BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
The Glendale City Council on Tuesday voted to discard playground equipment, which Councilmember Paula Devine had hoped the city would donate to a school in Artsakh.
Devine and Councilmember Frank Quintero opposed the motion to destroy the playground equipment, while councilmembers Vartan Gharpetian and Vrej Aghajanian were joined by Mayor Ara Najarian in support of destroying the playground gear.
Glendale resident, attorney Garo Ghazarian, spoke during public comments announcing that the Tufenkian Foundation had submitted an official letter requesting the playground equipment for a school in a village in Kashatagh, Artsakh, where the foundation is refurbishing a high school in its continued efforts to repopulate the liberated territories in Artsakh.
Ghazarian explained that during a fundraiser he hosted at his residence in April for the Tufenkian Foundation, Devine proposed donating the playground equipment at Maple Park, which was slated for replacement due to a provision in Glendale that requires replacing such gear every 12 years. The new Maple Part All Inclusive Playground Project was unveiled last week and funded by Development Impact Fee funds and designed by Shane’s Inspiration.
During Tuesday’s Council meeting, Devine said that per city staff reports, the playground equipment, which she wants donated, has been deemed safe and can be used for another five years. Najarian and Gharpetian contended that giving old and what they called dilapidated equipment to Armenia would put children there at risk and would not be appropriate, proposing instead to raise funds and acquire similar gear that is made in Armenia, which they said would benefit the local economy and not be cost prohibitive due to transportation and assembly costs. Devine announced that another charity had pledged to cover all costs of the transportation and assembly.
GLENDALE CITY COUNCIL DEBATES PLAYGROUND
A similar vote was held in the spring, when Devine was joined by then Councilmember Zareh Sinanyan to support the effort to send the playground equipment to Artsakh, while the other councilmembers opposed the measure, based on similar concerns.
“Armenians might be poor but they are not beggars,” said Gharpetian at the council meeting to emphasize that donating second-hand gear might be frowned upon in Armenia, and in a way look bad for Glendale.
It was Aghajanian’s motion to discard the equipment that was put to vote and it passed 3 to 2.
Devine and Gharpetian are running for reelection in March and this issue seemed to kick-start a campaign season, which promises to be eventful, to say the least.
In a telephone interview with Asbarez on Wednesday Devine said she “was stymied” by the Tuesday’s vote. “I was making an effort to help and was turned down by my Armenian colleagues and was saddened by that.”
Calling the council decision “an insult,” Devine asserted that the equipment was safe and only had cosmetic issues, which could be fixed right away, that the Tufenkian Foundation, a reputable organization, wanted the gear for one of its projects.
“There are places in Armenia—there are villages—that are not getting the equipment and we are here for them. This is the Diaspora and I am supporting the Diaspora,” Devine told Asbarez adding that as a city councilmember she serves the entire community, with the Armenian population being an important part of it.
“I know what the Armenian community does for [its] homeland. I respect that and I want to be a part of that,” said Devine.
“I am sorry that it ended up that way,” said Devine. “I had high hopes. It deeply saddened me. I truly regret that.”
Gharpetian believes the issue is “one hundred percent politicized.” In a telephone interview with Asbarez Gharpetian said with this move, Devine was attempting to compensate for not supporting other efforts such as the renaming of a portion of Maryland Avenue to Artsakh Street and the approval of the Armenian American Museum.
“With all due respect, this is all political,” said Gharpetian. “She [Devine] is trying to compensate and make up for the votes she made against Artsakh Street and the museum.”
“If they want to make a playground a campaign issue so be it. I don’t want dilapidate equipment to go to Artsakh,” added Gharpetian.
“At the end that is still going to be Glendale’s equipment, I think we can do better. And we will,” Mayor Najarian told Asbarez in a telephone interview when asked whether donating the equipment now and raising funds in the future for another playground should have been considered. “Someone somewhere would be getting that old equipment. I would rather get them new equipment.”
Najarian was confident that within “30 to 60 days” enough funds would be raised to acquire the new equipment, which would be manufactured in Armenia and “boost the local economy.” He said he anticipated Gharpetian to make a relevant announcement in the coming weeks.
“Three Armenian want the best equipment for the kids out there,” said Najarian of his two fellow Armenian councilmembers.
“Paula has an election coming up and she is motivated to be very ‘hayaser’ to the community. I don’t fault her for that. There is better ways for that. We will invite her to take part in the fundraising. Let her brag about that,” added Najarian, inserting the political slant into the conversation.
“It is always sad to see politics taking precedent over pupils, and in yesterday’s case, politics seemed to trump the opportunity to help the Armenian students of Artsakh,” Ghazarian, who spoke at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, told Asbarez in an email.
“The Maple Park playground was not being replaced because it was old or dangerous. As stated by city staff and in the reports to council, the playground was replaced because the city had received a new Shane’s Inspiration playground. If it was dangerous and/or futile, it would not be up for discussion or be requested from the Tufenkian Foundation, as claimed by some councilmembers,” stated Elen Asatryan, former Chair of the Glendale Parks, Recreation, and Community Services Commission
“It is unfortunate and unacceptable that councilmembers decided to play political football and based their final vote on who is giving and receiving credit. It certainly looks like election season has officially begun in Glendale and the ones left to lose here are not just the children of Artsakh and Armenia, but the residents of our jewel city led by council members who have turned the political process into their own personal playgrounds,” added Asatryan.