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Friday, Jan 27, 2023
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Lean Budget On The Menu

As the City of Los Angeles wobbles under the weight of a crushing budget deficit, Burbank is facing no such crisis. But that doesn’t mean the media city is feeling absolutely no pain. Yet, under the administrative and political craftwork of what many consider a cadre of mostly business-friendly elected officials, led by Mayor Gary Bric, the pain has been minimized by a policy based on spreading sacrifice across the board. The Business Journal spoke to Mayor Bric, and asked how the City of Burbank is making its way through the economic downturn, how a new non-smoking ordinance effective throughout downtown Burbank’s businesses and sidewalks is working, and how the city is handling economic development these days. The restaurateur-turned-politician has been working in local government since a four-year stint as a Traffic and Transportation commissioner earlier this decade. He has served as vice mayor, city council member, Treasurer’s Office Subcommittee member, and as a member of the city’s Transit Services Task Force. Bric grew up in Burbank, working for his father’s manufacturing firm before purchasing The Ramp Restaurant (now Gary Bric’s Ramp) in 1993. He sees a connection between running a business and being an elected official. “I can relate a lot easier to small business owners struggling in this economy,” Bric said. Question: So how is Burbank doing? Answer: We’re faring better than most cities. We’ve cut $7.2 million, but the bulk of that had to do with city employees. Everyone’s stepping up to the plate and not taking raises. There have been only minor cuts to programs. Q: So if you’re relatively unscathed by the downturn, what are your concerns? A: Don’t get me wrong; we’re definitely feeling it. I’m just saying that we’re always looking down the road. We’re so fiscally conservative with everything we do that we have some put away. We do have a dynamic set of budget policies and a diverse revenue base a lot more diverse than a lot of municipalities, which rely heavily on single sources like car dealerships. Q: What about the state budget crisis? Are you worried about the possible threat of the state coming after some of your revenue streams? A: Yes! The state budget is our biggest challenge. Transportation and redevelopment have already been areas where we’re struggling. For them to even consider coming to take our money in those areas would be devastating. We’re really worried about it. The state is already hurting us in education. The school district has got pink slips going out. They like to keep class sizes at about 20, but they’ll be looking at the high 20s and the low 30s. Q: And your emergency services? Will they be impacted by the budget cuts? A: We are freezing police and fire. That’s unfortunate, but it’s hard to hire new people when you’ve got the kind of environment we’re all dealing with. Q: But no cuts in services? A: We are kind of different in that we look for constructive ways to run our city like a business. We look for partnerships, maybe even potential ways to save and increase our efficiencies that have always been there. And we take advantage of those things when we can. Q: It sounds like you’re thinking of a particular example or two. A: Well, the consolidation of our helicopters with Glendale and Pasadena is a good example. We’re still talking with Pasadena, but Glendale and Burbank have already been sharing our aircraft resources. That means fuel, manpower, maintenance all costs are shared. Q: How is economic development working in your city? That is to say, have any constituencies say lower-income residents, or the small business community been adversely impacted by budget cuts? A: We still do a lot for both. We just opened up an affordable housing property for low- and moderately low income families to help them. You know, we live in an area where what would be a middle income family may need to be considered moderately low income in this region. We support our residents with housing and job opportunities. We support the Boys and Girls Club, and we partner with so many other organizations in the city. As far as small business, and businesses in general, we definitely do have a great economic development wing within our community development team. They work for the business community and the residential community to retain businesses and bring new ones in. We just held our economic summit at Woodbury University, and we definitely have a short-term and a long-term policy. Q: What are some specific examples of both? A: Well we have an active shop-local campaign that says “come in and support Burbank.” We’re asking local residents to actively shop in Burbank; shop local. It includes street banners, marketing efforts, like bus-bench advertising. Then there’s our Downtown Business Improvement District, which has been very successful at keeping consumer dollars local. Q: Has the no-smoking ordinance downtown been a problem for businesses, especially given the downturn in consumer activity overall? A: It affects everybody in the area, businesses, shoppers, visitors. Of course nobody likes to get tickets. And, I understand where the businesses are coming from. I own a restaurant, and took an 18 percent hit when AB 13 (the workplace smoking law) went into effect. But eventually it evened out. There is one restaurant downtown, Burbank Bar & Grill, that designed their patio to be AB-13 compliant. I think 42 percent of the upstairs patio allows smoking. The new ordinance is really going to be a good thing for downtown. The signs are up outside of businesses, and it will take some getting used to for some people. But the end result will be a better working, dining, and shopping experience. Q: How are you coping with the loss of your big-box stores? A: We’ve recently had some businesses that have shut down like Circuit City and Mervyns, but we’ve also had some coming in. We’re soliciting new businesses to come in and see why Burbank is the right place for them to open their doors. Q: Any takers? A: There are some interesting prospects, but nothing to announce today. Q: Has being mayor interfered with being a restaurateur, or has being a restaurateur created any conflicts that have caused you to recuse yourself from an issue as mayor? A: No conflicts. It’s basically a situation where we’ve had things come before us and I’ll support them if they’re good for the city or I won’t if they’re not. But there’s no conflict whatsoever. In fact, being a restaurant owner has given me the ability to approach the restaurants with the drought issue. I’ve been making calls since last year, and we’ve put out the table tents that say we’re not serving water, but ask for it and we will. I’m contacting the business and showing them how they can actually save about $200 on their water bill just be doing that one thing. Q: Is there anything you’d like to add? A: Our citywide water challenge is up and running. We’re asking residents to save 20 gallons per day. We aren’t doing mandatory rationing like L.A. is yet. But if we do, it will be watering (lawns) three times per week, not two, which is what L.A. has done. SNAPSHOT – Gary Bric Title: Mayor, City of Burbank Education: Attended University of Portland, Los Angeles Valley College and Graduated Burbank High School in 1970. Business: Owner, Gary Bric’s Ramp (steakhouse), 1993 to present City Budget: $732 million

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