So. Cal.'s conversion from an aerospace-driven to an entertainment and new media-driven economy is virtually complete, and few cities have been more successful at adapting than Glendale. Although the City faces many of the same difficulties over things like development disputes as the City of L.A., they somehow manage to arrive at most solutions with collaboration and minimal rancor. In the wake of Disney's announcement that it will dramatically expand operations there, TPR was pleased to speak with Glendale Development Director Jeanne Armstrong about Disney's move, other large-scale plans in the City, and what it will take to increase cooperation between municipalities in the region.
Jeanne, let's start with Disney's announcement about the specifics of its previously vetted plan to build a large new office and studio complex at the old Grand Central Air Terminal site. Give our readers a little more detail about that project. What effect do you think or hope it will have on the City?
This is part of a long-range plan for Walt Disney Imagineering. They leased the space until three years ago, when they purchased about 100 acres from Prudential Insurance. They currently occupy over half that space, but have decided to consolidate some functions into a permanent home in Glendale, much as they do with their studio lot in Burbank. And it's at least a 20-year plan-the transformation won't happen overnight.
For the City of Glendale, it means the stabilization of a great employer, more jobs, and a balancing of our entertainment industry businesses.
The draft EIR will be released in late spring, so we'll know more about the specifics of the project then, including possible required mitigation.
Let's turn to another long-term development coming to the fore, which is the Oakmont View Project in the Verdugo Mountains. The draft EIR was recently released and environmentalists are redoubling their efforts to preserve the area as open space. How do you balance the need for new housing in a built-out urban environment with concerns over the lack of open space when those two issues confront head-on, as they do in much of L.A. County?
In a built-out environment like Glendale, it's difficult to add to our housing inventory. The City plans to undertake a concerted effort to replace blighted housing stock with new housing, together with open space/urban parks.
The Oakmont issue is different. The land is owned by a company who is seeking entitlements to build a certain number of houses, with the preservation of open space as a very high priority. There are also strong interests to purchase the land to preserve it from development. But there's a point at which a community is simply built-out and unable to provide new housing. Glendale literally has no vacant undeveloped land.
Last year, plans for a mixed-use open air Glendale Town Center fell through due to rising real estate costs and concerns over a soft hotel market, among other issues. But a Town Center of some sort is an integral part of the City's Downtown strategic plan. Little has been mentioned about the project since it fell through. Where does that stand and what is its importance for the City?
The Town Center really reflects its name-we literally see it as the center of the City of Glendale. We have a very active office corridor, and a very strong retail regional mall in the Glendale Galleria. But we don't have a civic space, a public space that brings a variety of community elements together into one area. So hopefully this project will anchor Downtown with a variety of uses. And it's probably the last public project we'll do.
The Project Area expires in 2012, and 12 years isn't very long to complete a major development. Since last October, when the developer declined to continue working on it, the Redevelopment Agency has had a series of public sessions to determine which uses would be the best fit for this community. And we're about to embark on another series of community
meetings to test some concepts.
For instance, open space has always been the major focal point of the plan, but how does open space link to other Downtown public facilities so it's not just standalone, un-programmed green space? And what are the commercial elements? Are we realistic in wanting a hotel? How many retailers are available? Plus, there's been a very strong upturn in the urban housing market since last year so a number of people have expressed interest in adding housing to the project.
You've publicly stated your concern with having less retail square footage per resident than your neighbors, Burbank and Pasadena. But talk more about the underlying structural issues-how does State control of the property tax force cities to chase after more sales tax? As someone who makes decisions over what development comes into the City, how would you like to see the State-local fiscal relationship changed? And what are your thoughts on current reform efforts?
Since Proposition 13, cities never know what their financial situation will look like until the State Legislature finishes the budget. So the most important element is to develop a fixed formula for income distribution from the State. That would take a lot of the guesswork out of what we have to do.
There are a number of different initiatives being considered in Sacramento right now that would help. I'm not sure what the long-term right answer is, but all cities at least want certainty in their funding sources so they can plan their budgets better.
You're the Development Director in a smaller city surrounded by other smaller cities-in relation to L.A. Many cite the need for greater regional cooperation, especially in land-use decisions, but asking cities to give up individual autonomy is difficult at best. Is greater regional cooperation possible? And what would be needed to make it happen?
I believe cooperation is possible on a very limited scope. For instance, there's a proposed development on the border between Glendale and Burbank. We've already settled some logistical questions about permitting, inspection, fire and police service provision, etc. And we've tentatively agreed to share sales tax based on square footage of land in each jurisdiction. None of this has yet been accepted by either City Council, but the fact that we've entered into discussion and set up the basic parameters gives me hope for greater cooperation between Glendale and Burbank.
On our other border, it's very difficult in the City of Los Angeles, with the structure of Council districts and a strong Mayor's Office, to get anyone's attention. We've begun discussions with the City of L.A. over how we might mutually develop a tract of land next to the L.A. River that's virtually within Glendale, but it's going to be a long process.
So you see this kind of cooperation happening on a case-by-case basis rather than some sort of structural setup that would allow it to happen on a systematic basis?
Right. And it takes personal commitment by someone who really wants to make the cooperation happen and won't get discouraged even if it takes a year just to initiate dialogue!
There's a couple of joint-use projects being developed between the Glendale School District and the City. Where do those stand?
Our first joint project with the School District is at Pacific Park Edison, where we've purchased property adjacent to an existing City park and are joint partners with the School District in renovating it. They will build a new elementary school, and it will have meeting rooms, a library and community rooms that the City can use, along with new ball fields.
The second project is at Cerritos School-the School District is tearing it down to build a new two-level school, which frees up more land. The school will help with landscape improvements and the City has vacated a street in order to add playing fields and community meeting rooms to the site.
Schools are public resources just like cities, and with the lack of open space in Glendale, it's essential that we use our school playgrounds to compensate wherever we can. We help the schools landscape these playgrounds so that they can also function as City parks.
And at another school, we're looking at whether a City library across the street can become the school's library, thus freeing up a classroom at the school.
What challenges have you had to overcome as you go forward with these projects? What can other School Districts like LAUSD learn from your experience?
The challenges are dealing with two elected bodies-a School Board and a City Council. Issues over funding and sharing costs are difficult. And for joint-use, determining the logistics as to which entity gets to use the facility at what time is tough. But all it takes is people sitting down together in good faith to work it out.
Last question: How do you define success? How do you balance the necessity of being reactive in a job like this with the desire to be more proactive in developing longer-term plans? If we came back to you in a year or two, what would you like to have accomplished?
I define success as building a city that's enjoyed first by the people who live here, second by the people who work here, and third by the people who visit here.
Success is also building our job base. The economy will always fluctuate, so it's important to have a diversified job base so that property taxes and utility taxes continue to flow to the General Fund.
And I define success by making the City beautiful. Too many of our public areas are in disrepair-we need street trees and more green space.
It is hard to be proactive when most of the time is spent being reactive to various proposals. You have to dig in and hold that long-term vision. You have to know what the community wants, and help guide them so that they can understand and embrace new projects. The Marketplace is an example-it's almost become the center of our City. People of all ages enjoy the space. As we work in our neighborhood business districts and along the San Fernando corridor, if we build projects that receive as much acceptance as the Marketplace, we'll have been successful.