The recent demise of the planned Burbank Towncenter fueled much of the debate among the eight Burbank City Council candidates, who appeared together for the first time Thursday night at a forum.
Six of the candidates blamed the current Burbank administration and incumbents Mary Lou Howard and Robert R. Bowne, who are running for reelection, for the failure of the Towncenter project to get off the ground. The council last week declared the developer of the Towncenter in default of a contract with the city because of the contractor's inability to sign up enough department stores for the mall.
"After 10 years the Towncenter site is a vacant dust bowl," said Michael McDonald, a Los Angeles Rams center who is competing for one of the two council seats. "I'm a little ashamed of what's happened. Businesses and churches were torn down" for the redevelopment project, he noted.
The challengers also alleged that the administration gives preferential treatment to developers who want to fill Burbank with high-rises while most residents want to maintain neighborhoods of single-family homes.
About 80 people attended the forum, held at Jordan Junior High School. Each of the candidates was allowed a five-minute opening statement. Questions from the audience followed.
Howard, 49, who is seeking a third term, and Bowne, 42, who was appointed to the council 2 1/2 years ago after another councilman resigned, defended their records and stressed their experience in dealing with developers and residents. Howard said the city was not at fault in the failure of the Towncenter, and that local officials had done everything they could to secure the project for downtown Burbank.
Although the candidates were not allowed to question or address each other directly, the session at times became a shouting match. Jules Kimmett, 65, a school janitor and frequent gadfly at city meetings, read a long list of contributions that Howard had received from developers and motion picture studios in the city. Calling the administration "the best council money can buy," Kimmett asked the audience to "put me in there, and I'll turn it around in 30 days."
Tax preparer Lud Grande, 62, provoked laughter and scattered applause from the audience when he said he would put the city first and the people second if he were elected. "If you give me four years of City Hall," Grande said, "you keep your nose out of it, and I'll vote the way I want to vote."
Most of the candidates said they favor putting a retail complex on the 40-acre site where the Towncenter was to be built.
McDonald said he did not know what should go on the site, but would ask the voters what they want.
The candidates are not running for specific seats. The top two vote-getters will win the offices, unless they do not get 50% of the vote on Feb. 24, in which case a runoff election will be held in April.
Other candidates attendeding the forum were Marjorie K. Brannan, 35, a communications consultant; Margie Gee, 51, a community activist, and Edwin La Rocque, a computer clerk.
Gee, Kimmett and Grande lost council bids two years ago.