The Manager's Mantra in Glendale: 'Adapt, Moderate, or Die'


Scott Ochoa is the new city manager of Glendale. He took up the position at the start of the year, and things have been interesting ever since.

Glendale is the third largest city in Los Angeles County (which has 88 cities) with a population of about 197,000. The municipal workforce is about 1,800. Until February 1, Glendale also had a redevelopment agency.

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The impact on Glendale and other L.A. County cities might have been different, had the state Supreme Court not ruled as it did. "They left us no Plan B," Ochoa told an audience of residents and city staff at the Glendale police headquarters (as quoted by Ron Kaye in his thoughtful profile of Ochoa in his Glendale News-Press column).

"The whole situation is starting to collapse. It will be problematic for quite a while and then they will come back with a big rebranded effort for a new agency with tax increment financing for affordable housing, economic development, creating jobs, eliminating blight. It will look a lot like what we just lost."

That's the pragmatic view of post-redevelopment, tempered by a degree of optimism many city managers of my acquaintance don't have. They think that the end of redevelopment is a game changer for cities and the harbinger of greater state control over the daily business of local government.

City managers, if they are to survive, have to be clear-eyed realists. But the really good ones will have the oddest combination of sangfroid and Boy Scout enthusiasm. "We're all going to hell in a handcart," they'll say, looking grim, "but I love my job and I really love this town!" A measure of idealism also is essential. It helps if you think that providing the infrastructure of everyday life is nearly a religious calling.

Glendale is pretty good at delivering the services that make everyday life possible there, but Ochoa understands - as do his fellow city managers - that successful city governments are inherently dynamic. "Adapt, Moderate, or Die" is Ochoa's mantra. Other city managers would agree. Their focus is on making the system work day by day for their town's residents.

Unlike state legislators, they aren't figuring how to hopscotch to the next office before being termed out.

Localism of the sort that Ochoa represents in Glendale has been taking a beating lately. All government is lumped under the heading of "enemy" by some on the libertarian right. Some on the left are working hard for the presumed efficiency of regional government. Too many city officials in L.A. County have shown themselves to be bad actors at worst and cold to neighborhood interests at best. Too many voters have succumbed to indifference.

But public servants like Ochoa - with eyes firmly fixed on the possible and the local - are far, far better than any alternative for making cities fit places in which to live.

D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.

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