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Glendale Officials' Tempers Flare Over Late Computer System

October 19, 1989|MARTHA L. WILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The otherwise congenial atmosphere at the Glendale City Council retreat in Oxnard was broken briefly by anger Friday when officials learned that a sophisticated computer program they were counting on to help plan development will be at least a year late in coming.

Glendale officials had lauded a so-called "transportation modeling" system, which is expected to more accurately predict traffic congestion and other ramifications of future development, as the answer to planning the size and type of buildings that would be permitted citywide.

When they awarded a $284,000 contract to a Pasadena consultant in January, council members said they were told that the system would be in operation by late this year. On Friday, city staff workers said the data needed for the system cannot be expected before June.

"I just don't understand why it's going to take another whole goddamned year," said Mayor Jerold Milner, who became flushed in the face and sat up straight in his swivel chair when told the news. "You said six to nine months. Now you're talking twice as long. That just isn't acceptable."

Milner called the computer program "the key to everything we're planning in the city."

Tom Horne, city traffic and transportation manager, who broke the news, said the program has been delayed because the consultant, Barton-Aschman Associates, has been unable to obtain a database needed to implement the system from the Southern California Assn. of Governments.

A spokesman for Barton-Aschman denied Wednesday that the firm has failed to comply with the city's contract. Ray Rebeiro, project manager, blamed the problem on miscommunication between consultants and the council.

"We have a classic case whereby the client doesn't fully understand what is being done or why," Rebeiro said.

Without the system, the city has studied the impact of new development on traffic congestion on a case-by-case and street-by-street basis, with no accurate projection on the cumulative effects of all development.

Glendale was planning to use the sophisticated transportation modeling system to track projections on growth in Southern California, provided by SCAG, to determine the individual impact of each project in Glendale on traffic congestion and the supply and demand for housing and employment.

Similar systems have been used for years by dozens of the nation's largest cities, including Los Angeles, according to consultants. But Horne said Glendale has been unable to develop its own model because it lacks the regional data necessary and there is a shortage of traffic engineers capable of developing the system.

"Bull," Milner snapped with uncharacteristic sternness. "I don't believe it. I want that model and I want it by the first of the year."

He suggested that the city find another consultant, if necessary, to do the job.

Other council members shared Milner's anger. Councilman Larry Zarian, who has openly fretted about growing traffic congestion in Glendale, also suggested that the city look for a new traffic consultant. "I would rather deal with someone who is hungry," he said.

"You aren't going to find anyone who is hungry," countered Horne, who said there is a dearth of trained traffic engineers qualified to deal with the problems of congestion-clogged California cities.

Glendale officials said the computer program is essential for deciding what kind of development will be permitted. "We can't do anything without it," said Zarian, who questioned the reliability of traffic studies that have already been done for the proposed Red Lion hotel and Homart Development Co. office tower and plaza soon to get under way downtown.

"There are decisions to be made and we don't have the information we need to make them," Zarian added. "I'm now more concerned than ever about what kind of traffic we will have in our downtown central corridor."

Councilman Carl Raggio said the city will have to develop its own database, without input from SCAG. "We don't have a model. We are going to have to go ahead without it," he said.

The 20-minute confrontation ended when City Manager David Ramsay proposed that the council meet with the city's traffic consultant within a few weeks.

"Rather than shooting at us, we'll bring back Barton-Aschman," Ramsay said. "There is a lot of anger and frustration on modeling and I understand that."

Rebeiro said Barton-Aschman is working on a two-phase project for Glendale, one part of which examines the traffic impact of all proposed new development in the downtown area, and another that will factor in development outside the city.

Rebeiro said preliminary results of the study on local development are expected to be presented to the council Nov. 6.

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