Robert “Bud” Ovrom Position: City Manager, Burbank Born: Annapolis, Md., June 15, 1945 Education: Bachelor’s degree, political science, UC Santa Barbara; master’s in public administration, USC Personal: Married, two adult daughters Most Admired Person: John F. Kennedy By CHRISTOPHER WOODARD Staff Reporter When Robert “Bud” Ovrom came to Burbank as city manager in 1986, the economy was in a major slump, with half of the downtown stores vacant. The conditions made the city the butt of many a joke on the “Tonight Show.” But during Ovrom’s 14 years at the helm, “beautiful downtown Burbank” has undergone a rebirth. The city’s entertainment industry, lead by Warner Bros. and the Walt Disney Co., has exploded, and office and retail development have taken off. But the rapid growth hasn’t come without cost. Some blamed Ovrom for what they saw as the city’s over-development, and in 1995 a newly elected councilman called an unusual Sunday meeting to demand the ouster of the city manager. To Ovrom’s surprise, 200 people showed up to support him on what was later dubbed “Black Sunday.” Ovrom kept his job and has since taken the lead in fighting the expansion of Burbank Airport and trying to craft a development deal involving 350 acres of land left vacant when Lockheed Martin Co. left town. Question: How did you end up in city government? Answer: After I graduated from college in 1967, I went into the Peace Corps and served in Guatemala for two years with the idea of going into the foreign service. I thoroughly enjoyed the Peace Corps, but I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life overseas. It just happened there was an opening in the city manager’s office in Simi Valley. I applied for it and got the job. I really, really liked it right away, and decided I wanted to keep doing it. Once you’re in, it’s kind of like a baseball manager. Even if you get fired, some other team is going to pick you up. Q: What do you like most and least about your job? A: What I like most is the diversity. I can go from talking to the Police Department about the gang unit or the fire chief about whether we need a third paramedic squad to meeting with auto dealers. So I like that, jumping from issue to issue. I guess what I like the least is how people personally attack you when they disagree with you. They’ll call you “crooked,” they’ll call you “stupid,” anything in the book. I can see their side, why can’t they see my side? Q: What have been the highlights of your tenure in terms of economic development? A: When I came here, the downtown was really a depressed, rundown, nothing area. We have totally turned that around, with Media City Center and the movie theaters and the restaurants. On a given Friday or Saturday night, 5,000 to 10,000 people wander the streets, going to the movies, going to the stores. It generates a lot of revenue for us and a lot of civic pride. Secondly, we can’t be in this town and not take a lot of pride in the Media District. I can’t take credit for it, but I got here just as (Disney Chairman Michael) Eisner was coming over from Paramount. All of a sudden, Disney just exploded and Warner Bros. just exploded. NBC became the No. 1 network. Q: The loss of Lockheed had to rank as a low point. How successful has the city been in regrouping? A: It was absolutely devastating. They had about 10,000 jobs in town, and in less than two years all 10,000 jobs were lost. On a personal note, you just can’t help but feel terrible about the people who lost their jobs. All of a sudden they’re out on the street because peace broke out. At the same time, we were very, very lucky. Just when aerospace was going down was exactly when these studios were expanding. So we have as many jobs today as we had then. And not to be callous, it was a great chance to recycle that (Lockheed) land. Those were pre-World War II buildings that had really outlived their economic usefulness. And when the recycling is done, we’ll have more jobs, cleaner industry and a stronger tax base. Q: You’ve been characterized by some as a shark for your aggressive tactics in trying to lure business here. What do you say to that characterization? A: Well, it’s accurate. (laughs) We’re very aggressive, and we don’t deny it. We pursued not only the Glendale auto dealers, but we tried very hard to get DreamWorks to locate here. We tried to get Fox to locate here. Still, we were faced with this challenge of losing 10,000 jobs, losing 5 million square feet under roof, and having 350 acres of land to recycle. Our town is on the ropes, and I don’t think we had any choice but to be very aggressive and very assertive in rebuilding our economy. We make no apologies about that. Q: Did your experience during “Black Sunday” moderate your views on growth? A: It was very traumatic, but I can’t really say I’ve changed too much. I think a lot of people look at me and say, “He’s the one who made all this growth happen.” But of course that isn’t true. But while it was traumatic, it was a very reaffirming experience. About 200 people showed up on a Sunday morning to support me, and I didn’t expect that. Four former mayors showed up to support me two liberal Democrats very much associated with slow growth and two conservative Republicans associated with the pro-growth side. Both ends of that spectrum saw me as a person who was in the middle of the road. Q: One of Burbank’s selling points to business is the airport, yet the city opposes a new terminal unless curfews and caps are placed on flights. Isn’t that hypocritical? A: Well (Burbank airport officials) throw that at us a lot. We’d like to see a new airport, and we’re supportive of it being expanded. But we feel there has to be a way to balance that with the needs of the surrounding communities. The airport wants to build 27 gates with 15 million passengers. We’re at 14 gates now, with less than 5 million passengers. The airport officials keep saying they only want 19 gates but it’s just not true. Everything they have, their environmental impact report, architectural drawings, it’s 19 gates in phase one but it’s designed in such a way as to be expanded to 27 gates. That’s too much. Q: What does the future hold for Bud Ovrom? A: Not sure yet. I’m really happy with our economy. I feel really good about what we’ve done with beautiful downtown Burbank and the Media District. I’ll probably be here for two or three more years, but there are still a couple of challenges left recycling the Lockheed land and resolving the airport dispute. Everyone says that’s lifetime job security, but I believe this airport problem can and will be solved in the next six months. Q: How so? A: I believe the political climate has now changed to where the stage is set for this to be resolved. The final piece of the puzzle came with the (recent) election of Bill Bogaard as the mayor of Pasadena, Gus Gomez and Rafi Manoukian to the Glendale City Council, and David Laurell coming onto the Burbank council. We have a new generation of leadership that’s more moderate and more oriented to solving the problem.