July 30, 1993 - From the July, 1993 issue

Burbank’s Bob Tague Shares Secrets of City’s Entrepreneurial Success

The City of Burbank has won wide praise recently for its entrepreneurial style and success in attracting new business even in the midst of a recession. 

To discover the secrets of Burbank's success, The Planning Report went to Burbank to speak with Bob Tague, the City's Director of Community Development. Tague, formerly deputy director of the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency, has jurisdiction over redevelopment, planning, transportation planning and all related functions.

As other cities in the region consider how to streamline their development reviews and reform their permit processing, what lessons can Burbank offer? 

When I came to Burbank a year and a half ago, one of the first things we did was to adopt a five point economic development program that covered 1) expedited review and streamlining of the development process; 2) marketing and selling the assets of the community; 3) business recruitment; 4) business retention; and 5) economic development, involving the business community in the process.

Since that time, we've adopted the development streamlining ordinance, prepared by a committee of developers, business people, and community people. It essentially changed a review period that took as long as a year to complete (depending on the level of CEQA review) to one that allows us to process applications in 30 days. We adopted an entire set of commercial development standards so we weren't endangering the quality of development. We also adopted fees to ensure that impacts were mitigated regardless of whether there is environmental review.

When we adopted these codes and guidelines, we also removed the entire discretionary function and thus eliminated the requirement for CEQA review. We now process those applications in 30 days. An interagency committee reviews applications, and developers get a calculation of their fees and get told what's expected of them in 30 days or less. 

This ordinance doesn't waive discretionary approval for projects which do not comply with code. In other words, the approval process has not changed for variances, conditional use permits, and planned developments. But, if a proposed project complies with code, doesn’t need a CUP, and is smaller than the threshold for regional significance, it receives its approval in 30 days or less. 

Is your ability to accomplish this five-point economic program a factor of Burbank's small size? What are the lessons for larger cities such as the City of Los Angeles? 

We have a very proactive City Council that wanted it done and has accomplished it. I don't think it can be done if you don't have Council support for such ordinances. 

Secondly, the physical structure of our organization has made a difference. The Burbank Community Development Department consists of the Housing Authority, the Redevelopment Agency, the Planning Division, the Transportation Planning Section, Building and Safety, Licensing, and Codes. At 8:30 every morning, the different staffs get together to discuss the issues of the day and resolve problems.

I don't know why a big city can't break down its organizations into manageable sizes, so you don’t make all of the decisions downtown.

Isn't part of your success also that Burbank has land-use plans that are detailed and up to date? 

Yes. That's what happened with the Media District Specific Plan, which look five years to adopt. Once we had the plan, that allowed our studio expansions to proceed without delays. When the Disney Plan came through for two million sq. ft. of new construction, we set up a team and had weekly meetings with the developer's team. 

In the Golden State Redevelopment Area, the old Lockheed site, we 're already doing the entitlement work so that they’re ready to go when it's decided what should be on the site. While Lockheed is out searching for proposals on the site and we negotiate with Wolf and Warner Bros. on an arena, our planning staff is doing all of the environmental review and all of the entitlement process, to be in place by October or November. We are committed to good planning in the process or expediting development. 

What do you believe should be the role of redevelopment agencies in economic development? 

They're changing organizations. We did a major restructuring of the redevelopment staff when I arrived here that recognized those changes. I created three special assistants outside of the redevelopment staff itself: one specialist recruits tenants for development through the brokerage community; one specialist is in charge of promotion and expediting projects; and the third specialist deals with traditional economic development programs such as economic development councils and business retention efforts. 

The redevelopment staff still negotiates deals and processes projects. It still brings the financial tools to the table. The entire economic development program is paid for by the redevelopment agency. 

What are the redevelopment prospects for the former Lockheed property, now the Golden State Redevelopment Area? 

As you 're probably aware, we lost between 12,000 and 15,000 employees with the closure of Lockheed, Weber Aircraft, and nearby small businesses. Our goal in Burbank is to create 1,000 to 1,500 jobs each year, to replace these lost jobs within a decade. There's 1.5 million square feet of vacant space in that area today. That's why we've created an Economic Incentive Zone program, including loan guarantee programs for tenant improvements. 

