Burbank Viewpoints

Burbank, California – Information and opinion on the most crucial issues facing our city.



Goodbye, Burbank.

The author’s children compete in the Buena Vista Library summer reading program’s annual costume contest — July 2010.

Twenty years ago, Burbank was just about the last place I thought I’d live. I was 29, with an unpublished novel under my belt, living in a 5-story walk-up in what was starting to be called the Upper Upper East Side, but was really Spanish Harlem, when my husband was offered a job on the writing staff of a new late night talk show — a job that came with union wages and, better yet, health insurance. When you compared it to selling monologue jokes to Letterman and earning $25 a night for MC-ing at Boston Comedy Club, it seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime (and I suppose it was). We jammed everything we owned into a Penske truck and headed to Hollywood.

After a week of driving, listening to the audiotape of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” a friend had given us as a going-away present, and staying in motels so crappy I made sure to keep my shoes on in the bathroom, we wound up in a two-bedroom apartment off Ventura Blvd. in Studio City. After our New York apartment, it seemed ridiculously spacious and downright luxurious, despite the flimsy fixtures and predominance of beige industrial-grade carpet. We had an extra room — I could have my own office! — and it even had a hot tub and a pool. We decided we wouldn’t need a car. We could walk to work. And when it turned out the job wasn’t on the CBS Radford lot but in Television City, we bought an unpretentious Honda (because city people don’t care about what kind of car they drive) and agreed we’d only buy just this one car for commuting to work — because most of the time we’d just walk wherever we wanted to go.

Two years later I was driving my own used Volvo station wagon. We’d had our first child — a daughter — and she’d started to walk. Overnight, our apartment had become a death trap. A balcony? A pool? Why not just hand the baby a razor blade and end the suspense. We needed a house — preferably one with a backyard.

And, one sleep-deprived afternoon — after taking a wrong turn driving back to the apartment from the dirty Target in North Hollywood — I found just the one. It was nestled in a quiet tree-lined neighborhood that looked like something out of a 1960s sitcom. The houses were neat behind perfect squares of green lawn and there were actual children playing in the streets. Our house, a two-bedroom bungalow, had a palm tree in the backyard — a Queen Date Palm apparently — and even an orange tree. We were knocked out. Could you get more “California” than that?

Our realtor had grown up around the block from the place and he knew everyone in town. He walked us through the process and before we knew it we were holding the keys to the house on Evergreen Street where we’d raise our family.

It was 2000.

This was before there was a Costco or an Empire Center or even a big multiplex in the middle of downtown. This was when you could still get from one end of Burbank to the other in less than a half hour. This was when people understood that the Airport Authority was not their friend.

Our neighbors had young children too and they played together, running in and out of each other’s homes even crossing the street to play in each other’s yards (something that seems unthinkable to me now that speeders have discovered our street’s a convenient shortcut when traffic backs up on Burbank Blvd and Hollywood Way). One of our neighbors dressed as Santa at Christmas. On the Fourth of July we had a bike parade down our block with a real live marching band (because one of the dads played the trombone at Disneyland). We knew everyone on the block. Once, when a new family moved in, we held an ice cream social to welcome them and had the kids go door-to-door handing out the invitations they’d made. Another time we found a baby squirrel we named Sweet-Tart and all the neighbor kids delivered her, by wagon, to a squirrel rescue lady who lived a few blocks over.

With my daughter, and later my son, I spent countless hours at the park down the street, and each week we loaded up the bike stroller and pedaled down the Chandler Bike path to the Buena Vista Library for story time. As they got older, they took craft classes and drama classes, gymnastics classes and team sports classes — all offered through Parks and Rec. They swam in the pools, learned to play tennis, learned to play golf, took riding lessons at the Equestrian Center and learned to skate at the Pickwick. They won bags of candy at the annual Glow-Ball tournament at the DeBell Par-3 and held a snake at the Stough Canyon Nature Center. At the week-long camps offered each summer, my son sampled volleyball, football, track, baseball and soccer before turning his attention to golf. They went all-out for the costume contest put on by the library’s summer reading program, where on the last day, you got cupcakes from Martinos if you read enough books.

