Thanks to guest contributor Amanda Biers-Melcher for this report:
Yesterday, Jim Casey from Preserve Burbank, Gail Nicol from Save Burbank Neighborhoods and I had the opportunity to sit down with the developers for the Burbank mall project (I Heart Burbank). You will recall that, in addition to a total rehab of the mall itself, this project involves building a hotel on the Magnolia side of the mall and a 12-story apartment building on the old IKEA, Corner Market and Office Depot space.
We did our best to express our concerns about the the size, affordability, parking, sustainability and traffic implications of the project and explain the context and political climate in which this development is being proposed. If this were the only mega-development in the pipeline and/or if we had trust that our planning department and elected representatives were making intelligent, thoughtful decisions about quality of life issues like traffic, parking, etc. (and, frankly, being honest in their dealings with Burbank residents) we might be having a very different conversation.
I found the project’s representatives to be receptive to our input. They would like to continue to involve Save Burbank Neighborhoods in discussions as the project progresses. Some issues we discussed:
The size and design of the apartment building. They seemed to understand that many of us would view a high-rise similar to what you’d see in Glendale and West Hollywood as incompatible, so they will revisit that.
Impact on schools. After conversations with the superintendent, the developers were under the impression that Burbank High School could handle any influx of students. We shared our impression, as parents, that in fact the Burbank high schools are overcrowded and resources are stretched thin. They pointed out that the school tax on construction — which goes directly to the schools and not into the general fund — might help mitigate this problem.
While this was not said, my impression after looking at the plans, is that these apartments are not intended for families anyway so it’s unlikely we’ll see an increase in school-aged children. With an on-site gym, a rooftop pool, and a shared-workplace facility, they seem to want to appeal to young professionals. (In my opinion whether the rare millennial who can afford $2000/month one-bedroom apartment will opt to live in Burbank instead of in Silverlake or off-Sunset remains to be seen, but that is beyond the purview of this discussion).
Impact on resources. There are some green initiatives — water-saving devices, power-saving lights, charging stations — already planned, but they have agreed to look for ways to reduce the project’s footprint further. We shared that it is important that they do so especially because residents have been asked to conserve resources, save water, replace their lawns, etc.
Affordability. We voiced our concern that Burbank needs affordable housing — not $2000/month one-bedroom apartments — for the seniors, veterans and middle class families who can’t keep up with the rising rents. The developers were already considering setting aside moderate income housing units for teachers and first responders who want to live and work in Burbank. We agreed that was a good start and asked them to think about what they can do for seniors and veterans as well.
The Hotel. Their rationale for including this in their plan is that tourist dollars help sustain the mall’s retail shops and restaurants. We advised them that especially because of the underhanded way in which the airport ballot measure vote was handled, residents are wary that efforts to develop Burbank as a tourism destination go hand-in-hand with plans to expand the airport from a sleepy regional airport to another LAX. Also, with so many hotels being proposed for this same area there is a perception that Burbank is being transformed into another Anaheim — with Universal as the draw instead of Disneyland — and nobody wants that. They will consider this. The alternative is another retail store.
Parking. They are adding another floor of mall parking and redesigning the layout and exits with a (hopefully) more sensible design. But they are still allocating only 1.7 parking spaces for the new apartment with the idea that people will uber, walk or bike to work. (Apparently Disney told them that they need employee housing close-by so people won’t drive cars to work). This is absurd on many levels, of course, and we suggested that while, perhaps it might be true at some point in the distant future that self-driving cars will eliminate the need for personal cars, they should look for ways to either decrease the number of apartments or increase the number of parking spots for units if they want the support of residents. We have been burned too many times by inadequate parking which causes spill-over onto local streets.
Traffic. There is no getting around it — despite what the developers’ own traffic survey says or what the city’s might say eventually, we all know this will negatively impact traffic at a time when traffic is already unsustainable. We suggested they continue to look for ways to make it easier for people to get into and out of the mall and/or the apartments especially in light of the other nearby developments already in the pipeline, and the impending airport construction. (They think the Burbank bridge will be open again by the time they complete construction). We also advised them that residents had lost faith in the city’s ability to determine traffic and environmental impacts and that residents along Glenoaks would not tolerate log-jams like those we are seeing around IKEA.
