By Jason KUROSU
Glendale City Councilmembers Laura Friedman and Ara Najarian updated residents on the city’s latest developments at the Sparr Heights Community Center Wednesday night, Nov. 28, touching upon Glendale’s current economic standing and other issues affecting the area such as the proposed tunnel connecting the 710 and 210 freeways.
The state of Glendale’s economy was a blend of good and bad according to Friedman, who acknowledged economic constraints had led the city to pursue a leaner course while also emphasizing that Glendale was to receive an influx of new business.
Friedman said she was regularly asked whether the city was broke and assured, “We’re not broke,” citing $400 million in reserves to be used as a rainy day fund.
“The city council has resisted using that money to cover our operations,” said Friedman. “My feeling is that money should be there for a real rainy day. We should be able to live within our means every year.”
Friedman referenced several factors leading to economic problems such as the national recession and the California State Supreme Court’s abolishing of redevelopment agencies, which Friedman said led to millions coming out of the city’s budget.
The process of making Glendale “a leaner organization” involved several cost-cutting measures, including “downsizing the organization.” One hundred twenty one city employees were offered retirement incentives and voluntarily retired. Twenty-eight employees were laid off. The total reductions have reduced Glendale “to the staffing levels of the early 1990s.”
Friedman noted that no layoffs were made in the police or fire departments.
“Safety is our number one responsibility and I think we’re already lean in safety and we shouldn’t be getting any leaner.”
Friedman also said that since 2008 no city employees have received any cost of living increases, despite several surrounding cities doing so.
But Friedman said that, “the city has its finances well under control. It’s something that’s a challenge, but something we’ve been able to handle. We’ve balanced the budget every single year without going into our reserves.”
On the bright side of things, Friedman explained how the city council is working towards more economic development in Glendale, which will “increase sales tax revenue and decrease office vacancies.”
One method is to promote the idea of an 18-hour day, whereby merchants and consumers may benefit from business at hours when business was previously unavailable.
Friedman also spoke of positive promotion of the city leading to new businesses coming into Glendale, such as Whole Foods moving its Western Regional office to Glendale, a new Bloomingdale’s to open in the Glendale Galleria by Christmas 2013, a 5 Star cinema and a Laemmle theater, along with the establishment of a “creative corridor” leading from the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles to the Burbank border.
Friedman said that Glendale is considered “off the map as far as creative industries are concerned.” The Creative Corridor would be an area to build upon Glendale’s existing creative businesses such as Dreamworks Animation Studio and the Walt Disney Company’s Creative Campus, in order to attract similar business to the city. Friedman said several businesses have already moved into the area of the corridor.
Councilmember Ara Najarian touched upon another topic affecting a wider region than the city of Glendale: the proposal for an underground tunnel connecting the 710 and 210 freeways.
Najarian, who is also a member of the MTA board, said, “Nothing is going to affect our quality of life more than the 710 tunnel.”
The tunnel would serve as access for semi trucks to move cargo from the largest container port on the Pacific to areas throughout the country. Najarian, along with many others opposed to the tunnel, has characterized it as a development that would exacerbate traffic and health concerns.
“Trucks will spew particulate matter that will infect our lungs and shorten our lives,” said Najarian.
Najarian also said that the tunnel would come at a high cost to taxpayers, saying the cost would be over “$10 billion,” and cheaper and less invasive alternatives such as light rail are viable options.
“It doesn’t make sense for you or me,” said Najarian. “It makes great sense if you’ve an engineering company or a construction company. These are the forces that we’re fighting against.”
Like Friedman, Najarian also took time to reflect upon positive developments in the area. He praised Montrose’s “marketing genius” for the success of local events like Oktoberfest and the Montrose Christmas Parade. As for Glendale, Najarian said, “Glendale is a premier city. Don’t let anyone tell you different,” before noting that at meetings with other city officials, “not a day goes by where they don’t say something great about Glendale.
“They toot our own horns.”