We were so lucky to land in Burbank. It was a great place to raise a family. And the thing is — I don’t think that was an accident. The people making decisions about Burbank at that time must have realized something I didn’t fully appreciate until recently. Burbank had something special to offer. It was an oasis away from the bustle of Los Angeles. It wasn’t hip like Silver Lake or the Hollywood Hills. It wasn’t fancy like Santa Monica. It wasn’t like Glendale. It wasn’t like anyplace else, really. Burbank was just a sleepy little town where you could come home from work and throw a ball with your son, or sit under the stars and watch your daughter pitch a softball game, or ride your bike to the donut shop on a Sunday morning. It was a place where you could take your kids to MacCambridge to play floor hockey and see seniors swing dancing and enjoying a hot lunch. It was a place where, when you called the fire department because you smelled something funny, they showed up in minutes — and were nice about it when it turned out to be your neighbor’s barbeque.

I wasn’t paying attention — there were dinners to make and baths to give and bedtime stories to read — but it seems to me now that our elected officials, back then, must have known that Burbank was different. And at City Council meetings they must have been doing whatever they could to protect our city and fend off those forces that would try to turn it into something else. They fought hard to keep the airport from expanding, realizing that the additional revenue would come at too great a cost. They must have cared enough about young families like mine to stand up for us and make sure Burbank remained the kind of place where anyone would be lucky to raise a family.

Now, when I see new families moving into my neighborhood, I wonder: will Burbank be that for them? Or will it become just another LA neighborhood surrounded by freeways and dotted by high-rises? Because that is essentially the question our city is facing right now.

And, I know it’s complicated. The finances are different, the money just isn’t there anymore. I get that. But with all this talk of cutting services to balance the budget, of building our way into the black, and with a City Council that votes repeatedly and unanimously to sell our city off to outside developers piece-by-piece — can we expect to retain even a fraction of what makes Burbank Burbank? With that fancy new airport, more flights in and out of Burbank and hundreds of additional hotel rooms about to get green-lit — can we expect our city to remain a place where people live their lives — not a place they pass through on their way to Harry Potter’s Wizarding World?

The problem, it seems to me, is that our elected officials seem to have a very different vision for our city than a lot of us who’ve raised families here. With each new massive development project they rally behind (and there have already been a few rubber-stamped with more in the pipeline), they boast about creating a new Burbank — a modern, 21st-century city designed for a new generation. For my daughter’s generation. Burbank, they tell us, has to change with the times.

They are not entirely wrong. Change is inevitable and we can’t stay rooted in the past. Nobody understands that better than a mother with one child away at college and another retreating behind headphones and a closed bedroom door. But what we need, in my view, is sensible change. Change that recognizes the unique character of our city. Change that puts families first.

As we talk about budget cuts and plans to make Burbank bigger and better, let’s not forget the little things that make our city what it is — a place where kids can play in the streets and the parks, where seniors can get the services they need to lead healthy active lives, and where families feel safe and protected. And let’s make sure we send a message to developers who come here to line their pockets: this is not your playground. This is not an “untapped market.” This is our home.

And I know life is busy — especially for those young families who will be impacted most by what is lost. But now is the time to start paying attention — to start contacting your elected officials, to start going to City Council meetings, to make sure you vote — to remind your neighbors to vote — the next time we have a chance to weigh in on the leadership of our city.

Maybe it’s not too late. Maybe our city can be saved. Maybe — just maybe — we don’t have to say goodbye to Burbank just yet.
















At Tuesday night’s marathon City Council meeting — where the behemoth housing project First Street Village was up for discussion — Councilwoman Sharon Springer asked an excellent question about the cancer risk posed to residents of the 5 Freeway adjacent property. Unfortunately, she didn’t get a straight answer.

