Former Mayor William B. Rudell, who led the city and Bob Hope Airport through some of its most formative changes, died in his Burbank home Thursday. He was 69.
Rudell’s cause of death was not known Friday, but he was pronounced dead at his hillside house on the 1700 block of Rudell Drive, named after him years earlier, police said.
An attorney by trade, Rudell was first elected to the City Council in 1973, serving as the city’s mayor for two years before leading the airport for seven years.
His five years on the council resulted in a number of developments that raised the standard of living in Burbank and increased protection for the city’s hillside community, said Vincent Stefano, 69, a former Burbank two-term mayor who served with Rudell.
“He was a great guy,” Stefano said. “He was very bright, meticulous and just a pretty good guy. His passing is a great loss certainly to Burbank, but also to lots of people who were his friends and his enemies. He was respected by both friends and enemies.”
Rudell was born in 1939. He graduated from Burbank High School before finishing Princeton University near the top of his class in 1961 and enrolling in Yale Law School, which he completed in 1965. Rudell returned to California, was admitted to the state bar in 1969 and immediately flexed his civic muscle, first as a Planning Board member in 1970, then its chairman.
After his election to the council in 1973, a race that Stefano remembers fondly, Rudell helped lead the council by supporting or helping to pass a number of significant measures.
He was instrumental in acquiring federal revenue-sharing funds to protect Burbank’s hillside community and helped institute the city’s first paramedic services.
Rudell, along with other members of the council, also tried to forge a sense of modernity in Burbank, said Leland C. Ayers, a former mayor and airport commissioner.
“We sort of decided to make some changes to Burbank that would bring it into the 21st century,” Ayers said.
Those changes included approving a slew of new high-rise office buildings, redeveloping downtown and instituting the Media City Center, still thriving today.
“I think he’s certainly a loss to the city,” said Ayers, 75. “He was one of the strongest councilmen and mayors I came across while on the City Council. I respected him a great deal.”
But Rudell’s biggest contribution, friends and city officials said, was in helping to pass the joint powers agreement between Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena — three cities that assumed control of Bob Hope Airport in the late 1970s.
As an attorney, Rudell drafted many of the legal documents and helped secure federal money from transportation agencies in Washington, D.C., that were imperative in forming the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Authority.
Rudell resigned from the council in 1977 to serve as one of the original nine authority commissioners, acting as president of the group from 1978 to 1985, according to airport records.
At a time when the airport was forefront on resident’s minds, Rudell was a vital figure in Burbank, airport spokesman Victor Gill said.
A 1976 measure asking voters whether Burbank should help run the airport drew more than 87% of residents to the polls, with 27,000 of the 40,000 votes cast in support of the referendum, Gill said.
“It was as much a mandate as you can get,” he said. “The airport was a huge issue of the day, and he was absolutely a central player.”
His last three years on the authority, from 1982 to 1985, coincided with his time as Burbank city attorney.
In 1985, Rudell joined Richards, Watson & Gershon where he spent the last 23 years of his professional life working on the legal ramifications inherent in telecommunications, land-use and transportation issues for nearly a dozen cities in Southern California, said Larry Wiener, the firm’s president.
Immediately after joining the company, Rudell was primarily involved in providing legal services to the cities of Carson, South El Monte, Avalon, Artesia, Seal Beach and Rancho Palos Verdes, according to his firm’s biography.
Drawing on his experience as Burbank’s top lawyer, Rudell then served as a city attorney for Palmdale, South Gate and Lynwood and as interim city attorney for Hidden Hills.
Rudell was also an active member of the Los Angeles Consular Corps and served for 37 years as the Consul of the Republic of Botswana.
Rudell is survived by his wife, Jacquie Rudell.
A private service will be held next week at Forest Lawn in Glendale. A public viewing has not been set.