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Smart meters, golf courses and bears, oh my!

The year 2011 was the year of development. From a huge cost underestimate on Bob Hope Airport’s massive transit center, to news that Walmart was coming to town, to the clog of a large-scale revamp of the Golden State (5) Freeway corridor, the pang of new construction and a changing landscape was inescapable.

Here’s a look at some of the headlines that grabbed our attention in 2011, and that will continue to reverberate well into 2012.


Wild things


For whatever reason, 2011 saw more than its fair share of wildlife intrusions into urban areas. Mountain lions, coyotes, bears, bobcats — during the summer, hardly a week went by without some sort of sighting.

While coyotes play a continuing role in pet deaths, it was the recurring reports of prowling mountain lions that generated the most worry among residents.

Lions were spotted in backyards and even prowling among parked cars in the hills of Burbank. And animal control officers rescued two mountain lion cubs from underneath a parked car earlier this month after they apparently were abandoned by their mother.

Bears also spooked mountain bike riders and hikers in local hills.


And how could we forget the flock of pigeons near Bob Hope Airport that led to misdemeanor public nuisance charges against a man who authorities say was feeding the flock and creating a safety hazard for airplanes.

‘Too big to fail’

After Mayor Jess Talamantes called the troubled, city-owned DeBell Golf Club “too big to fail,” the city approved a $2-million rescue package, ticking off residents who bristled at the notion of a bailout during citywide budget cuts.

The rescue was far more than the roughly $567,000 in proposed public-service cuts at the time, including shaving around-the-clock firefighter staffing from 37 to 36, holding off on planned library improvements and reducing city youth jobs by roughly half.

Parks officials said the golf course had been losing about $300,000 annually in recent years.

The city eventually agreed to spend roughly $24,500 to bring in the National Golf Foundation to help turn the municipal course around.

Burroughs baseball program suffers a hangover

The Indians entered a prolonged period of flux this past spring when Burroughs High School fired the varsity baseball coach and three assistants and canceled the remainder of the season in April after discovering an assistant coach allegedly served players beer during a tournament trip to Arizona.


Indians Coach J.R. Schwer and the assistants, who were all at the mid-March tournament, were fired April 18. Schwer acknowledged that a large number of players were served alcohol by an assistant coach.

The decision to cancel the season sparked outrage among some parents and students who said the actions of a few shouldn’t affect the entire team. But the damage was done.

But the state of flux wasn’t over. Eddie Alvarez — who was hired after the alcohol scandal — was fired by the school’s principal on Oct. 31 because of “inconsistent leadership.”

Principal Emilio Urioste then hired Kiel Holmes, a former Indians player and Burroughs graduate, because he “he knows and understands the community.”

Smart meters spark outrage

What was hailed as putting the city on the forefront of a new age of utility use and billing was, for some, a health hazard and Big Brother intrusion.

Smart meters — digital meters that measure and report electricity usage in near real-time — were hailed by utility officials as a way for customers to better manage their energy consumption. But one group of residents wasn’t having it.

Despite repeated assurances from government agencies that radiowave emissions from the meters were well within federal guidelines and on the same par as cell phones and other appliances, some customers insisted that the technology was harmful. They also felt the meters were an intrusion on privacy, and they voiced their concerns at public meetings.


State regulators are in the process of reviewing a possible opt-out policy for customers who don’t want the smart meters.

Bob Hope Airport: Big appetite vs. market realities

After construction bids for a new transit center at Bob Hope Airport came in between $47 million and $69 million above the projected $112-million price tag, officials were forced to push the project back to the drawing board this summer.

The bids surprised officials, who blamed high steel costs and a “fear factor” among contractors that the project could not be built as planned.

At the same time, the airfield continued to suffer from decreasing passenger figures, which dragged down all-important parking revenues. That combination didn’t escape the notice of the credit rating agency Fitch, which warned that even a scaled down $90-million transit center could significantly increase the airport’s debt burden.

Fitch cited months of shrinking passenger figures and parking revenues as contributing to a fragile financial environment for the airfield.

The Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority later put the brakes on a proposed $1.5-million contract to draw up the revised transit center plans after Commissioner Frank Logan, of Pasadena, raised questions about the new cost calculations and said he was concerned that the authority was rushing into the project.

Get used to freeway woes

A massive $700-million state construction project for the Golden State (5) Freeway to realign ramps to accommodate new carpool lanes kicked off this year.

The HOV-lane project will force the closure of the Burbank Boulevard bridge over the I-5 for nearly 14 months as crews reconstruct the overpass with new on- and off-ramps starting in 2013. But major traffic disruptions are expected through 2015.

Overall, the project will revamp how motorists enter Burbank off the I-5, and will forever alter how residents traverse the city.

Walmart sparks ongoing debate

It’s essentially settled. Walmart is coming to town.

But that didn’t stop people from protesting, or going back-and-forth on the perceived benefits and drawbacks in the public discourse.

Even now, the debate rages on Facebook and in this paper’s Forum pages as residents prepare to be one of the few “Walmart towns” in Los Angeles County.

Burbank — which has had its share of NIMBY moments — has little recourse, since Walmart’s plan to occupy the former Great Indoors site conforms to city zoning codes.

Memorial Field renovations

The long-awaited $12.7-million overhaul of John Burroughs High School Memorial Field was heralded in January as a joint project between the city and school district, but the class of 2012 was sent into a tizzy when graduating seniors were told they wouldn’t have home-field advantage.

School administrators — fearful of the impact of hundreds of high heels and rambunctious graduating seniors on the freshly redone field — had planned to keep the ceremony at Starlight Bowl.

But with construction scheduled to be finished in spring 2012, seniors expected to graduate on their home turf.

The disagreement set into motion marathon negotiations and brainstorming between stakeholders that eventually led to a compromise: A 12-member school site council decided to rent protective covering for the track and portable flooring to protect Memorial Field.

“’Relieved’ is a good word,” said senior Austin Ross.