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Lessons in Responsive Government

Secessionists have been known to lavish praise on Glendale, but it could be that they need a new role model.

September 17, 2000|BOB RECTOR | Bob Rector is opinion page editor of the San Fernando Valley edition of The Times

Talk to San Fernando Valley cityhood advocates, and invariably they will cast longing glances at the city of Glendale, a land of milk and honey where, they say, the climate is business-friendly and the government takes the needs of its residents seriously.

It was with some interest, then, that Valley residents watched as the saga of the $2-billion Disney creative campus development in Glendale began its laborious journey from proposal to conclusion recently. If, in fact, Valley residents can look to Glendale and see their future, might there be some insights to be gleaned from the exercise?

As it turns out, there are insights and lessons aplenty. Unfortunately, what the Glendale experience shows is how unresponsive and ugly local government can be when the stakes are high.

The massive Disney project is one that would cause almost any city councilperson worth his per diem to salivate. It would be built on 125 acres now occupied by an aging business park. Plans call for 3.6 million square feet of offices, sound stages and studio production facilities. Four- to six-story buildings would be separated by green spaces. One can almost imagine Thumper and Bambi cavorting through the shrubs.

An additional 7,844 workers would be added to the 5,000 Disney employees already at work in the area.

And these are no hamburger flippers. They would be for the most part highly skilled and well-paid professionals. The project would elevate property values and sales tax revenues and provide a major boost for the community. To say the council embraces it is to undersate the case.

Against the backdrop of this municipal / corporate love fest, some clouds have gathered.

Residents say the draft environmental impact report for the project glosses over potentially toxic hazards from chemicals left in the soil and buried in tanks. Many are concerned about the traffic a project of this size would generate. Ultimately, they are concerned by what appears to be a rush to approve the project.


That fear was underscored when residents asked for a 45-day extension to study the massive draft environmental impact report--and were granted 15.

Those same citizens brought their concerns to the Glendale City Council recently for a hearing, and many of them were greeted like ants at a picnic. They got stomped.

When one homeowner told the City Council that Disney should fully disclose the presence of toxics on the site, he was told by Councilwoman Ginger Bremberg, "I don't think this is going to lead to a catastrophe, murder and mayhem in the streets."

When another homeowner expressed concern about the presence of carcinogens in the drinking water, Bremberg accused her of being "close to hysterical" and "using words like 'toxic' and 'carcinogenic' to push panic" among the public.

There was a song in the musical "The Wiz" titled, "Don't Nobody Give Me No Bad News." I was reminded of it watching the Glendale government in action.

Bremberg and the rest of the City Council serve at the pleasure of the public. Clearly the public has concerns about Disney, no matter how good a project it may be. Council members have a responsibility to aggressively address those questions because their constituents demand it.

Instead, they have either engaged in cheerleading, been silent or, like Bremberg, exhibited boorish and intimidating behavior.

What does this have to do with the Valley? The breakaway effort has been fueled by a belief that City Hall is unresponsive. Secession leaders have promised a government of the people.

But if the city of Glendale is being held up as an example of how a responsive and caring government works, perhaps secessionists should seek another role model.

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