Two-term City Councilwoman Marina Khubesrian announced this week she will not seek reelection in District 2 this year.
In a statement, Khubesrian said she wished to spend more time with her family and rededicate her energy to her advocacy on environmental, economic and housing issues.
“After careful consideration, my family and I have decided that it is time for us to renew our commitment and focus on family, friends and advocating for causes we truly value on a local, national, and global level,” she said.
The announcement comes as a local resident has called on city leadership to investigate the councilwoman, alleging that she created false personas that were used to disparage the resident, as well as a former finance director and a fellow council member during the public comment portion of meetings.
The resident, Chris Bray, has also called on Khubesrian to resign from the council before her term ends this year, and for her peers to formally make the same request.
“Should she refuse to do so, the Mayor should, at the very least, remove Councilmember Khubesrian from additional assignments, such as serving as a liaison to commissions, a representative of the City to outside agencies, or a member of Council committees,” Bray wrote in the email.
In response, Khubesrian said she was “not going to dignify” the allegations with a comment, but did state she would not seek reelection this year. She added she has no plans to resign ahead of schedule.
“I’m not planning on resigning and I plan on finishing up my work for the remainder of my term and I look forward to my next chapter,” she said Wednesday in an interview.
In his email to city officials, Bray claimed Khubesrian used fake emails under the names Mel Trom and Emily Diaz-Vines to surreptitiously submit public comments to the city that were highly critical of Bray and Josh Betta, a former finance director. Betta in June submitted an unsolicited analysis of the proposed 2020-21 budget to city officials that called into question the work of Finance Director Karen Aceves.
“Councilmember Khubesrian has engaged in abusive conduct, and has made false personal charges against colleagues, a former member of City staff, and a member of the public,” Bray wrote. “She has done so through deception and subterfuge, using false names and email addresses that masked her true identity. She has submitted public comment under names other than her own, then pointed to that public comment in later debate to claim that the public supports her policy positions. She has degraded and impaired local debate, embarrassed the City of South Pasadena, brought disrepute upon the South Pasadena City Council, and exposed the City to the threat of litigation through the use of defamatory attacks, as a Councilmember, upon former staff and members of the public.”
For the June meeting in which the council ultimately punted on enacting the budget and instead adopted a continuing appropriations resolution, an emailed comment from Diaz-Vines accused Bray of being “a troll” based on what she said were prior email conversations; Diaz-Vines described herself as a 17-year-old high school newspaper editor who was partly of Mexican descent in the comment.
Though the emails were signed with the Diaz-Vines name, they were sent with an email address under the name “M Devine.” Public comments have been done via email since March, when the COVID-19 forced the city to host remote meetings that audience members must watch through video stream.
Diaz-Vines also defended Aceves in her comment, in which she referred to the finance director as “a Mexican American young woman,” from implications of impropriety from Betta and from City Council comments that seemed to lend credence to the suspicions.
“Director Aceves answered every question and explained things over and over again,” Diaz-Vines wrote. “My mom was very impressed with her knowledge and grace under pressure. We are both disappointed at the disrespectful and rude comments directed at professional women for doing their job from 2 of the councilmen.”
Additionally, the comment accused Betta of abusing his ex-wife, of insubordination and inappropriate behavior while working for a variety of other cities and of having inappropriate sexual relationships with women he worked with.
Betta, who forwarded Bray’s complaint to The Review, characterized the attacks as false and vicious.
Bray also highlighted emails sent under the Trom name, which praised work done by Aceves and DeWolfe and lobbied for passing the budget. Another email from that user, Bray said, was sent to Councilman Michael Cacciotti and threatened to damage his reputation if he continued criticizing Aceves and DeWolfe.
Bray claimed in his complaint to the council and city officials that he was able to link these email accounts to Khubesrian by using the account recovery feature through Gmail, through which he said he determined that Khubesrian’s phone number and publicly known email address were listed as account recovery avenues for the aliases. Bray emphasized in his allegations that he did not proceed with any password resets or attempts to further access the accounts.
“I intended only to verify account recovery information, without attempting to see the contents of, or control the access to, any account,” he added. “Indeed, the process I used presented no opportunity for me to gain access to any account that was not mine, since the process is designed to send password reset information only to the email addresses and cellphone numbers that were used by the person who created the account.”
Bray also noted that he asked Google to preserve the internet trail of the accounts, should they be deleted by their owners, and also included in the complaint a variety of circumstantial evidence that he said adds credence to his claims. He asked that the city seek a third party, such as the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office’s Public Integrity Division, to formally investigate the claims.
Bray and Khubesrian have previously sparred publicly, notably at a meeting last year in which the two argued over Bray’s posting of a photograph of Khubesrian with her son on the social networking site Nextdoor. Bray responded with profanity and called Khubesrian “a fool” and “a problem for this community.”
Although Khubesrian, who was first elected in 2011, declined to address Bray’s allegations, she did say part of her decision to step away from politics was motivated by the desire for a culture change. She said in recent years she has received a large number of abusive emails and other messages “from anonymous sources and also from individual members of the public.”
“We need a change in the way we talk to each other and we need to change the way we talk about each other,” she said. “I’m going to embrace that change. Part of why I decided not to run again is because I want to, first of all, do some reflections on the way I’ve spoken to people and spoken about people, but also help the community and find better ways to communicate with one another. There’s so much upheaval right now, in our society and our country but also in our South Pasadena community.”