Also of concern is the area around Burbank High School where students are dropped off and picked up twice a day. (At present they use the Office Depot parking lot). Unless they can come up with a viable solution to lessen the impact of both their construction and the project itself on the adjacent streets, they can expect to be met with resistance, especially from residents who live north of Glenoaks.
Conclusion. My personal view is that plans for the mall itself look impressive and we all recognize that it is in desperate need of a facelift. I am heartened by the developer’s willingness to listen to resident input and concerns about other facets of their project. If this were occurring in a vacuum and not hand-in-hand with all the other mega-developments in the pipeline I’d say an argument could be made that, with some modifications and concessions, it could be beneficial for Burbank. I actually think it’s unfortunate that this proposal will not come before residents until after other, in my view, less compatible projects have already poisoned the well.
I understand, for example, that the project on First and Magnolia has been approved by the planning board. The next step, according to the city’s website, is for it to come before the Council for approval. In my opinion, we would be smart to weigh it (and other projects) not only on its own merits but against the merits of projects like “I Heart Burbank.”
People are tired of crazy drivers. Sign the petition here.
Do we have to wait for a tragedy to happen? Speed racing has become a safety threat in the Burbank residential neighborhoods, in particular the hill section above Glenoaks. There are numerous schools in this area, a middle school, grammar school and Burbank High School, and the racers are usually speeding up and down the hills after school hours, when children are out. It has gotten to the point where many residents are unable to go for a walk for fear that someone running a stop sign will hit them. The problem has been growing quickly in the last few years. A recent incident has been reported where one car actually aimed itself at a pedestrian, threatening her! We, the residents of Burbank are asking the City of Burbank to install speed bumps, and increase police surveillance in order for our neighborhoods to feel safe again. Below is a list the problems we are all seeing, hearing and feeling on a daily basis:
1) Speeding, dangerous, reckless, and aggressive driving
2) Street racing in residential neighborhoods and on major streets
3) Loud, illegally modified vehicles
4) Vehicles without license plates and/or vehicles with illegally tinted windows that make it virtually impossible to identify violators
We should not allow this in Burbank. We need to stand up for our mom and pops against outside corporate interests who are forcing these folks out of business. Take a listen to Jim Rowton’s story recorded last month at the Burbank Community Summit. There are more small businesses in the mall who are experiencing the same issue.
The City Council sided with the residents of Lincoln street and approved the appeal to stop the spray booth at 2300 Burbank Blvd. The business is situated close to two schools and residences including nine senior citizens. The good news is the business is still zoned for automotive repair and won’t go under as this painting portion was just a side operation. However, the City Staff and Planning Board failed that business. They should be warning applicants that conducting businesses with toxins of any kind near residential areas is a risky proposition. Because we will fight back. The City Council meeting was a true inspiration as a residents and school kids came to the podium to express their concern over the toxins that could be used. Still, I wonder what the decision would have been if we all didn’t show up in force last night?
Jack Sprat’s latest video is a story you need to hear. Mr. Merlot explains why we need to vote in a new 3-2 Council majority.
UPDATED with some corrections below.
No guns, gangs or drugs allowed within a thousand feet of the school but noxious fumes? No problem! This week I’ve connected with a group of neighbors on Lincoln Street near Edison Elementary who are experiencing a true nightmare unfolding on their quiet little block. Recently an automotive repair shop at the end of the block changed hands and has been transformed into a auto body shop complete with a brand new paint booth that requires a specific permit for operation. This type of painting generates noxious fumes that spread out through the neighborhood. There are reports that the business has been spraying paint and using solvents even before getting approval for a paint booth from the city, and the impending paint booth is not designed to stop fumes. Trucks are blocking traffic almost “every day.”
The group has circulated a petition signed by 118 residents in the neighborhood and have started a Facebook page to inform residents. They are asking their Burbank neighbors, no matter where you live, to come out and support them at the next City Council Meeting on February 7th. Here are some details on their plight:
- The business is situated less than 50 feet from the nearest resident who is an elderly senior
- Aside from school kids walking by and attending Edison and Montessori, there are 21 children living near the facility and 9 seniors
- It’s roughly 650 feet from Edison Elementary and less than 275 feet from a Montessori Preschool
- Trucks dropping off cars are regularly double parking and blocking the street
- Residents have witnessed dumping of chemicals into the street
- At least two people I have spoken to are unwilling to come forward to speak out in public for fear of reprisals
- Residents have called the Air Quality Management District a number of times but with little results – because the business must be repeatedly “caught in the act” and fumes tend to dissipate before the long wait for the inspector is over.
