Garen Yegparian is a strong contender for a seat on the Burbank City Council
His credentials include years of advocacy and community service, and an abiding commitment to environmental protection
Published: Friday January 09, 2009
Burbank, Calif. - As Garen Yegparian runs for the Burbank City Council, he can boast a few credentials many of the other candidates may not.
For one, he's a passionate environmentalist and a longtime, award-winning volunteer for the Sierra Club. And for another, he would be the first Armenian-American elected to the Burbank City Council.
Mr. Yegparian, 46, spoke to the Armenian Reporter on a recent afternoon about running for office, going green, and building bridges between the old Burbank establishment and the city's growing Armenian population.
His involvement in the world of politics dates back to his years in college. He became active with Armenian groups seeking to bring attention and recognition to the Armenian Genocide.
"That sort of opened the door and opened my eyes, and I said, ‘Oh, yeah, this is a great world to be involved in,'?" he said.
Since then, he's had a seemingly insatiable appetite for civic involvement, serving on numerous boards and committees. And now he's among 13 candidates running for three seats on the Burbank City Council.
Mr. Yegparian has made the environment a high priority in his campaign. The 15-year Burbank resident has long been a member and volunteer for the Sierra Club, a national environmental group. The Sierra Club gave Yegparian an award after the avid hiker took several politicians – including the California attorney general, a member of Congress, and other state and local officials – on hikes.
When it comes to sustainability, he said Burbank is taking steps in the right direction but has a long way to go.
Burbank has enacted a voluntary green-building ordinance that offers incentives for builders who use environmentally friendly methods. These include using recycled building materials as well as designing structures that conserve water and electricity, minimize light pollution, and incorporate alternative transportation, landscape design, high indoor air quality, and other green standards.
Mr. Yegparian said as a Council member he would try to push similar measures. If the government were to spend more money on alternative fuels and other sustainable practices, it would pay off in the long run, he said.
Spending money on going green might be unattractive "in the very short term," but "it's folly not to pursue" such options, he noted.
It would ultimately save money and "takes us off the oil umbilical cord," he said. "It's not going to happen overnight. We could have started 10 years ago, 20 years ago. And we have recently in Burbank."
In other parts of California, including neighboring Glendale, Mr. Yegparian said the influx of Armenian immigrants startled longtime residents and created some tension.
Burbank, with nearly 10 percent of its population now Armenian, is encountering a similar demographic shift. But Mr. Yegparian said the tension simply isn't as pronounced because of proactive measures on the part of the Armenian community.
As a founder of the Burbank Armenian National Committee (ANC) in the early 1990s, he has encouraged Armenians to take part in the broader community and foster relationships outside their tight-knit circles. He said he had learned from problems in other areas that community involvement can help dispel fear of new immigrants.
"When there are huge numbers of any new group, there's this ‘Oh, my God' reaction," he said. But "it's tough to get angry with people you already know."
An early endorsement
"We have never done this so early, but Garen's credentials, fighting for the Armenian Cause, made the endorsement a no-brainer," said Armen Martin, chairperson of the ANC Political Action Committee.
Mr. Yegparian graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in chemical engineering, but said he has never practiced in his field of specialty. And while he finished school, he never really enjoyed chemical engineering – he was forced to declare a major before he was ready. After college, he was hired as the principal of a small Armenian school in New York, he said.
For the past ten years, he has worked for the City of Los Angeles in the City Clerk's office as a technical research analyst – in other words, "a number cruncher," he said. He had been considering his run for a City Council seat for about three years, he said.
And while he said he is thoroughly focused on the race for the City Council and what he would do once in office, he said he'll probably have further political aspirations down the line. He confessed a deep interest in federal politics – he supported president-elect Barack Obama, but only after it became clear that Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D.-Ohio, wasn't going to win.
But Mr. Yegparian is no stranger to local politics either. He serves as the chairperson of Burbank's Parks and Recreation Board and is a member of the Transit Services Task force. He also has long been involved in other boards and a range of community issues. He has served on the Burbank Charter Review Committee, the Burbank Campaign Finance Reform Committee, the Burbank Community Development Goals Committee, and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Advisory Committee (as Burbank's representative).
Mr. Yegparian said he's not good at lying, and, once in office, he would try to get a broad cross-section of the community interested in local politics and provide "simple, nuts-and-bolts reality."