Burbank Will Cast Votes for Council, Settle District Issue
When Burbank City Clerk Evelyn Haley reminded the Burbank City Council last week that the municipal primary election will be held Tuesday, there were several chuckles and snickers from members of the council and the public.
“I have heard rumors of an election,” quipped Mayor E. Daniel Remy, one of two councilmen seeking reelection to a four-year term. But, he added, the campaign has been “very quiet.”
With 18 candidates vying for three council seats and with a controversial citizens’ initiative appearing as two measures on the ballot, some City Hall observers had predicted an exciting and emotional campaign.
The ballot measures, which call for replacing the city’s at-large election system with five councilmanic districts, are the first citizen-sponsored measures to qualify for the Burbank ballot in nearly 25 years. The 18 candidates are the most to appear on a ballot since 1957 when 19 contenders fought for two council seats.
Yet the fiery rhetoric, big spending and harshly worded mailings of some past elections have been conspicuously absent from the primary.
While one candidate, Al Dossin, has collected more than $9,000 in cash and other gifts, more than half of the candidates filed financial statements 10 days ago with the City Clerk that show they raised or spend less than $500 per person for the campaign. Councilman Larry Stamper, moreover, has vowed not to accept any contributions toward his reelection bid.
“Perhaps people feel it is difficult to get elected in the primary, so people are waiting for the general election,” said Haley, echoing a commonly held belief that with so many candidates competing in the primary, it will be difficult for any of them to command a simple majority of votes required to win a seat. If no candidate receives a simple majority, the top six candidates will square off in the April general election.
“Maybe they are just hoping to be one of the first six finishers, and then pool their resources for the general election,” she said. “They are waiting to see which way the wind is blowing.”
Despite its relatively low-key tone, several recurring themes have dominated the campaign including the direction and pace of commercial growth in the city.
The growth debate has encompassed everything from skepticism about a proposed regional shopping mall in downtown Burbank to complaints by residents that new development is spilling into quiet neighborhoods and creating colossal traffic and parking problems.
Not surprisingly, most of the 16 challengers have focused their criticism on the role that Remy, Stamper and retiring City Councilman Leland Ayers have played in creating--and, some say, subsequently ignoring--the problems.
“I am angry about what is happening in this city,” said Floran Frank, a candidate from the Rancho area of southeast Burbank. “People who live in the Valley are angry because council members from the hillside are putting high rises in our neighborhoods . . . We desperately need a housecleaning.”
Four of the five incumbent council members live in the hillside area of Burbank north of Glenoaks Boulevard. None of the city’s three redevelopment zones, where most commercial growth in the city is now occurring, extend into the hillside neighborhoods.
Michael Hastings, another candidate from the so-called Valley, or flatland portion, of the city, described parking problems accompanying new development as a “cancer that is eating up our neighborhoods.” He said Burbank faces a “tainted future” if growth is not better planned.
Even Brian Bowman, a Burbank business executive who has been dubbed by some as a favorite of the incumbents to succeed Ayers, identifies the need for better city planning as the most important issue of the campaign.
Bowman, who served as vice chairman of the Burbank Planning Board before resigning to run for City Council, said the land-use element of the city’s general plan needs to be revised and updated to “protect residential areas from intrusion.”
6,000 New Jobs
He said commercial space set aside in the West Olive Redevelopment Project, an area that includes the Media District, will total 1.5 million square feet and translate into 6,000 new jobs. “There is a need for city planning. We can be ready,” he said.
Despite criticisms of their position on development, Remy and Stamper have shown no signs of backing down from their pro-growth stance. In fact, the two incumbents proudly defend their voting records and promise more of the same if reelected.
Stamper, speaking at a candidates forum last week, said Burbank is “moving forward” and advised skeptics not to “undersell the City of Burbank.”
Remy said at the same forum that most Burbank residents support what the City Council has accomplished. Calling the city “alive and vibrant,” he cited statistics indicating that property tax revenue has increased 60% over the past four years and that there has been a $650 million increase in the assessed value of property.
Mall Heavily Debated
The proposed Towncenter Mall, a 150-store shopping center that would include four major department stores, has probably been the single most debated redevelopment project of the campaign. Several candidates point to a history of failed promises and stalled negotiations that have surrounded the proposed mall. Some predict that it will never be built.
But Remy and Stamper say they have financing commitments from the developer, Ernest W. Hahn, and that the mall should be completed in 1987 in time for Christmas shopping. The city has already floated $35 million in bonds to finance the construction of a city-owned parking structure that will adjoin the mall.