Lockheed also has over 350 acres of vacant land, of which some 100 acres is being considered for the Airport terminal relocation. Lockheed is looking at developers for a retail “power center" here, with the first phase containing 600,000 square feet. Wal-Mart still remains very interested in the site, though we've not named a specific retailer. There will be a second phase of 200,000 to 400,000 square feet if the arena does not go ahead. 


How much of your city's strategy in that area has been driven by the fiscalization of land use?

The original idea behind many projects was solely sales tax generation. As you're well aware, that's a planning device that's increasingly come under question in cities. It's also a realization that there are few manufacturers who will come in and put 10,000 people on the payroll. One of the reasons we went after Fox was the possibility of a large studio use on a site which would provide many jobs. If we thought we could find a large user that would bring jobs, we'd do it in a second. Our first priority is jobs, more so today than a year ago. Because of the state budget action, we are not positive we're going to have sales tax money a year from now. 

The arena is also an attraction for this reason: we're willing to give up 400,000 square feet of power center for a 22,000 seat arena. Lew Wolf has an exclusive right for three years to look for an arena. At first, we didn’t pay much attention to this possibility since we didn't have a site and it seemed somewhat far-fetched. But Wolf immediately aligned himself with Warner Studios, and Clippers owner Donald Sterling began looking around for a new home at that time. 

So this discussion has been underway for some time, and probably will continue for a while. There’s been a lot of support in the Valley and the Tri-Cities area for the concept, the financing is there, and the land is there. It all depends on how L.A. will deal with it: I'm sure it won't happen without some kind of struggle.

To what extent are competent, proactive cities like Burbank just "cherry-picking" from the region the jobs that are already here, as opposed to creating new jobs?

It's not the long-range solution to the problem. Our incentive program tries to look at those companies that can prove they have offers outside the L.A. area. Some moves around the area are inevitable and we have to go after them. But no one's out to do "cherry picking" or cutting throats because we know we live and die on Southern California’s reputation and our ability to work together. 

No one even talks to us from L.A. about regional cooperation. But with the Tri-Cities, we can go to the discussion table on an equal basis to discuss how we'll work together and do mutual advertising. I think we ought to be putting money into an "I Love the Tri-Cities" advertising campaign. 

Have you been as successful in attracting multi-family housing as you've been an the commercial development side? 

We haven't been attracting a lot of housing. We went to the City Council with a rather comprehensive housing program: we took our CHAS, five­year strategy, and Housing Element and wrapped them into one comprehensive housing policy, detailing a housing program for affordable units. In addition, we came up with a Housing Incentive Program, in essence creating Housing Incentive Zones, just as we've created Economic Incentive Zones, where we’d give special incentives for affordable housing. 

That was all put on hold right before our spring elections as issues of impacts on the schools came up, so housing will be discussed in the context of our school needs. I would expect that in the late summer or early fall we’ll bring back those issues.

Given the State's financing mechanisms, how does a city get control over its revenues and thus its economic development agenda? 

The sales tax has been our savior since it went up 10% this year, which is very unusual among cities but occurred here because we added new product. The State Legislature is taking away our ability to act, but I don't have any great answers. If we continue to build our economic base, we'll stop fighting over the pennies again and the dollars will begin to flow. The basic problem is that there isn't enough funding right now. 

Having lost 12,000 jobs, our emphasis right now is creating jobs. In our Economic Incentive Zone program, we'll pay up to $5,000 per job. We're trying to create a Burbank of the 21st century in which our community can be proud of our new employment opportunities. 

How do you manage to think about the 21st century and set out these bold objectives even with the recession and the loss of 12,000 jobs? 

It’s leadership from the City Council. The Council said it wanted something and hired the people to get them there. Councilman Tom Flavin, for example, created the idea of the local Economic Incentive Zones. 

We have people in our organization and City Council who are business persons and understand that success requires some measure of risk-taking. But we're also very financially prudent as a city: we've got very adequate reserves. 

There's also a real spirit that we're all in this organization together. When the income wasn't there a few years ago, the public employees took a freeze of their salary. I've never experienced that in L.A. or other cities - no one’s willing to concede one inch of ground for the common good. Here, we set our goals and implement them with a real commitment to the community.


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