With the speeches over, Jess Talamantes was free to roam the crowd of thousands filling Olive Avenue. He’d already danced with Mickey and Minnie on the steps of City Hall, bantered with a band and weatherman Fritz Coleman, and now he was free for the last order of business at Burbank’s centennial party: join his neighbors not as mayor of Burbank, but as a father, brother, husband and friend.
That was a few weeks ago — a fortuitous honor that he be elected by his City Council peers to serve as mayor on the 100th anniversary year of the incorporation of the city.
Now the party’s over, and he’s back to business. Talamantes is in full swing working his “new” job as mayor — a duty he’s able to perform full time thanks in large part to being retired. On day 87 of his mayorship, the former Burbank firefighter has already seen his share of controversy on two major land issues in Burbank — and the conversations around Walmart and DeBell golf course are only beginning.
That’s not even touching the $8-million budget gap facing the city this year, an issue Talamantes is looking to the community to help solve.
“I have asked people to tell me where to cut. There are not that many people who have come forward,” he said earlier this week.
In fact, if there’s one single hurdle the former Burroughs High School running back is trying to clear, it’s the issue of community input. When meeting with Walmart representatives about their newly acquired property at the Great Indoors location adjacent to the Empire Center, he asked them to get the community involved first.
“Our first recommendation [was to] get the public involved,” he said. “Get the community involved and hold meetings all over. And then we’re very receptive to hear your proposal.”
Walmart has yet to bring anything official in front of City Council, and Talamantes would not weigh in on whether he felt the retailer was “right” for Burbank. He does, however, want the Great Indoors building to be filled soon after its employees vacate on Aug. 31.
The city’s recent economic successes with locating independent TV station KCET and the headquarters for DC Comics in a Burbank office building, as well as the opening of a 24-Hour Fitness, could mean a quick turnaround in the unlikely event that Walmart leases the space.
“One of the council’s main goals is economic development. I don’t want to see that [empty]… it’s too big,” Talamantes said.
While public opinion may be the first priority for Walmart’s property, the process is happening in reverse for the city-owned DeBell Golf Club.
Earlier this year, the City Council was told the golf course had been losing money year over year, prompting a $2-million bailout package. In perhaps a career-defining moment, Talamantes said the course was “too big to fail” before the council approved a $1-million loan with another $1 million placed in a holding account. That quote sparked a flurry of outraged letters and online comments from residents who watched the council tackle $567,000 in proposed cuts to public services as it tried to close a projected $8.7-million budget gap.
Talamantes stands by that opinion.
“It was successful for years; now that it’s doing worse we can’t turn our backs on it,” he said. “All of our core services are being covered. I feel that it’s an integral part of our community — I feel it’s just as important as libraries.”
The city is organizing community meetings to look at how the course is managed, and what its future will look like. Talamantes points out that the money is a loan, one he is confident will be repaid. The upcoming meetings should provide transparency into how it’s managed and what went and is going wrong there, but that’s only if the community shows up.
It’s slightly different with Walmart, which brings in a host of its own baggage whenever it comes to a community [controversial labor practices, traffic issues, etc.]. Talamantes remembers when Target first looked at the Empire Center, and he received similar emails from people with similar concerns.
The opposition may be inevitable, but it’s only really organized on Facebook — and loosely at that. At a recent City Council meeting, only one member of the public mentioned the retailer — and that was to support it.
Talamantes’ first three months as mayor have been spent in reaction mode. Now, as these proposals move forward, he and the rest of the council have a lot of proactive organizing to do if Burbank is going to get what it wants from its recreation and retail.
BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant to Burbank. When he’s not looking for parking at the Empire Center, he can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter @818NewGuy.