Forget basketball and hockey season, for tonight marks the beginning of the only real season that Burbankers should care about: election season. Tonight, the League of Women Voters Glendale/Burbank will be holding their candidate forum in the City Council chamber.
While most years there are a plethora of candidates, and always a character among them, something has happened recently that has thinned the field dramatically — the recession.
There was a time when getting into politics was somewhat lucrative and had a little bit of rock star and glamour mixed in. When Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for governor seven years ago, it seemed like a great gig. Just repeal the DMV fees, sit back and smoke a cigar, and be the head honcho.
When the recession hit, deadlock in Sacramento made progress nearly impossible, and Schwarzenegger left office with low approval ratings.
Two years ago, 13 rams for City Council seemed like something to try and might even be some fun. This year, only four are vying for two empty seats, with one incumbent, Gary Bric, trying for re-election. Suddenly this job is not as much fun and gags as one would have thought in the past.
I called Deputy City Manager Joy Forbes and asked her what the council is looking at this coming year while the income continues to shrink and the expenses continue to rise.
Forbes is always upbeat, but she knows there are some tough times ahead, like an expected $8.8-million deficit for the upcoming budget, which has already been cut six out of the eight past years. in The council will also have to deal with pension reforms like the rest of the state. There are also recurring expenses that will have to be dealt with.
She also pointed out that there are sources of revenue coming in from visitors — parking fees and the so-called hotel bed tax — that could be raised. The council could also impose new fees on residents.
Now when it comes to the forum tonight, I have found the questions in the past to be very "vanilla," and this year I have some hard questions that I would like to hear answered. Also, the way it has been set up in the past, not everyone answers the same question, so it is hard to compare the candidates.
Let's get some answers to these questions:
1. City services have already been decreased in many areas (like libraries) for years with little left to work with. If it came down to an either/or situation, would you cut some services completely (and which ones first), or lay off employees?
2. There is no doubt that employee pensions are going to continue to drain the budget for years to come. What would you do to ensure current pensions and what should be done for current employees?
3. Reports are the Federal Aviation Administration is still upset with the placement of the passenger terminals at Bob Hope Airport. What do you propose to do about the situation, including moving the terminals or even expansion, and what about the Part 161 study? Would you trade airport expansion for a curfew?
4. Do you think the city attorney and his staff are doing a good job for the city, or do you think that there is a hidden agenda and a general lack of respect toward both the council and the public?
5. If the governor disbands all redevelopment agencies, what would you do to revitalize depressed neighborhoods? What should be done about low income housing?
Yes, tough questions, but questions that should be asked tonight, and if not, should be covered in the candidates' statements they will be permitted to make. And if not at the forum, then do it yourself when you see one of the candidates campaigning in your neighborhood.
What's sad is that only 22% of the eligible voters in Burbank even bothered to vote in the last general election, resulting in 10,316 votes cast. It only took roughly 5,000 votes, or about 10% of registered voters, to put someone into office.
So not only do you need to ask tough questions, but you also need to vote — otherwise, don't complain about what's coming in the years to come.
CRAIG SHERWOOD is the executive editor of BurbankNBeyond.com and a baseball coach at Burbank High School. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.