WILL ROGERS

Will Rogers

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

seat.

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

other.

*

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

briefly.

*

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

pattern.

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

WillColumn@aol.com.

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