About 150 Burbank residents attended the first meeting of a citizens' group that opposes a Walt Disney Co. proposal for a multimillion-dollar project in downtown Burbank.
Tom Kaptain, chairman of "Burbank Citizens Against the Tax Giveaway," said the meeting Wednesday night demonstrated a "phenomenal" opposition to the proposal.
But that opposition was somewhat diluted by some residents' apparent confusion over aspects of the Disney project and the acknowledgement that the group received support from MCA, a Disney rival that has sued the city in an effort to block the Disney deal.
The City Council has given Burbank-based Disney an exclusive option to negotiate the purchase of a 40-acre site in downtown Burbank for $1 million and develop a shopping and entertainment complex expected to cost $150 million to $300 million. The option ends Nov. 5.
Kaptain said the group's opposition is based on a lack of public comment on the issue, the "massive" tax subsidies Disney will receive and the consequences of an estimated 15 million visitors yearly to the development.
"I do not want to stand up here and be anti-Disney," Kaptain said during the meeting, which was at the Burbank Ramada Inn. "This may very well be the best deal for Burbank, but how do we know?"
Kaptain said the group will encourage City Council to hold public hearings, reopen bidding for the downtown land and consider proposals that do not require large tax subsidies.
Although the audience was receptive to those goals, some people became disenchanted when Kaptain acknowledged the contribution from MCA, which wants to develop the land itself.
Kaptain said the organization had received $500 from the giant Los Angeles entertainment corporation.
"To me that is not important," Kaptain said. "What is important is getting the message to the City Council."
But the MCA backing was important to some.
"I don't want to work for Disney or Universal," shouted one man. Universal Studios is owned by MCA.
When another audience member asked if Kaptain would return the $500 to MCA, Kaptain said he would not. "I would have to say no because then, with any group we got support from, you could say the same thing." Later he stressed that the contribution was only a small part of the group's financing.
Mayor Michael R. Hastings attended the meeting and afterward found himself surrounded by audience members asking questions about the Disney project. He eventually moved to the lectern to correct what he called "tremendous misconceptions" about the project.
Chief among those, Hastings said, was belief that the proposal with Disney is complete. "There is no cut deal," the mayor said.
Hastings said the fear that Burbank residents would find a Disneyland in their downtown is unfounded. He said only one-third of the development could be used for entertainment.
The mayor also disagreed with the group's claim that tax revenues of up to $3 million a year from the development would be returned to Disney to finance construction of a parking lot and acquisition of more property.