In a ceremony criticized by some as election-eve hype, the City Council held a demolition party Saturday at the site of a building scheduled to be torn down for the mall. The party was meant to “signal to one and all that our Towncenter is really on the way,” said a news release prepared by the city. But not everyone was convinced.
“Every woman in this town wants a shopping center,” said Mary E. Kelsey, a council candidate, former chairman of the Burbank Planning Board and a critic of the proposed mall. “But let’s not be misled. We cannot build a parking structure until Hahn does something first.”
Shopping Center a Probability
At last week’s candidates forum, even Stamper chose not to refer to the shopping center as a sure bet. “I believe it has a very high probability of happening,” he said.
The two measures on Tuesday’s ballot call for charter amendments that would eliminate the current at-large election system and replace it with the district system, under which five councilmanic districts would be created. The measures were placed on the ballot after a bitter struggle last fall between members of the Neighborhood Awareness Committee, which drafted the amendments, and the majority of City Council members, who were vehemently opposed to it.
Committee members, including candidates Hastings and Jules Kimmett, collected more than 5,000 signatures to qualify the measures for the ballot. Perceived legal difficulties with the measures, however, nearly kept the measures off the ballot. Only after the City Council reversed an earlier vote and agreed to support placing the measures on the ballot did City Clerk Haley agree to do so.
Council Lacks Valley Dwellers
Many supporters of the ballot measures, including candidate Frank, point to the lack of representatives on the council from the Valley portions of the city as evidence that the current system is not working. Many residents who feel threatened by the spread of redevelopment argue that such construction would be more carefully scrutinized if council members actually lived in neighborhoods adjacent to redevelopment areas.
“They know very well that council districts will increase voter awareness and act as a guide to mutual and beneficial growth,” said Ronald Moore, a former Burbank police officer who is supporting the district system in his bid for a council seat.
Candidate Margie A. Gee said, “The problem is that the people who have been affected by change have not been included in the decisions for change.” Gee and Moore also said that more residents would be able to afford to run for office if candidates were not required to wage citywide campaigns.
Fewer than half of the 18 candidates, however, have actually taken a position in favor of the ballot measures. At least four candidates, including both incumbents, have publicly opposed the measures.
Opposition Group Formed
Last month, a group of current and former Burbank city officials opposed to the measures formed Taxpayers Against Partition and Separatism. The group mailed thousands of flyers to residents urging them to reject the two measures. The flier included comments against the measures by Haley, City Attorney William B. Rudell, 10 former mayors and four of the council’s five incumbents.
Opponents of the measures argue that they are vague and poorly written and that districts would lead to “fiefdoms.” They argue that council members would trade deals and work for their districts at the expense of the city’s overall welfare. Both the Burbank Board of Realtors and the Burbank Chamber of Commerce have voted to oppose the ballot measures.
Included in the call for council districts is a charge by some residents that the City Council has been unresponsive to their needs. Residents and several candidates claim that incumbent council members--Remy in particular--have been insensitive, rude and arrogant in their dealings with the public and with city employees.
The “morale” issue, as these complaints from city employees have come to be known, became most apparent in recent weeks when none of the three Burbank employees organizations that endorsed council candidates backed either Remy or Stamper.
“You have people in the city in high positions that are afraid to say things because they are afraid they will lose their jobs,” said police Sgt. Don Brown, president of the Burbank Police Officers Assn., which endorsed both Remy and Stamper in 1981. “There is a morale problem, yes. It has been raising its ugly head for four years now.”
Guy Zink, president of the Burbank Employees Assn., said the 650-member group declined to endorse Stamper and Remy because “we need a responsive ear.” Zink said that the incumbents have “lost touch with the city employees” and that there is a feeling that “sometimes we are forgotten here.”
Morale No. 1 Problem
Kelsey, who has been endorsed by all three organizations, identified morale as the No. 1 problem facing the City Council. And Dossin, an insurance agent who also was endorsed by all three organizations, said the most recurring theme he hears from voters is that the council does not care about the public or city employees.
“The people are tired of it,” Dossin said at last week’s forum. “You now have a chance to fire them.”
The morale issue has been a favorite of Councilwoman Mary Lou Howard, who is often at odds with her fellow council members and has made no secret of her desire to see Remy and Stamper lose. Howard, who is not up for reelection, has endorsed Kelsey, Dossin and Hastings--three of the candidates who have been most sympathetic to her complaints about the council.