By Lila Seidman,
A Glendale city councilman has accused some members of a local homeowner’s association of asking him to leave an event for racially and politically motivated reasons.
Councilman Vartan Gharpetian left a Royal Canyon Homeowner’s Assn. event this past Sunday evening feeling “extremely offended and discriminated against” after he was asked to leave by association president Beth Volpe because it was a members-only event, he said during a City Council meeting on Tuesday evening.
Mayor Ara Najarian arrived while Gharpetian was on his way out and was also told he could not stay, Najarian said during a phone interview on Wednesday.
Volpe said she was on her way to thank Najarian for a commendation the association received during the event on Sunday, but he left before she reached him.
An invitation to the event featured reservation check boxes for both members and nonmembers. Fellow council member Paula Devine, who is a member of the association, was at the event, presenting the commendation from the City Council, but she left before either Gharpetian or Najarian arrived.
Gharpetian said he and Najarian were asked to leave, in part, because they are of Armenian descent.
“No one deserves to be treated the way I was treated at that event,” Gharpetian said during the council meeting.
Volpe, however, attributed the “uncomfortable situation” on Sunday to a misunderstanding when she spoke during the same council meeting on Tuesday.
The Summer Social event is the association’s sole members-only event, requires an affirmative reservation and is meant to be nonpolitical in nature, she said. Acknowledging the nonmember reservation check box on the invitation, she said, “We mean that for our neighborhood, we’re trying to get new members.”
Both Devine and Gharpetian are up for reelection in March and have each stated their intentions to run.
Gharpetian said that before Volpe got involved, a man “sharing her last name,” approached him in a hostile manner, accused of him of talking politics and said he was “not one of us.” The man, Joseph Volpe, is Beth Volpe’s husband and is not one of the association’s board members, she confirmed later.
Nothing was said specifically about Gharpetian’s ethnicity, but “he didn’t have to,” Gharpetian said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “His tone of voice, the hate in his face and his eyes — it was clear,” he said.
Gharpetian also said he came to the “conclusion that it was all preplanned and politically motivated,” after replaying the incident in his head over and over again after the event.
Because the mayor was not asked to present the commendation, as is customary, it “makes me believe it was also racially motivated,” Gharpetian said. He said he was not levying the accusation at all of the association’s members but rather a select few in leadership positions.
Devine, who did not speak about the incident during the council meeting, said in an email on Wednesday that she had asked Najarian if she could present the commendation because he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to attend.
While Najarian said it was highly unusual to be turned away from a neighborhood event and felt personally affronted, he did not accuse the association of having a racial or political agenda.
“It’s unheard of,” Councilman Frank Quintero said of asking a local elected official to leave, adding he’s never been denied attendance to a neighborhood event during his long tenure as a council member and former mayor.
Because the event was intended to be purely social, “it changed the dynamic of the event suddenly” when Gharpetian showed up in “campaign mode,” Beth Volpe said during a phone interview on Wednesday.
Several people had come up to her and expressed discomfort about him being there, she said, adding that she personally did not recognize Gharpetian.
“It got a little heated but on both sides,” Beth Volpe said during the council meeting.
Gharpetian denied “talking politics.” He said he was discussing recent local power outages with other party attendees.
The association, recently celebrating 50 years since its inception, has three people of Armenian descent on its 10-member board, Beth Volpe said in a follow-up interview. Its eight-member neighborhood security committee includes six people of Armenian descent.
“None of that matters to us regardless because they’re just wonderful neighbors in our community,” Beth Volpe said. “We pride ourselves on our diverse ethnic community.”
Armine Hacopian, one of the association’s board members, denied Gharpetian’s assessment that race had anything to do with the incident. She was present at the Summer Social event on Sunday but said she was not involved in the incident.
“I’ve seen racism in the community but not in this organization,” said Hacopian, who is of Armenian descent and sits on Glendale Community College’s board of trustees.
While association members discussed their intent to prevent candidates from attending the event, it was not expressly conveyed to the city because they didn’t know that anyone other than Devine intended to show up, Hacopian said.
Other candidates had been denied entry earlier in the day, both Hacopian and Beth Volpe said.
“It shouldn’t have been handled the way it was, but all we can do is apologize, move on and continue to serve the community,” Hacopian said.
After the incident, Beth Volpe sent both Gharpetian and Najarian letters explaining her perception of the incident and a refund of a $50 entrance fee they paid.
Having left the event before the incident took place, Devine said in an email she had no way of knowing what actually happened.
After hearing both sides during the council meeting, “I was not convinced, one way or the other as to truth of the matter and, therefore, believed it would have been inappropriate for me to make any comments supporting one side or the other, based solely on hearsay observations,” Devine said of her decision not to comment during the meeting.
According to Devine, she stayed at the event on Sunday for only about 20 minutes.
Gharpetian called Devine’s decision not to speak at the council meeting “questionable” and a “red flag” in an interview on Wednesday.
A possibility of introducing a resolution against racial and social injustice was floated during the council meeting by Gharpetian.
He walked it back, saying he didn’t want to pass “feel good” resolutions but hoped to work with the rest of the council members to address what he perceives as racism in a community organization.
Just last week, Najarian had suggested defining protocols on how to properly invite council members to local events.
“We just need a little bit of clarity,” Najarian said after the council meeting. “It will save everyone heartache and headache going forward.”
“We’ve learned some lessons from this,” Beth Volpe said, adding that she intends to be much clearer about which of the association’s events are open to whom.
Every year, the association hosts a National Night Out event, a candidate forum and a summer picnic, which are all open to City Council members.
“We have great respect for our City Council,” Volpe said. “We didn’t get a commendation by being disrespectful.”
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