The following is the story of how a city can instill in its citizens a tendency toward apathy and resentment, and an example of why the saying "you can't fight City Hall" is so commonly heard.
There was a very discouraging council meeting July 7 in Burbank when three council members refused to place the Burbank Fine Arts Federation development fee for the arts proposal on the November ballot. However, we are not giving up. We will begin to circulate a petition for the February ballot next month.
The City Council's rationale, and that of the developers present, was based on two considerations. The first was that it is "not fair to single out the developer" to pay for aesthetic improvements. The second was that, if it goes on the ballot, the "people will vote for it because it does not cost them anything." It is indeed very fair to expect the developer to build and shape our city in a way that will contribute to the enhancement of our image and quality of life. In fact it is very unfair to the residents and bad business to not require this. Burbank's current image is a strong indication that this should have begun long ago. The second consideration implies that they do not trust the people to decide on this issue in an intelligent and responsible manner. All I can say to this is, tsk, tsk!
The Fine Arts Federation and other volunteers spent nine long months getting 3,000 signatures and endorsements from 126 businesses and 16 service clubs. We spent a lot of time and money educating people who, like Jarvey Gilbert, did not understand the proposal and very likely did not even read it. We also spent many hours collecting and analyzing survey data from over 600 residents and Burbank members of the Chamber of Commerce (survey results from both showed over 80% in favor of our concept). We worked with the city staff gathering and studying similar ordinances from other cities. We packaged this data in a very professional way so as to elicit professional responses from the Board of Realtors and Chamber of Commerce.
With much effort we contacted Debbie Reynolds, Ron Howard, prominent developers and citizens who gave us glowing and informative endorsements. We sent out an economic impact report from the L.A. Chamber of Commerce stating that support of the arts makes good business sense. We walked through the Burbank Golden Mall and down Magnolia Boulevard gathering signatures from business people. Additionally, we made many presentations to service groups and, although we requested to present our data to the Board of Realtors, the Chamber board of directors and their development committee, they all refused this request.
It became very clear that our opposition was coming from local developers who have heavily influenced this city's direction for some time. The realtors and Chamber boards refused to discuss the issue with city staff, even though we offered to make concessions (they were the only community groups that council asked for feedback, which in itself is curious). We wasted many hours because we were told that this is the "way things got done in Burbank." Looking back, I think they expected us to just go away . . . after all, how organized, persistent and serious could a bunch of artists be?
In the end, although the council failed to approve the proposal, we expected that they would at least have the courage to place it on the November ballot, if only because we generated so much public support and interest. However, once again, the developers' interests were favored, and we will have to begin from scratch (the 3,000 signatures are not on official petitions). We are now thoroughly immersed into Burbank politics and we will have to study that "art form."
To all of the people who endorsed our original proposal, we thank you. We will begin circulating the petition next month and we thank you in advance for your continued support. Although it would be justified, we will not go into apathy. We will not give up or go away. Our city can be beautiful, and in the end everyone will reap both the benefits and the profits.
\o7 Higgins is president of the Fine Arts Federation of Burbank. \f7