Week in review

CITY HALL

Formal protests over a $7.92-million construction contract for a new Adult Recreation Center have caused another delay for the long-planned project, further straining the ability of Glendale to hold onto a major funding source.

The City Council on Tuesday was scheduled to vote on a recommendation from parks officials to approve the contract with George C. Hopkins Construction Co. to build a new 19,100-square-foot Adult Recreation Center at Central Park, but took the proposal off the agenda after the city received protests filed by two competing firms that submitted bids that were between $120,000 and $495,000 less.

The firms — Perera Construction & Design Inc. and G-2000 Construction Inc. — were passed over despite their lower bids for having “material errors” in their paperwork, including omissions, improper signatories and inadequate subcontractors, according to an evaluation by the city attorney’s office.

 The City Council on Tuesday took steps to allow more dense development in the downtown area, but stopped short of extending its boundaries south to Elk Avenue after representatives from the Holy Family Parish argued that already bad traffic conditions there would only worsen.

In introducing code revisions to allow higher buildings around the Alex Theatre and denser projects downtown in exchange for ground-floor art space, the council made it clear that it would hold firm on the south boundaries of the Downtown Specific Plan along Colorado Street between South Glendale and South Columbus avenues.

A proposed extension of the downtown boundaries one block south to Elk Avenue would have changed an existing three-story cap on multifamily housing there to allow five-story mixed-use commercial, residential, retail and other uses.

EDUCATION

Kelly Schroeder is one of many teachers throughout the Glendale Unified School District who have helped raise elementary school test scores, and she has done it with 36 students in her classroom.

But if she taught in the Burbank Unified School District, that total would be closer to 30 students.

The difference in class sizes might seem small, but it has had a big effect on classroom environments and on budgets, teachers and officials said.

While the Burbank Unified School District’s student-to-teacher ratio in the fourth and fifth grades is 30-to-1, the Glendale Unified School District’s average for the same grades is 34-to-1, according to school accountability reports. The different approaches have left one district with a leaner instructional staff and budget while the other may lay off some of its teachers to help cut costs.

Glendale Unified’s larger class sizes, and subsequent smaller teaching staff, have likely contributed to its $21.3-million reserve total that will allow it to forgo teacher layoffs altogether, Supt. Michael Escalante said.

Burbank Unified has emphasized smaller class sizes because of the teaching benefits brought about by the more intimate atmosphere, said Joel Shapiro, deputy superintendent for the district.

But now the district is in a position where it will have to find opportunities for savings in its budget, which could include laying off teachers, Shapiro said.

With salaries and benefits making up more than 85% of most school district budgets, class sizes can play a large role in driving up expenses or padding reserves, he said.

The district’s low class sizes have paid off with a variety of successes, including an increase in state test scores from 751 in 2004 to 797 last year, just three points below the state’s 800-point target.

Glendale Unified has also improved its state test results, even with large class sizes, Escalante said.

The district’s scores rose from 734 in 2002 to 818 last year.

That improvement is a testament to the district’s efforts to be more efficient with less manpower, Escalante said.

In doing so, the district has saved funds that it has put toward reserves, which allowed it to pass up on its March 15 option to notify teachers of the possibility of layoffs, he said.

 Federal stimulus money seemed like a long shot to members of the Glendale Unified School District Board of Education on Tuesday as officials offered an update on finances that showed lofty reserves dwindling into deficit and projected that state budget uncertainty may continue to jeopardize revenues.

Some funds for schools included in the stimulus plan would likely be redirected by the state in order to make up for shortfalls, Supt. Michael Escalante said.

The state’s shortfall may further complicate the budget act, which is largely dependent on voters approving a series of ballot measures in a May 19 election, although schools will likely receive their budgeted funds in 2009, regardless of what voters decide, according to the Department of Education.

 Students pushed school board candidates to reveal stark differences in perspectives during a forum Tuesday at Clark Magnet High School, where they faced questions about the biggest flaw in Glendale schools and about how officials should measure failure.