Remember, these folks bought their house when that business was simply a repair shop. This type of permit should never have been allowed so close to residential neighborhood. I honestly think the City Staff has lost their minds on this. This type of thing is going to happen more and more, especially on Burbank Blvd and from what I hear there are other neighborhoods in town experiencing the same problem. If you can make it to the City Council meeting Tuesday at 6pm these people could use your support.
I attended the FAA’s NextGen workshop on Monday and was relieved to hear some of my concerns with the new satellite air traffic control system can be put to rest. However, I’m not completely convinced we residents can let our guard down. The FAA is being sued all over the country and they certainly would not answer any questions regarding those complaints. “Sorry we can’t comment due to the current lawsuits” was the standard line and I heard it at least three times. I want to be clear that I believe there will eventually be an increase in the number of flights in and out of the new terminal here in Burbank. The FAA has publically stated air travel is expected to increase by 50% by 2025 (from 2011 levels.) This NextGen video I produced still rings true as far as capacity and an increase in flights. After all, I took the footage directly from the FAA YouTube channel! But it’s looking like Burbank may be spared a lot of what has plagued other cities. I certainly hope so and I do feel good about what I heard at the workshop. Anyway on to the good news. Here are some bullet points that outline what I learned at the workshop:
- The FAA promises flight paths that will affect noise patterns around the airport will not be changed or they will change very little.
- The FAA agreed takeoffs of large jets to the east are theoretically possible once the old terminal is demolished but there are no plans to do so for the foreseeable future. (see below)
- NextGen is all about efficiency and safety. It absolutely makes it possible for more flights in and out of the airport but the FAA doesn’t control this, the airlines and the airport do.
- NextGen flight paths have only been flown in simulators, none of the paths have been flown by air carriers yet. Nothing has changed according to the FAA.
- When NextGen is rolled out in the spring, there will be a few weeks of reduced flights to ensure the system is working safely.
So if we take them at their word we have little to worry about. I do believe these folks from the FAA are being honest. Their job is to get people from point to point safely. But here are some concerns I have even after the workshop:
- The noise studies used to predict any changes were all conducted using computer models and not real data from airports including Burbank. Could this be the reason the FAA is being sued all over the country for noise increases? What did the computer models miss that people on the ground are so angry about?
- A study was conducted in 2008 with an accompanying report titled “Increasing Airport Capacity Without Increasing Airport Size” that states that NextGen could allow large aircraft to take off to the east in Burbank. (page 9) As I stated above, FAA reps say that is unlikely and “airlines have not asked for it.” Residents should be paying attention for any changes once the old terminal is demolished.
- If you live under the revised flight paths you may experience a lot more noise as planes will fly in very narrow lines after takeoff. Currently planes are spread out. After NextGen takes effect in the spring the “lanes” will be very precise.
- FAA reps were adamant that only the airlines and the airport can increase the amount of flights in or out of the airport. I for one believe we will see in an increase as I’ve stated.
Potential eastward takeoffs and higher rate of departures illustrated:
The Burbank Leader article on the workshop explains how residents who were concerned with the airport are cautiously optimistic about the changes that are coming along with NextGen. I’m one of those people. Glad to hear the flight paths will change very little but also wondering if in a few years we’ll be filing suit against the FAA as so many other cities have done over noise increases. Councilman Will Rogers has gone out of his way to paint myself, this blog and Save Burbank Neighborhoods as “nutball” conspiracy theorists. He’s wrong. Here’s what we were right about:
- NextGen was never brought up to the public before I started asking questions.
- NextGen was designed to increase airport capacity nationwide without constructing new runways.
- The Measure B vote was RUSHED to the ballot in November. We asked for the vote to be moved to a municipal election so we had more time to ask questions.
- The City Council was asked numerous questions from concerned citizens not affiliated with myself or SBN about NextGen. They remained silent; adding to the sense that something was rotten about the whole thing.
- We voters have every right to be concerned with modified flight procedures that have resulted in NextGen lawsuits all over the country. The council never spoke up to assuage those fears.
Will Rogers, Emily Gabel-Luddy, Jess Talamantes and Bob Frutos failed us on Measure B. And for a second act, they are protecting their friends from the airport and Chamber of Commerce who misappropriated public money to campaign for a Yes on Measure B vote.