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Low-Key Efficiency Helps Build Accord

August 17, 1989|SANTIAGO O'DONNELL | Times Staff Writer

In less than a year, Glendale Community Development Director Madalyn Blake has climbed from the narrow role of an administrator of federal subsidies for low-income residents to the chief architect of the city's new strategy to deal with its growing housing problems.

It hasn't been easy.

"The city's never had an affordable housing policy before; I have no context to work with," she lamented Monday in her City Hall office, while revising the proposal she would introduce to the City Council the next day. She was clearly anticipating what would follow.

Energetic, good-natured, efficient and eager to please as usual, Blake unveiled her two-year, $8.7-million spending plan for affordable housing to the City Council on Tuesday.

There, Blake was met with a diatribe from Councilwoman Ginger Bremberg.

"The density bonus program you're proposing has been tried before and it was a wretched failure. . . . I find many things in this proposal difficult to accept--if Glendale gets into this business of subsidizing homes with taxpayer money, the programs are going to get bigger and bigger and there's no end to this."

Bremberg didn't stop there. "Besides, what about the proposal to help moderate-income families pay their mortgage? At $42,000 a year, they can certainly pay rent. This goes against everything my conservative soul tells me. Our city should be in the business of providing the best available services, not creating a class of people that will sit all day in front of City Hall and wait for us to pay their bills."

Blake calmly answered that many of the programs she proposed already were in place and politely noted that almost all of her plan would be paid for by federal funds and city funds that state law demands should be spent on affordable housing.

The other four council members praised her efforts and the plan was approved 4 to 1. Blake had sensed that she would encounter some opposition, but she also knew that once again she was giving the City Council the kind of package it could not resist.

Consensus on Policy

Bremberg notwithstanding, Blake's penny-wise, investment-oriented proposals and her quiet, non-controversial and unemotional style have helped her succeed in attaining the unthinkable--a consensus on a housing policy for the city of Glendale between the city's conservative City Council and representatives of nonprofit organizations that help low-income residents.

While others in her position might try to solve the entire city's housing problems, Blake takes pride in her pragmatism and doesn't dwell on her limitations.

"I'm not an idealist," she said. "I don't want to save the world. I just want to put together programs that work and reflect the City Council's philosophy, which suits me just fine."

Rather than asking the council for more resources, Blake is perfectly comfortable with city's fiscal conservancy.

"I love working with our council," she said. "They're just great--they want programs that make sense. I wouldn't want to work for a city like Los Angeles or Santa Monica, where politics and bureaucracy always get in the way."

Other Side of the Fence

This may sound strange coming from a self-described bureaucrat, but Blake has been on the other side of the fence. After graduating from the University of Massachusetts in 1970, she went to work as an employment counselor for the city of Boston, where she said she suffered her fair share of bureaucratic and political stonewalling.

After working for the Universidad de las Americas in Puebla, Mexico, and the city of Los Angeles, she moved to Glendale in 1981 to head the city's employment and training programs. In 1985, she became director of the newly formed community services program.

While she may feel at home in conservative Glendale, her years as a counselor and her travels through Latin America--a poster of the Inca ruins of Machu Pichu, her favorite vacation spot, adorns her office wall--clearly heighten her awareness of the social problems she now confronts as a city official.

'Drastic Changes'

"Glendale is undergoing some drastic changes with thousands of people moving in every year," she said matter-of-factly. "And I take pride in doing as much as I can to help them."

Among her accomplishments is the working relationship that she has established with the city's nonprofit groups, whose representatives are quick to praise Blake's ability to get as much as she can for them out of the City Council without becoming confrontational, and thus ineffective.

"She has an open attitude toward working with the various agencies in the community and is willing to go the extra mile," said the Rev. Greg Roth, head of a coalition that helps the city's homeless. "There's a good feeling about her leadership. The City Council sets the agenda, but she's good at presenting proposals that are acceptable to them."

'A Delight'

Lt. Kenneth Hodder from the Salvation Army said: "It's a delight to work with her. I have nothing but praise for the way the city has cooperated with our work with the indigent population."

Council members were equally as eager to compliment her. "She's innovative and committed to doing the things we encourage," Mayor Jerold Milner said. "She gets the job done."

"She's a real asset," Councilman Carl Raggio agreed.

Blake, as usual, is not complaining.

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