Burbank has a new mayor. On Monday, Councilwoman Stacey Murphy eagerly
surrendered her figurehead role and Councilman Bill Wiggins was elevated
to serve as mayor for the coming year, his third round in the center
Don't look for a lot of substantive changes.
During Monday's meeting, one official after another characterized the
past year as "interesting," summing up 12 months of controversy, surprise
and disappointment. Few were directly attributable to just one person,
also true in those years when an outgoing mayor has scads of projects or
new programs to celebrate.
But there isn't much doubt the list of accomplishments during Murphy's
mayoral term is a short one. From a plane crash to the collapse of a
major development project to a flawed attempt at a ballot initiative
driven by petition, the year was peppered by first-time experiences that
just kept coming. The effort of getting past those, just making it to the
next meeting, seems to wear on city officials.
Part of the problem with Murphy's year, and a likely burden of
Wiggins', is that the council doesn't share and wasn't elected to favor a
single perspective. Today's council lacks a clear identity.
We've seen pro-business councils accumulate a long list of projects,
financed in large part by taxpayer funds. But their records on Populist
causes were dismal.
We've seen Populists or slow-growth advocates carry the council
majority, and everything from moratoriums to expanded rights for visitors
to the council chamber were won.
Today's is as close to a middle-of-the-road council as has been seen
in a decade, one serving many masters. Given a variety of circumstances,
none of those masters are particularly well served.
Some circumstances are beyond anyone's control and others seem the
result of intermittent, inconsistent levels of enthusiasm.
Extremists argue they're being shortchanged. A small contingent of
business people holler the council has forsaken business and capitulates
to every gadfly's gripe. Another handful howls City Hall has done worse
than abandon residents. They say the council actually hopes to slash home
values, and to see people exposed to an array of dangerous toxic
materials and pollutants.
Evidence doesn't support whines from either side. And neither can
point to patterns that definitively show the other is enjoying all the
attention. But the council can't even work consistently in the middle,
instead seeming to race back and forth to appease one extreme, then the
Murphy's term was especially hamstrung by rapid changes in the
financial and building markets. Windows of opportunity did open. But
compared to other years, they quickly slammed shut.
There is every reason to believe the pattern will continue through
Wiggins' term. Not since the early 1990s have we seen markets remain
favorable for periods of a year or two.
When the city has a shot at promoting a commercial project, virtually
every facet -- from tenants to financing -- has to be locked down with
blinding, perhaps reckless speed. As we've seen over and again, banks and
builders have no stamina. Leave just one thread dangling, and someone
will pull it and unravel the project.
The Regent project, a combination hotel-office-retail space downtown,
is an example. Officially declared dead last week, some deemed it
terminal months ago. Just weeks after city approvals were won, staffers
were struggling to get the developers to adhere to the design.
When staff felt compelled to send samples and describe "Art Deco,"
insiders told me the project was crumbling. And it showed on their faces,
and in the way they moved through the day.
Airport controversies have provided excellent examples of City Hall's
schizoid personality. Officials are committed to finding a settlement in
proposals to build a new terminal that respects the city's residents, and
to keeping us informed.
Simultaneously, the council occasionally becomes fed up. Sometimes,
malaise seems to rule the day more than commitment.
Several weeks ago, the council agreed by consensus that Murphy and
Councilman Dave Golonski will remain as the council's airport negotiation
subcommittee. I happen to think it was the best choice. But especially
among extremists, that's likely to be controversial.
Rather than discuss it publicly and simply weather the speculation and
accusations of extremists, there's never been a formal announcement. It
has been referenced, including a mention by Wiggins on Monday. But on the
premise it was not a formal vote, the council never announced it.
One minute they bend over backward to disseminate every conceivable
scrap of information, once even broadcasting a town hall meeting via
satellite. Another day, for no obvious reason other than temperament,
they're loathe to mention an innocuous meeting.
And so they suffer when others "reveal" a discussion took place. It
becomes significant mostly because it wasn't announced.
The pattern is inconsistent and confusing. The council seems tired and
passionless, most members plodding and inspired only occasionally -- and
It's folly to demand the council pick a "side" and cleave to it, but
this isn't about specific goals. Whether the issue is the airport, or a
development project, whims, the mood of the day and levels of patience or
frustration seem to soar and plunge. Decisions on what to do or say, and
what not to do or say, ride that same arbitrary roller coaster.
On one day a confidential memo might be released with an eager 5-0
council vote. On the next, an utterly benign discussion remains secret,
apparently because no one has the energy to address whether it should be.
And so officials guarantee a repeat of their own cynical and cyclical
Like a middle-aged couple in a marriage the bored partners take for
granted, the council and staff don't seem to share an exciting vision of
tomorrow. Indeed, most seem to share only a collective dread of having to
go back to work.
Will Rogers' column appears in every edition of the Leader. He can be
reached 24 hours a day at 241-4141 voice mail ext. 906, or by e-mail at