Hopefuls address fiscal gloom

BURBANK — Candidates for City Council and the Burbank Unified School District Board of Education made their pitches for election at a candidate forum Thursday, proposing solutions for the looming financial challenges expected to plague schools and city governments in the coming year.

The forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters of Glendale/Burbank, challenged 11 of the 13 council candidates and all three school board hopefuls with questions on topics ranging from money for animal shelters to support for water-saving faucets.

But the core of most responses referred back to the nation’s economic crisis and its effects on Burbank, with candidates making suggestions for keeping the city financially secure and moving it into the future.

“We need to head this off very, very aggressively,” said Lee Dunayer, a challenger for one of the three council seats up for election. “And by that, I mean we need to use as much of the economic stimulus as we possibly can,” he said, proposing that the city attempt to benefit from a massive economic stimulus plan being championed by President Barack Obama.

Other council candidates suggested that Burbank should diversify away from what they called a dependence on the entertainment industry and position itself as a destination for new, green jobs.

“With the coming explosion of next-generation companies, I want to see Burbank become the place where those companies are incubated and generated,” said Kimberly Jo, one of the challengers for the council who emphasized a desire to promote new technologies in the city.

Mayor Dave Golonski, who is completing his 16th year on the council and pursuing an unprecedented fifth term, touted his experience as a defining factor that would better equip him to make decisions related to the city’s expected $7-million budget shortfall.

Golonski and Councilman David Gordon are the only two incumbents defending their seats in the upcoming election, and both participated in Thursday’s forum. Councilwoman Marsha Ramos is not seeking reelection.

“No matter what happens, there won’t be anyone else on the City Council that has more than three years of experience,” Golonski said of the other candidates and current council members.

But questions about term limits and experience were also at the forefront Thursday, with some candidates questioning whether an extended presence on the dais might prevent the development of new perspectives on the council and others contending that the decision should be in voters’ hands to pick whomever they saw as most fit for the post.

When it came to applying experience to the difficult financial decisions expected to face the board, challenger Dan Humfreville argued that it wouldn’t matter.

“The truth is, no direct experience exists and no education or time previously served on this dais makes up for the fact that these waters are unchartered,” Humfreville said.

Also participating in the forum for council candidates were Jess Talamantes, Barbara Sharp, Elise Stearns-Niesen, Greg Jackson, Steven Ferguson and Garen Yegparian. Candidates Angela Nakashyan and Jeffrey Prutz were not present.

School board candidates also grappled with financial questions, with incumbents Debbie Kukta and Larry Applebaum arguing that the current board had made fiscally responsible decisions in recent years, like increasing the size of the district’s reserves, which will protect schools from many of the potentially harsh impacts that reductions to educational funding might have.

Lone school board challenger Gregory Bragg said he would find ways to trim excessive spending in the district.

Bragg also said he would oppose any action to reduce school calendars by up to five days, an option that has been proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to help schools save money on salaries, utilities and other expenses while the state struggles to increase school funding.

“It’ll affect salaries for teachers,” Bragg said. “Certainly they’re not going to be paid for those five days, and I have spoken with teachers and that is a concern.”

A video of the forum will be rebroadcast on Channel 6 at 6 a.m. and 1 p.m. today and at 6 a.m., 5 and 11 p.m. Sunday.

All candidates will appear on ballots for the all-mail-in primary nominating election.

The City Clerk will mail all ballots by Feb. 4 and will finish collecting them by Feb. 24.

Any candidate receiving more than 50% of votes will automatically win a seat on the council or the school board, and the top remaining vote-getters for each race will be included in the general mail-in election in April.

 ZAIN SHAUK covers education. He may be reached at (818) 637-3238 or by e-mail at zain.shauk@latimes.com.

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