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Lazzaretto: Veteran of Political Fights, Change

“I thought things had smoothed over and we could work things out, but I was wrong. They gave no reason--just asked for my resignation.”

--Andrew Lazzaretto after resigning as Alhambra City Manager in January, 1983

For Andrew Lazzaretto, the events of the last few weeks must bring the worst feelings of deja vu.

Lazzaretto, the Burbank city manager who resigned Tuesday after being criticized by a newly constituted City Council, is now an expert on political conflict and changes in government.

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Lazzaretto, 42, arrived in Burbank two years ago, a victim of a 1983 political battle in Alhambra. That battle, instigated by then-Mayor Mike Rubino and two newly elected council members, led to Lazzaretto’s surprise resignation after a three-hour executive session of the Alhambra City Council in January, 1983.

The resignation came after Lazzaretto was attacked by Rubino and council members Michael Blanco and Mary Louise Bunker for his methods of pushing redevelopment, particularly his use of eminent domain, the city’s power to take over private property, to make way for a $40-million downtown shopping mall.

Lazzaretto’s last two jobs illustrate the tenuous position of top city employees when the philosophy of the government undergoes a dramatic shift.

“The city manager serves at the pleasure of the City Council,” said Fred Bien, a retired city manager of Carson who has served as a consultant to several city governments, most recently West Hollywood. “That pleasure can change from one meeting to the next with three votes. Generally, it’s a position that is kind of shaky.”

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“Being fired or asked to resign is one of the hazards of the jobs,” said Kevin Murphy, who took over as city manager of Alhambra after Lazzaretto’s departure. “Personally, for Andy, I know this has to be very taxing. I have some appreciation of what he’s going through.”

Murphy said he had spoken with Lazzaretto during the last few weeks, and that Lazzaretto is “handling all this as best as you could expect him to.”

When Lazzaretto was hired by Burbank in March, 1983--two months after he left Alhambra-- former Councilman Leland Ayers and Mayor Mary Lou Howard, who was also mayor at that time, said they felt he had been a victim of politics.

They praised Lazzaretto’s experience and his performance in other governmental jobs, including stints as city manager in Walnut and Stanton. Lazzaretto also served as assistant city manager in Lynwood and Montebello.

“I think we were kind of stale around here and we needed someone fresh,” Howard said after the council agreed to hire Lazzaretto. “That is what I was looking for, and also someone I felt was going to be responsible in redevelopment.”

Accomplishments Noted

During Lazzaretto’s three years in Alhambra, he was credited with helping bring several significant projects to the San Gabriel Valley community, and pushed the completion of a $40-million shopping center that had been stalled for 20 years. Alhambra council members said Lazzaretto had almost single-handedly halted at least 20 years of decline in Alhambra’s business district.

But Rubino and the two new council members, who had criticized what they considered a too-rapid pace of redevelopment, were not happy with him.

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When Lazzaretto was selected from among 20 candidates to be city manager of Burbank, at a salary of almost $70,000, it was more than just another job for him. It was a homecoming for the Burbank-born and reared executive.

Lazzaretto noted in a 1983 interview that he did not have to concentrate so much on learning the streets and physical composition of the city. “What I do have to learn is the heart of the city, what makes it Burbank,” he said.

Speeded Up Mall Plans

Soon after assuming the city manager position, Lazzaretto said he wanted to move the city’s beleaguered downtown redevelopment project forward. Plans for the proposed Hahn shopping mall were also speeded up.

He was directed by the council to end two years of deficit spending and balance the city’s $132-million budget, which he attempted to do by ordering department heads to eliminate 87 staff positions by attrition.

Lazzaretto also pushed forward the proposed Towncenter Mall, a 150-store shopping center that would include four major department stores. He also sought approval for a restaurant row in downtown Burbank.

But the city election last month brought into office three candidates who had complained, along with Howard, that development was proceeding too fast in Burbank without adequate regard for its effect.

On Tuesday, Lazzaretto left Burbank’s City Hall before the end of the executive session of the council, at which his resignation was accepted. Aware for weeks that his days in office were limited, he joked about the “death watch” that had preceded his loss of job for the second time in little over two years.

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