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Glendale approves 'Meatball' the bear Rose Parade float

A floral depiction of Glendale’s most famous former ursine resident -- "Meatball" -- will be the centerpiece of the city’s next Rose Parade float, council members decided Tuesday. 

After he was caught devouring frozen Costco meatballs from a garage refrigerator in Glendale last year, “Meatball” the bear gained celebrity status for frequent jaunts through the city's hillside neighborhoods until his removal to a San Diego County wildlife sanctuary in August. 

Titled “Let’s be neighbors,” the Glendale float will feature the 400-pound California black bear’s animatronic likeness popping up and down inside a trash can — its lid teetering on his head — as he's surrounded by wildlife companions, including a waving raccoon, skunk, deer and red-tailed hawk. 

The City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved the $155,000 project, concocted by a panel of city workers and float-builder Phoenix Decorating Co.

Mayor Dave Weaver noted that Meatball’s star turn has already sparked widespread enthusiasm about the float.

“I never thought [the float] would take off like that. People have associated with Meatball so strongly,” said Weaver, a longtime booster for the city’s Rose Parade entries. 

The float will be the city’s 100th in the Rose Parade, a record of participation second only to Los Angeles, Glendale Community Services and Parks Director Jess Duran said. 

“I think it’s a really cute float and very topical, and really the first one in a long time that speaks to people,” Councilwoman Laura Friedman said. 

While many of the city’s past floats have privileged style over substance, “this one kind of says something,” Friedman continued. “A lot of us would like to work it out with wildlife and live side-by-side with them.” 

Despite voting for the design, Councilman Ara Najarian shared a less than rose-colored view of Meatball’s removal from Glendale after two attempts to relocate the persistent visitor deep within the Angeles National Forest. 

Najarian said state wildlife officials should have made more attempts to release Meatball into the wild and was critical of his temporary placement in a fenced concrete enclosure. 

Meatball “is not running free; he’s in a wildlife Guantanamo, as some have called it,” Najarian said. “I hate to be a spoilsport, but does anyone out there find it ironic that under the caption of ‘Let’s be neighbors’ is the centerpiece of Meatball, a former resident who was deported from Glendale in chains and is now in a wildlife prison?”

Friedman said the float, crafted under the parade’s 2014 theme of “Dreams Come True” would be “imploring us to get along with wildlife, not that we always do.”

Friedman applauded Glendale residents for mobilizing a fundraising campaign to help move Meatball into a more spacious outdoor habitat, though the effort hit a snag when he was denied entrance to a Colorado animal sanctuary. 

She and Councilman Frank Quintero instead focused concern on the float’s six-figure price tag and the city’s slow progress in raising $75,000 from corporate donors and the community in order to reduce the financial burden for the city. 

Despite entering residents who donate $25 or more in a drawing for the chance to ride the on float during the parade, the city has raised just $160 from residents and $10,000 from a corporate donor, Duran said. 

Weaver, who each year helps organize hundreds of volunteers to help decorate Glendale's floats, was optimistic Meatball’s celebrity will help rally community donors.  

And in keeping with Meatball’s culinary preferences, Weaver suggested the city tap Costco as a sponsor. 

-- Joe Piasecki, joe.piasecki@latimes.com

Twitter: @JoePiasecki.

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