said she was concerned that major delivery services would try to make up the fees in other ways, such as by adding additional fees to consumers.
She also suggested that restaurants and patrons could use other delivery services that had lower fees.
“There may be better, more affordable alternatives for our restaurants,” Springer said. “We don’t know enough to cap fees of certain providers at an arbitrary rate and then try to navigate the unintended consequences.”
Discussion of a potential ordinance to cap third-party delivery fees is expected to return at the City Council’s next meeting, on March 16.