Burbank Greets Its New Manager : Ovrom Returns in High Spirits After Rejecting Job 2 Years Ago

Times Staff Writers

When Robert (Bud) Ovrom stood before the Burbank City Council two years ago, the news did not please him. But when he returned Tuesday to be named the city's new manager, he was smiling broadly.

"It's good to have a unanimous vote this time, and I'm very happy to be here," he said.

For Ovrom, the council's 5-0 vote to appoint him Tuesday night, just hours after City Manager Andrew Lazzaretto resigned from office, erased most of the bad memories from the time he faced a differently constituted council in 1983.

Ovrom had actually been hired as city manager of Burbank then, but refused to take the job because two of the five council members opposed his appointment. He decided the city was too divided for him to be able to run it.

But "Burbank has always been big in my mind," Ovrom said.

Used City as Role Model

He had used the city as a role model, he said, when he began his city management career 12 years ago as assistant to the city manager in Simi Valley.

He told the council that he had used blueprints and plans for Burbank as a guide to help him build up Simi Valley. "Studying Burbank was how we got Simi Valley started," he said.

Ovrom, who will turn 40 next month, is joining a city government that has been torn in recent months by personal attacks and a debate over the consequences of redevelopment on residential neighborhoods. Two incumbent councilmen were ousted by candidates endorsed by Mayor Mary Lou Howard in an general election last month.

After weeks of pressure from the new majority, Lazzaretto and City Atty. William Rudell both submitted their resignations Tuesday, which Howard said was because of their "inability to work with the new council."

Ovrom said he is familiar with controversy in government from his experience in Downey, where he has been city manager for two years. He said he is unhappy about his term in Downey, which he said he is leaving without having accomplished anything significant.

"Professionally, I do feel like I short-changed Downey," Ovrom said. "The City Council hired me to do a job, and the job didn't get done."

The "job" concerned plans for a 380-acre redevelopment district along Firestone Boulevard. The plan was challenged in a lawsuit filed by property owners who feared that the city would use its eminent domain powers to take their land.

Settlement Rejected

Over five months, Ovrom worked out a proposed out-of-court settlement only to have it rejected last month by the City Council in a 3-2 vote. Council members decided they would rather fight the suit, a move that could delay Downey redevelopment indefinitely.

Ovrom said that experience made his decision to leave Downey easier.

"The only real frustration with this job has been redevelopment," Ovrom said. When he was city manager of Monrovia, he said, he could look out his office window and see a high-rise hotel and a 360,000-square foot shopping mall that he had helped to build in that city's redevelopment district.

Looking out his office window in Downey Wednesday, Ovrom said he could point to no similar accomplishments in that city.

But he said he still considers his strong point to be in the planning and execution of redevelopment.

Downey and Burbank both have about 85,000 residents. But Downey has only about 400 city employees, while Burbank has 1,100.

No Hesitation

Ovrom said he is not hesitant to be going to a city that has been beset by disputes over the pace of redevelopment.

"There is no truth to the myth that this is a no-growth council," said Ovrom, disputing an allegation by one of Howard's former opponents on the council that a government dominated by her would return Burbank to "an awkward, decaying little town that it was 10 or 15 years ago."

"This council and I are committed to growth in Burbank," Ovrom said. "This is a fresh beginning, and we will work together to help Burbank grow."

Howard has noted that the developer of Burbank's proposed Towncenter shopping mall, which is to include four major department stores, was the developer of the Monrovia mall.

Reactions in Downey

Ovrom's move provoked diverse reactions from Downey officials. Council member James Santangelo called Ovrom a "marvelous administrator," but said, "I thought that he was going to be here longer." Two years was "a very short time," he said.

Regarding a successor for Ovrom, Santangelo said, "We're looking for someone who is not stair-stepping but is looking at Downey as a place he wants to be for a while."

Downey council member Robert Cormack said Ovrom was the "finest city manager in the city's history, and I've known them all personally," but added, "he's worthless if he's not here."

Ovrom now lives in Downey with his wife, who is assistant city manager of Brea in Orange County, and two children. He said he is planning to move his family to Burbank. Ovrom will begin work in Burbank on June 10 with an annual salary of about $73,000.

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