Changes may be coming to the process through which the position of Glendale mayor is rotated among City Council members, in an effort to make it more predictable and less transactional.
The council directed at this week’s meeting that these changes be written out in ordinance form, for later consideration and approval. It also expects to consider an ordinance banning single-use plastics by municipal agencies in the future, after asking for that ordinance as well.
At Councilwoman Paula Devine’s suggestion, the council is likely to consider a policy that will organize mayoral hierarchy in a “zip line” fashion — that is, the council member who has waited the longest will serve as the next mayor for the year. Since two or three council members sometimes are elected at the same time, any ties that occur will be resolved on the basis of the number of votes they received in the election.
The policy also is expected to make the mayoralty off limits to a council member who is seeking reelection that year. In any case the council will continue to hold a formal vote to ratify the change in position.
These changes would do away with the free-for-all nature of the city’s mayoral selection process, which has been overtly political even though the position is mostly ceremonial.
“Many of the elections have been contentious and have resulted in hard feelings, tension and animosity,” Devine said, adding that council members were at times “passed over” for the title in the recent past. “At this point, I see a need, based on my experience, for predictability and objectivity in our criteria for our consensus process. I feel that at the time of appointment, the next mayor should know who they are, the council should know who they are and there should be no surprises and no guesses.”
Councilman Ara Najarian — the longest-tenured councilman by nearly a decade and a four-time mayor — said he agreed with Devine’s proposal and added credence to the idea that the seat was too transactional.
“We’ve skipped over people for political purposes, and that was perhaps one of my biggest regrets on council,” he said, declining to say to whom he was referring. “That was something that I felt was a mistake that I made.”
Najarian successfully lobbied for Devine to loosen up on one restriction: She initially called for withholding the mayor seat for those seeking any political seat that year, not just reelection to this council.
The decision followed a presentation by the city’s Innovation, Performance and Audit Department, which outlined a variety of policies available for consideration. Some council members expressed an interest in exploring more significant changes to city governance — establishing geographical districts, potentially adding seats and making the mayor an at-large elected position.
“I do think that we need to look toward the future and find ways to have representation beyond what the city had for its first century of existence,” Councilman Ardy Kassakhian said. “If that means having more council seats, having more districts or having an elected mayor, those are discussions I certainly welcome.”
Najarian, too, indicated he was open to reorganizing city politics. (He also floated the idea of returning to an old Glendale practice — mayors having their seat for two straight years — but didn’t press it.)
“I would like to see an elected mayor,” he said, “but the problem is that we’re going to have to play around with our charter and decide if the mayor is going to have any greater powers, if we’re going to have a mayor and then five council people — are those five council people going to have districts? It’s really a larger question that I’d like to discuss at some point.”
As the mayor remains a council member, his or her actual change in duties is limited. Mayors establish their agendas for a fiscal year and conduct the council meetings, but their votes are equal to those of their peers. Outside of management, mayors are often the public face of the city — handling statements to press during emergencies, as Najarian pointed out, or appearing at public events or holiday parades, Devine noted.
“I didn’t have any of that this year, so you can’t tell me that!” Mayor Vrej Agajanian quipped, chuckling; the coronavirus pandemic put an end to most of the lighthearted duties of mayor. Devine replied: “The next mayor probably won’t have anything, either.”
Councilman Dan Brotman signaled support for exploring a change and noted that he campaigned on improving representation for the city’s various and diverse neighborhoods. He also supported Devine’s idea to codify a predictable policy for mayor selection.
“I agree that taking the horse trading out of it is good,” he said.
Resident Mike Mohill, a former council candidate and frequent critic of City Hall, called in for this discussion’s sole public comment and largely agreed with the heart of the discussion. He added that he also thinks Glendale’s city attorney should be elected, not appointed.
“Glendale is one of the largest cities in the county,” he said. “Pasadena has a smaller population and they have, like, [seven] council districts. Isn’t it time that we talk about council districts elected individually and have a mayor elected at large?”
Los Angeles and Long Beach — the county’s two most populated cities — each have geographical council districts and a separate at-large mayor. The third-largest city — Santa Clarita — uses the same system as fourth-place Glendale.
“The interests of the people in south Glendale are certainly different than the people who live in north, east or west Glendale,” Mohill added, “and they have their own needs.”
EFFORT TO PHASE OUT PLASTICS
The council also asked for an ordinance that establishes a city policy against using single-use plastics and polystyrene items for food ware, with an eye on eventually exploring a ban on their use by businesses throughout the city.
The ban would apply to internal city uses, as well as city-run concessions and to vendors who are renting or using city property for events. In lieu of the plastics, reusable or marine-degradable items — like those made with paper or wood — are to be used.
“To me, this is a very easy decision. I think we must do this,” Devine said. “I think because there’s a lack of recyclability to polystyrene and other plastic products, we have an issue that’s huge. All of this goes to a landfill, and the plastics take several hundred years to decompose.”
Dave Jones, the city’s sustainability officer, noted that research indicates that more than 70 million single-use plastic water bottles are used daily, with only 28% making their way to recycling facilities. Additionally, China has stopped purchasing a large amount of bulk recyclables, creating a global disruption in the recycling industry that often means plastics end up in landfills or incinerator plants with the rest of our garbage.
More than 100 other California cities have restricted or banned single-use plastics and polystyrene outright. Pasadena and Long Beach have both banned Styrofoam usage through the city, and Santa Monica now requires its vendors to use marine-degradable food ware.
Conscious of the coronavirus pandemic, which currently restricts restaurants to takeout or delivery, officials said they would wait to explore applying these restrictions to private vendors.
“Maybe some of our larger businesses that have lots of employees and cafeteria services, maybe they can get the ball rolling themselves,” suggested Brotman, a frequent environmental advocate. “The best thing we can do is work on reuse. Glendale should commit to a future vision requiring reusable food service ware throughout its facilities as a signal to vendors and event organizers.”
At Najarian’s suggestion, the potential ordinance will include a clause permitting use of the otherwise forbidden plastics in the event of an emergency or supply shortfall. The city, he noted, provides thousands of meals to elderly residents each week.
“We should put some sort of escape clause in the event there’s a shortage or in the event that the supply is unavailable that under certain circumstances — call it an emergency or call it an unforeseen shortage — that we can get the seniors the meals,” he said. “That’s almost life and death. Let’s not make this ordinance so black and white that we don’t have some room to accommodate unforeseen shortages.”