By Cristy Lytal
From fixing potholes to overseeing multi-million dollar development projects, city managers are responsible for running the day-to-day operations of the cities they serve. This October, two California cities—Torrance and Avenal—welcomed new city managers who are alumni of the Master of Public Administration (MPA) program at the USC Price School of Public Policy.
Aram Chaparyan: City Manager of Torrance
Born and raised in Armenia, Aram Chaparyan was 11 years old when he moved to the United States with his family. When he started public school in Pasadena, he didn’t speak a word of English. By the time he graduated from Pasadena’s John Muir High School, he had earned admission to the University of California, Irvine, where he majored in political science and minored in history, and served as student body president for two terms.
“My heart was always in public service,” he said. “A lot of that goes back to my immigrant roots and being so appreciative to be in America, being an Armenian American, and really embracing the values. That sense of public service was instilled in us in a very young age and that foundation of wanting to give back.”
Chaparyan launched his public service career at the City of Torrance as an intern with the City Manager’s office in July 2001, and began the MPA program at USC the following month. He later returned to USC to participate in the Ross Minority Program in Real Estate.
“I never considered myself an academic per se, but the USC program was unique,” he said. “It was hands on. It opened my mind and really entrenched that sense of public service and being able to have the tools to be effective.And I’ve been able to leverage everything I learned at USC.”
Eventually, Chaparyan met the woman who would become his wife. The couple began their family in Northridge, and Chaparyan continued to work for the City of Torrance.
“When you come to Torrance, you get that hometown feel,” he said, “and I felt very comfortable in that environment.
He worked for four years in the city’s transit department, first as a Business Manager, and then as the Operations Manager in charge of running of the city’s buses. He supervised more than 100 employees, managed a $10 million budget, and gained experience in everything from labor relations to human resources to budget planning.
In 2007, he was called to serve in the City Manager’s office, as an Assistant to the City Manager and Chief Labor Negotiator. In addition to negotiating collective bargaining agreements and implementing citywide reorganizations, he gained experience in strategic planning, emergency operations, land management and much more.
“Because I had the initial introduction to the City Manager’s office, I realized that it’s the nucleus of the organization, like the command center,” he said. “And I had a bird’s eye view of all the different operations. No one day is alike, we get to solve problems, and local government is where you can see the immediate impacts of policy. If someone has a problem or an issue, we’re very nimble and responsive. And I like to fix things.”
He was promoted to Deputy City Manager in 2017 and Assistant City Manager in 2018, and started his newest role as City Manager in October 2020. During his time in the City Manager’s office, Chaparyan has navigated everything from the $300 million renovation of the Del Amo Fashion Center to recent civil unrest and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“At the end of the day, there’s meaning,” he said. “There’s a realistic realization of satisfaction. Democrats, Republicans, and independents can agree: a pothole is a pothole, traffic congestion is traffic congestion. Some of our fundamentals are so apolitical, and that’s what draws me into this role, where we can actually put our differences aside and get things done.”
Antony V. López: City Manager of Avenal
Just a few months after receiving his Master of Public Administration degree from USC Price, 28-year-old Antony V. López became the youngest City Manager in the history of his hometown of Avenal in California’s Central Valley.
López’s first foray into public life was as the student body president of Avenal High School, where he graduated as valedictorian. He went on to attend Georgetown University, where he continued to pursue leadership opportunities. He served as co-chair of the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, or MEChA. He also founded a gastronomical group called Hilltop Tacos, which served free homemade Mexican food to students at special events, and he led efforts to convince the school to pay for multicultural graduation ceremonies.
“I’ve always been an involved person wanting to help out my community,” he said.
At Georgetown, he majored in Women’s & Gender Studies and Psychology and Portuguese. At the same time, he pursued his interest in multimedia, working for the technology center at Georgetown’s library, and founding his own print shop business.
After graduation, López helped manage his family’s cattle ranch in Mexico, while serving as the director of a Georgetown summer immersion program for disadvantaged high school students.
“One of the highlights of my life, definitely, was getting to meet different students from across the country,” he said. “And more often, those students have gone on to private and elite schools, and ended up being leaders in their own communities. So it was a really great program to be a part of.”
As much as López enjoyed these opportunities, his ultimate goal was to return to Avenal to serve his hometown community. In 2015, he started a consulting firm in Avenal that offers a variety of multimedia and technology services, including printing, graphics, and computer repair. While continuing to run this business, he secured a job as an Associate Planner at the City of Avenal in 2017, and began the MPA program at USC Price the following year.
“As soon as I started working here, I knew I wanted to be able to do more, give more to myself for the community,” he said. “So that’s why I applied to the MPA program at Price.”
As an Associate Planner, he helped with many city developments and projects. He secured a “ReLeaf” grant to plant 215 trees in Avenal, and a PetSmart grant to enable the animal shelter to hire a part-time kennel technician.
He also volunteered for organizations, events and projects that celebrated Avenal. He made a five-minute documentary about the city, which won a competition and premiered at the Fresno Tower Theater. He currently serves as the treasurer of the Avenal Historical Society and Museum, and makes graphics and flyers for local events, such as the Pistachio Day Festival and Old Timers’ Day, through his involvement with the Rotary Club.
When Avenal’s City Manager retired after 26 years, López applied for the position. The Avenal City Council appointed him, and he started his new role in October 2020.
“The primary goal for me, as I’ve let everybody know, is to build and shape a community I’d be proud to raise a family in,” he said. “I actually just purchased a house next door to my mom. So I’m here to stay, and I want to see it grow the right way. It’s been unfortunate that a lot of people—a lot of my peers, my generation, even earlier—as they grow up, as they get jobs, they move away. And I wanted to start changing that, be different, and set the example that there is a future here. So that’s always been my goal.”