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Ron Kaye: Trouble even in paradise

January 30, 2011|Ron Kaye

The bumpy roads and broken sidewalks and overgrown trees end when you leave the city limits of Los Angeles and enter Burbank or Glendale — there should be signs saying, "Welcome to Paradise."

In contrast to the warring factions — business, civic, neighborhood groups — fighting over crumbs from the table of power in L.A., people along Olive Avenue in Burbank and Brand Boulevard in Glendale seem content as I chat them up. Most are unaware City Council elections are fast approaching — Burbank's first round is in February and Glendale's is in April — and those who do know seem little concerned about who wins.

It isn't apathy; people are happy with the way things are. After all, 94% in Burbank are satisfied with city services, according to a recent poll, and 90% in Glendale based on the last time the city asked.

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Having fought for cityhood for the San Fernando Valley, and having worked hard to help make Los Angeles the great city it can be, I relish the opportunity explore smaller neighboring cities that seem to be thriving while L.A. is dying.

My first stops in my exploration are the offices of the people in charge, offices that are not guarded by armed cops or metal detectors, suggesting they don't regard the public as dangerous enemies as in L.A.

Burbank City Manager Mike Flad talks about growing up in the city and moving up through the ranks during his more than 20 years on the city payroll. He talks about civic pride in a city "where so many were born and raised and still live here" and how they respond generously "to meet the needs."

Yet, few residents show up for council meetings, the blogs about city issues are sporadic, and civic engagement beyond the occasional neighborhood controversy seems low.

Complacency?

"Kumbaya, that's the attitude of a lot of people," Flad suggests. "We can do better."

Burbank, unlike L.A., has little debt, using redevelopment revenue to build parks and recreation programs, upgrade the infrastructure, revive the business district and attract the Walt Disney Co. and other entertainment companies.

The city spends nearly $70 million a year from redevelopment funds — equal to nearly half the General Fund budget — and regards the money as vital to the city's health, putting Burbank, like many cities, at odds with Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to eliminate all such agencies as a critical part of restoring California to fiscal health.

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