Ron Kaye: What's the next Verdugo Dispatch?

Realtors call it the “popular tri-city area,” a region that proudly boasts its own “tri-city airport” and fundamentally healthy economies. The FBI likes the moniker so much it dubbed a robber who hit 10 banks in Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena this summer the “Tri-Cities Bandit.”

In these tough economic times with no end in sight, government officials of the three cities, which have a combined population of nearly 450,000 — big enough to make it California’s 8th largest city, ahead of Oakland — are scrambling to find ways to cooperate, consolidate and collaborate to reduce costs while preserving, or even improving, the quality of the services they provide to the public.

Cheaper and better is a tough formula to beat at a time when cities like Los Angeles and many smaller towns in the eastern San Gabriel Valley are laying off workers, slashing services and sharply raising fees, rates and fines.

The standard they are seeking, as Glendale City Manager Jim Starbird puts it, is, “What’s our next Verdugo Dispatch going to be?”

Verdugo Dispatch, located in Glendale’s Fire Station 21, was conceived in the 1970s and built in the 1980s to handle fire suppression and medical emergency calls for Glendale and Burbank, and then Pasadena. Now it serves a dozen cities to the east in the San Gabriel Valley.

The result is that each of the cities has cut the cost of dispatch services roughly in half and the technology available is far superior to what even the richest of them would be able to afford.

It also created a spirit of “dropping the borders” that seemed impossible during years of conflict and rivalry spawned by the takeover of the old Lockheed Airport by Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena

“If you look at Verdugo Dispatch, you see better integrated coordination between the Tri-Cities and the San Gabriel Valley cities that not only generates cost efficiency, but we’re getting a better service,” Pasadena City Manager Michael Beck said.

“I don’t see the economy roaring back before 2015. Everybody in government needs to be looking at how we can be more efficient in delivering services, so we’re looking for opportunities through cooperation with other cities.”

Pasadena already provides air support for smaller foothill cities and hosts the electronic catalog for its own libraries and those in Burbank and Glendale, creating an enhanced collection that is seamlessly available to users in all three cities.

Technology with high capital costs is an area getting a lot of scrutiny. Burbank and Glendale are providing each other with backup data storage for the smart meter systems they are installing so they don’t need to buy additional servers.

Working with the vendor, Burbank also has saved money by using its server to host software that is being used by Temple City and Eastvale in Riverside County.

Worker compensation insurance, purchasing of goods and services, tree trimming, animal control, even staff training and recruitment are other areas that are being explored that are “low yield , low resistance and don’t directly impact service to the public,” said Burbank City Manager Mike Flad.

“Integrating services is a laborious and complex process, even for cities like Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena, that are knee-deep in dealing with the economic crisis, but not the in slash-and-burn mode that some cities are facing,” Flad said.

“Our cities are like-minded in terms of how we prioritize service delivery and have a track record of working together. We’re not in a panic mode because of our strong economic development policies, so we are trying to be more strategic than reactive to take advantage of the economic crisis to find opportunities that were missed in the past.”

The big-ticket items for all three cities are fire and police, so discussions have centered on sharing the costs of specialized units that are necessary, but that respond to relatively few calls for service in each city: hazardous material teams, urban search and rescue, SWAT, helicopter support, shooting ranges, DNA forensics, jails.

“We’re all talking about how we can be more effective in utilizing those specialized services,” Starbird said. “We’re asking each other what makes sense in efficiency of delivering a service, how can we, right now, in this economy, find the right critical mass to be more efficient and effective and save us all a lot of money. It takes a lot of brain damage to go through that.”

One of the challenges is the different cultures of each city and city government — in Starbird’s words, “getting people to think beyond the great state of Glendale, as we call ourselves.”

And he adds, “The tri-city concept is powerful. I can’t imagine where you would have a powerhouse like that anywhere else with so many varied environments with so much going for it.”

Three separate and distinct cities working closely together to maintain the quality of public services during tough times while marketing themselves to generate the economic activity needed for long-term growth — what a concept!

RON KAYE can be reached at Share your thoughts and stories with him.

Copyright © 2019, Glendale News-Press
EDITION: California | U.S. & World