Incumbent Burbank City Councilman Jess Talamantes, left, and fellow incumbent David Gordon at the election forum Wednesday night.

Incumbent Burbank City Councilman Jess Talamantes, left, and fellow incumbent David Gordon at the election forum Wednesday night. (Tim Berger/Staff photographer / January 31, 2013)

Taking the stage for the first and largest election forum, candidates competing in three citywide races on Wednesday made what could be their highest profile pitches to the voting public before the Feb. 26 primary.

At the forum at Burbank City Hall, which was sponsored by the League of Women Voters Glendale/Burbank, City Council candidates were asked about the projected $1.3-million budget shortfall, climbing utility rates, a $252 million unfunded pension liability and a list of infrastructure needs.

“We need to look at the size of the city workforce, and streamline the way the city works,” said candidate Bob Frutos, a Los Angeles police officer.

Incumbent David Gordon touted his history of fiscal responsibility, noting he was the sole dissenting vote against pay raises for top utility officials in 2010 — a time when the rest of the city was “trying to tighten our belts.”

Still, incumbent Dave Golonski — who is currently serving as mayor — said Burbank’s utility rates are among the lowest in the area.

“You’re not going to see lower utility rates anywhere — that’s because costs are going up,” he said.

Part of that is due to the infrastructure needs in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a major water source for Southern California, said incumbent Jess Talamantes.

“I do everything I can locally, but I can’t control what happens to the Delta,” Talamantes said.

But rates are only expected to increase, partly because of the state’s renewable energy mandate, which cost Burbank an extra $17.8 million just this year.

Political newcomer and former Marine Juan Guillen advocated fighting against the state’s “inefficiency.”

“Our hands are not tied,” Guillen said. “Why are we passing the buck off, making residents pay for energy we don’t need?”

David Nos also focused his comments on the city’s budgetary concerns and unfunded pension liability.

“We have to figure a way to bring in more revenues to fix shortfalls,” Nos said. “It’s going to take tough negotiations.”

Among the topics covered by the candidates for city clerk were ideas to increase voter registration and community outreach, tackle pending budget cuts and addressing online voting.

Gloria Salas, an office administrator at a law firm, said she’d initiate low-cost outreach efforts, such as speaking at community meetings and senior centers, sending voter information home with children after school and handing out fliers at local shopping centers.

In terms of online voting, Salas said the process has not yet proved to be immune to technological snafus or hacking.

Interim City Clerk Zizette Mullins said Burbank’s currently focused on increasing voter registration with the mail-in ballot process and social media.

“I believe [online voting] will happen in the future, but not any time soon,” Mullins said, noting that she recently launched a Facebook and Twitter page to keep voters in the loop on election information.

Mullins said she’d bring a wealth of experience to the position, with 25 years working for the city of Glendale and six years operating a small business in Burbank.

A 15-year city employee — currently an executive assistant in the finance department — Nonna von Sonn touted her community involvement. She participates in Burbank’s Relay for Life, Habitat for Humanity and the National Management Assn.

“I would like to be the face of the city,” von Sonn said. “People will feel comfortable with me.”

If a city clerk candidate gets more than half the votes in the primary, she will be appointed. If not, the top two vote-getters will square off in the April 9 election, while the third candidate will be eliminated.

Any City Council candidate that gets more than half the total votes in the February primary secures a seat, and the lowest vote-getter will be eliminated. If no candidate gets more than half the votes, all six candidates will move forward to the April election.

Candidates for the Burbank Unified school board also participated in the event on Wednesday, but were slated for a more targeted election forum on education issues Thursday night.

For both the primary and general election, residents can only vote via mail-in ballots. Feb. 11 is the last day to register to vote for the primary.

The ballots can be mailed in or dropped off at the City Clerk’s office.

-- Alene Tchekmedyian, Times Community News

Follow Alene Tchekmedyian on Google+ and on Twitter: @atchek.