Burbank City Manager Mark Scott is supposed have his finger on the pulse of the city and know how local government operates. Before coming to Burbank in August of 2013, Scott “worked in the city management profession for more than 35 years, including 24 years as a city manager in 5 cities” according to his bio on the Burbank city website. So a lot of folks were shocked, amazed, and some even speechless last Friday, when Scott abruptly revoked the installation of one-hour temporary parking restrictions on the north side of the 3400 block of Magnolia Boulevard — overruling a decision made by the Traffic Commission at its September 18 meeting. Scott’s action rumbled through the city like an earthquake and the aftershocks are still being felt.
A parking dispute involving the merchants on that block has grown bitter and ugly over the past few months. After hearing complaints from some of those shop owners at an August 12, 2014 council meeting, Scott said: “We can look at the one hour. We can talk about whether it benefits to stripe the street. .. we’ll be talking about how best to look at the enforcement out there and the police department is very ready and prepared to engage in that dialogue. So we’ll do all those things as quickly as we can.”
As part of the process, the dispute and the issues surrounding it were discussed by the Traffic Commission last month on August 28 and at a second meeting on September 18. I attended the latter. Before a vote was taken on a test of the one-hour parking restrictions on the north side of the 3400 block of Magnolia Boulevard, the commissioners had some questions. They asked traffic engineer, Ken Johnson, if special notification had been given to all those involved for this second meeting. Johnson explained that at the August meeting, parties had been made aware that the parking issues would be discussed further at the commission’s September meeting.
Also, the commissioners asked about a petition. Johnson said he had not received a petition in support of the one-hour parking limit on that block. However, antique shop owner, Charlotte Carpenter Lewis, told the commission there was a petition and it had been sent to City Hall officials and had been mentioned in an August 15 article of the Burbank Leader. Ten of the 13 merchants reportedly signed the petition.
Lewis, owner of Miss Charlotte’s Vintage, 3429 West Magnolia Boulevard, agreed to Johnson’s request for a copy of the petition to be emailed to him the next morning. Also, Johnson says that as a general policy, his department goes ahead with a parking change if at least 75 percent of the people on a block sign a petition requesting it. Satisfied with the answers, the commission took a vote and passed the temporary one-hour parking restriction (4-2) with the understanding it would come back for review in 60 days.
On Thursday, September 25, Burbank Police parking supervisor, Nancy La Prath, went door to door on the north side of the 3400 block of Magnolia Boulevard letting the merchants know that the temporary one-hour parking signs would be going up in front of their businesses the next morning. Now, this is where things get weird. I’m told by several shop owners the temporary signs went up and then were taken down before noon on Friday, September 26.
I heard later, the Traffic Commission had been overruled by the city manager who reportedly was “inundated” with calls objecting to the temporary signs. Hmm, 10 of the 13 merchants on the block signed a petition supporting the one-hour. So who called or contacted Scott to object? Were they merchants from the block? Some of the many questions Scott needs to answer.
I emailed Scott about all of this and he revealed”… I had not been aware that the Traffic Commission had even heard the matter. If the meeting was properly noticed, then we will proceed with the sign change.” Scott went on to say, “No one was sure, and the Traffic Engineer is out of the country for 2 weeks.” True, Johnson is on vacation.
Decisions about parking signs and restrictions are made by the Traffic Commission on a regular basis, however, it apparently never occurred to Scott to check with the commission chair, Rebecca Granite-Johnson, about the Magnolia Boulevard sign change. Hmm. Is the city manager ignorant of how the process works in Burbank and if so, should he have not investigated first before canceling those new parking signs? In a later email Scott admitted his huge blunder “… afraid this was handled poorly and I am sorry for that.”
Frequently, city officials, including city council members, tell residents to go through the process of first taking an issue, complaint or plan to the proper department or commission or board or committee. In this case, a top official, the city manager, derailed the process. By doing so, Scott has damaged confidence in the city’s commissions, boards, and committees. The city council needs to take action to restore that confidence, first by reinstating the temporary parking signs and secondly, by making sure one city official is never able to undermine the process like this again.