Five of the seven candidates for the Glendale Unified School District Board of Education attended the forum, in front of a crowd of students at the school’s outdoor amphitheater.

The event was organized by government teacher Nick Doom and was directed by student questions.

BUSINESS

Glendale has more than a million square feet of vacant office space and Burbank may soon hit that number, with two massive developments nearing completion that have not yet been leased and could increase competition for renters, real estate managers said.

Entire floors of Glendale buildings have been empty for months, despite the city’s low rents and business taxes, officials said. And the city’s vacancy rates are the fourth highest in Los Angeles County, at 16.8%, according to a recent report by real estate firm Grubb & Ellis.

Burbank’s vacancy rate is just 4%, but its empty office space will grow from its current 214,454 square feet to more than a million after two new developments, at 2900 W. Alameda Ave. and 2300 W. Empire Ave., are finished.

The two buildings are awaiting certification for the highest energy efficiency and environmental standards, and Burbank officials are confident they are attractive enough to fill with tenants, said Scott McGookin, an economic development manager for the city.

But that could complicate matters for real estate managers in Glendale, where a new building, at 207 Goode Ave., is set to add more than 186,000 square feet of empty space to the city’s already soft market for office real estate.

Lee projected Glendale’s vacancy rate would climb to 19% when the new building is accounted for.

The surge in new space, combined with current vacancies that have increased in recent years, could further drive down rental rates and hurt businesses that benefit from the daytime foot traffic of office workers, said Nancy Sidhu, chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation.

PUBLIC SAFETY

A judge ruled Wednesday to permanently allow an injunction that forbids specific alleged Toonerville gang members from going to two parks, including Glendale’s Palmer Park, and participating in gang-related activities near the city and Los Angeles border.

Superior Court Judge Maureen Duffy-Lewis granted the permanent injunction that would limit those named in the order from associating with each other in public places. They were also forbidden from going to Chevy Chase Park in Los Angeles and Palmer Park.

SPORTS

 Crescenta Valley High softball Baillie Kirker hit three home runs Thursday to power the visiting Falcons to a 19-0 Pacific League win against rival Hoover. Kirker, a senior, put herself in uncharted territory. She’s hit 47 career home runs, shattering the state mark of 45 set by Perelini Koria of San Pedro between 2005-08.

 Glendale High’s boys’ tennis team picked up a 10-8 Pacific League road victory against Crescenta Valley on Thursday. Ashot Papikian swept his three sets to pace the Nitros. Dro Mahmoudi of Crescenta Valley won two sets.

NOTABLE QUOTABLES

“The number’s going to get really nasty when that building gets delivered.”

Linda Lee, a senior managing director for the Charles Dunn Company real estate firm, referring to the city’s office vacancy rate of 16.8%, which she predicted would jump to 19% once a new building adds 186,000 square feet of empty space to the market in the coming weeks.

“We’re not trying to stop the event, we’re trying to not get squashed under the event.”

Dale Dawson, president of the Montrose Shopping Park Assn., which sponsors the Harvest Market every Sunday, on Americana at Brand developer Rick Caruso’s compromise decision to hold his own farmers market on Saturday.

“The city is going to have to come to us very shortly for an extension, and I’m going to have to see progress.”

Ilona Volkmann, district administrator for the county Regional Park and Open Space District, who controls a $700,000 grant, awarded in 1992, toward the city’s planned $7.92-million Adult Recreation Center. The project was delayed again Tuesday to address bid protests.

“The idea isn’t to give them tickets. The idea is for them to be careful, so they don’t get it.”

— Councilman Bob Yousefian of red-light cameras at four city intersections that take photographs of traffic violations.

“For art teachers, this is our Grammys.”

— Teacher Amy Rangel of being honored with a BRAVO award from the Music Center of Los Angeles for excellence and innovation in teaching arts to students.

“I am keeping the bling in the jewel city.”

— City employee Javier Covarrubias of removing graffiti off public and private property in the city.

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