Glendale officials plan to continue researching specific past actions that contributed to a local culture that discriminated against black residents and workers, as part of a long-term reckoning with the city’s former reputation as a sundown town.
The pledge comes after administration officials joined in a variety of outreach sessions with local civic and cultural groups to plot a course to promote racial equity in city government and healing from past practices that excluded minorities from the community. The next step of this process will be a panel discussion hosted by the city on Thursday, July 30, titled “Racism: Past and Present.” In preparation, city employees are diving into the city’s history.
Meanwhile, the city plans to join a regional coalition that works to promote racial equity practices, but City Council members — at the urging of local residents — pumped the brakes Tuesday on adopting a formal resolution acknowledging the past for now.
“Our staff is working on looking through our [past] ordinances at this time and our library staff is working on going through whatever they have in their archives of articles and whatnot and other resources we can go through,” Christine Powers, a senior executive analyst for the city, said at the council’s meeting.
In addition to Glendale being a sundown town — which meant black workers were effectively made to leave the city at the end of the workday, lest they face violence from police officers or residents — there is evidence acknowledged by officials that numerous neighborhoods engaged in redlining when they were built. The West Coast branch of the American Nazi Party had its headquarters in the city for decades, and Glendale previously included a prominent KKK leader among its residents.
City officials collaborated with representatives from the city’s YWCA and also the local group Black in Glendale as part of their dialogue on promoting equity and healing, a conversation prompted by protests and marches for reform after George Floyd died while in the custody of Minneapolis police in May.
In a public comment, Tara Peterson, executive director of Glendale’s YWCA, praised the work done thus far but asked the city to pause on a resolution for want of more homework to be done.
“Ultimately, we really feel that until the city of Glendale acknowledges and recognizes its past racial history and exclusionary policies as a sundown town — specifically toward the African-American community — we cannot move forward toward equity and inclusion,” Peterson said. “We believe that the first step toward reconciliation and healing is being able to acknowledge the wrongs of our past, so we’re encouraging the City Council to take this historical first step and confront [the city’s] complicated racial legacy. Getting communities to learn and address the past is difficult but vital. There’s always a rush to move forward without engaging with the damage with the past, and we’ve been good at that for over 400 years.”
Powers, who prepared the staff report that included the resolution, candidly acknowledged that she agreed more work ought to go into official city action.
“It’s a long process and one that we, honestly, have never started before,” Powers said. “Part of the conversation we plan to have on July 30 is about this, and I think until we gain an understanding of what our history is and learn about it, it’s hard to come forward with a resolution to council today with all of that laid out point by point.”
Councilman Ardy Kassakhian said he agreed it was best to table the resolution to better enact a thorough and correct process.
“It’s about doing the right thing and putting forth a message that’s going to be our legacy, whereas previous councils have a different legacy,” he said. “Our legacy, collectively as the five council members of this city during this time in our nation’s history, has to be one that starts the process for a road map forward for Glendale.”
Councilman Ara Najarian said the city should collect more than just anecdotal evidence before taking any action, and wondered whether the city ought to consider modifying street or neighborhood names if their origins were linked to racist practices.
“I have seen maps of redlining, and in fact neighborhoods such as Rossmoyne, Verdugo Woodlands, appear to have been redlined and I have personally seen deeds of trust with the restrictive covenants against people of color, Mexicans, Jews,” Najarian added. “It’s a tough question and that’s why I think the research needs to be done to see what role the city councils have played, mayors, as well as the developers neighborhoods are named after. These are tough questions. We need to discuss them.”
The City Council ultimately agreed to the join the organization Government Alliance on Race and Equality for $5,000 per year. The group researches and promotes best practices and which tools are effective in promoting pathways to and a culture of racial equity among governments.
Moving forward, city officials plan to take their time.
“It takes time to examine what took place in Glendale’s history,” City Manager Yasmin Beers said. “Tonight is only the beginning and part of this process. A key point that was made during the conversation with the YWCA and Black in Glendale was that while there is pressure to move forward quickly, a slower and more measured approach is far more effective than a knee-jerk reaction.”