Development is the hot political issue in Burbank these days. It came up during the city council forum last Tuesday and most likely will be debated at the next council candidates’ forum at Woodbury University tomorrow. Citizen gripes about overdevelopment have been percolating in the Media City for some time, but the debacle with the Whole Foods/Talaria project last October got tempers fired up and tongues a wagging.
We’re heading into the thick of the 2015 campaign season with the ballots for the Burbank primary set to go out tomorrow. The issue is likely to help some and hurt other candidates vying for two seats on the city council. The contenders taking most of the heat, incumbent city council member/former mayor, Emily Gabel-Luddy and Planning Board Vice-chair, Chris Rizzotti.
Gabel-Luddy and Rizzotti have sparked the ire of some folks and plenty of questions by flaunting their support from the powerful Cusumano family, who are behind the Talaria project. Yard signs for both candidates are appearing on properties owned by the powerful Cusumano Real Estate Group , for example, the Olive Court Apartments 1100 West Olive Avenue in Burbank.
At the League of Women Voters of Glendale/Burbank city council forum, the first question presented to all the candidates by the moderator , Rita Zwern, was a bit convoluted, but it got interesting responses from the candidates on the subject of large mixed-use projects and the issuing of variances.
Here’s the question: “Burbank like its neighboring communities will be facing increasing population pressures during the next two to five years, and thus, needs to seriously assess its existing plans for business development and infrastructure requirements. For instance, three recent multi-use projects brought to the city council for approval required material variances from Burbank existing planning standards. And it is almost certain that there will be more such projects. What do you think should be the priorities of the city council in developing realistic and appropriate plans for the challenges ahead, including how to address requests for variances?”
The candidates were given two minutes for their responses. Here are excerpts from those responses.
Emily Gabel-Luddy: “… I approved and supported the Talaria project. One of the reasons I did that … the approval on the books was worse than the proposal before us at council… The new project was smaller by almost 100,000 square feet, lower by several
stories, it had significantly more parking almost 100 spaces more than zoning code required.”
Juan Guillen: “Exceptional projects should have exceptional community outreach. Exceptional projects should bring benefit to our
community and not just added profits to the developers.”
Sharon Springer: “There’s so much distrust now among our community, that I think we shouldn’t allow any variances.”
Will Rogers:”I’m not opposed to all variances and waivers, but I and many others are fed up with there being no corresponding
flexible for the residents who have to live with the aftermath.”
Elise Stearns-Niesen: “I think variances should be approved or disapproved based on clearly define standards, which have been vetted by our community members.. we can’t just have the process abused.”
Chris Rizzotti: “Variances are something to be considered, but what I think we need more definitions in our current ordinances that will bring us more in compliance with what our neighborhoods want and what we can do within the city.”
David Nos: “Variances are something to be considered, but what I think we need more definitions in our current ordinances that will
bring us more in compliance with what our neighborhoods want and what we can do within the city.”
Also, the candidates spoke about traffic, public safety, budget issues, spending taxpayer dollars, building a new central library, transportation and traffic situations, drought woes, and water and power rates. Oh, there were a couple of softball question and one got laughter from candidates as well as some in the audience. Gabel-Luddy was asked “… which of the other candidates would you like to join the board with you?” She picked Rizzotti. No surprise. Gabel-Luddy endorsed Rizzotti months ago. (see the entire forum in Media City Groove Recommended Videos or on YouTube).
Now that the first forum is behind them, I look forward to seeing the candidates move away from reading prepared stiff statements and go for direct clear responses to the questions. The second forum will be in Woody’s Cafeteria at Woodbury University, 7500 North Glenoaks Boulevard, Wednesday, January 28. The moderator is Burbank Leader editor, Dan Evans. The event begins at 7 p.m. It’s open to the public and there will be light refreshments.