In fact, a “scientific” study of how highway pollution might affect future residents of the proposed multi-used development on the corner of First and Magnolia (which was paid for by the developer) was presented to the council in a manner which can only be described as disingenuous at best.

Ms. Springer asked the consultant presenting the study to provide some context so the public might better understand the study’s finding that set the cancer risk posed by exposure to freeway pollution at “60.85.”

Well, the consultant explained, if you said 40 percent of Americans will get cancer in their lifetime you’re talking about 400,000 out of a million people. This number is much smaller — only 60.85 people out of a million.

And while this is true — 60.85 out of a million is a smaller percentage than 400, 000 out of a million — it is equally true that 60.85 is almost double the cancer risk faced by Americans who don’t live next to freeways.

Here are some other points the applicant failed to bring to the city council’s attention:

  • Their study did not measure Diesel Particulate Matter (DPM); it used Particulate Matter as a surrogate. This ignores the fact that Diesel Particulate Matter (emissions from diesel trucks) is more hazardous to human health than the same mass of other particulate matters.
  • The EPA sets the acceptable cancer risk level at 1 in 1 million. The cancer risk predicted in this study is more than 60 times greater.
  • A Harvard study showed that the relationship to DPM exposure and health is linear. Any increase in exposure to DPM causes an equal increase in health risks.
  • The US average for air pollution-related cancer deaths is 36 per million. In freeway adjacent parts of LA County where air pollution is most intense that number climbs to 70 per million.
  • According to the study’s own findings, the cancer risk to a child between the ages of 2 and 16, living in First Street Village, will be more than twice that of an adult resident. (A cancer risk of 27.62 compared to 13.74)
  • This study did not look at the impact of exposure to other toxic gases caused by proximity to the highway which, unlike particulate matter, can not be filtered out.

In a letter to Burbank’s Planning Department the South Coast Air Quality Management District warned, “Cancer risk still remains a significant impact,” despite assurances from the developer that residents could minimize their risk by keeping their windows shut, staying inside and relying on top-of-the-line filtration systems.

That residents will chose to do so — and will instead refrain from using the pool, their balconies and any outdoor building facilities (including the temporary park proposed as an offset to the city granting the development a code variance) — seems, as Ms. Springer pointed out, highly unlikely.

Why it Matters
When it comes to Diesel Particulate Matter (DPMs), cancer risk is only part of the story. Studies indicate it is a genotoxin and suspect it might alter DNA and cause changes at the cellular level. It has been linked to endocrine disruption, decreased fertility and birth defects.

As part of the development agreement, residents of First Street Village will have to sign a waiver acknowledging they’ve been informed of the health implications of their decision to live in the complex and advising them to keep their windows closed and stay indoors as much as possible. This is presumably intended to shield the developer and the city from liability should the predicted health consequences occur.

What might be harder to shield themselves against are the ethical implications of targeting young professionals — the much-desired millennials — with promises of housing that seems appealing on its surface (bike paths, public green spaces, modern conveniences) fully cognizant of the fact that it has the potential to make them — and any children they might decide to have — very sick.

Knowing what we know about the health risks, is building homes for young professionals on this site the right thing to do? Maybe that’s the question we should be asking.

[Editor’s note: This article doesn’t even mention the history of the site where this development sits. Currently there is automotive repair shop that has been there for years and previously there were aircraft related industrial uses. The developer will have to take soil smaples at the site prior to grading to ensure there are no longer any toxins released during construction. More info on pages 60 of this PDF.]

Eleven Times Burbank Politics Was Just Like a Bad Boyfriend

  1. The way he keeps telling you he cares about Burbank residents but you keep catching him in bed with big developers.
  2. How he won’t stop texting during Orals.
  3. That time he insisted they “weren’t necessarily minors” when you called him out for soliciting high school students.
  4. He’s too broke to pay for your library, firehouse or police force but somehow manages to give his buddies a raise?
  5. That time he went behind your back and used public money to write a $50,000 check to a political campaign.
  6. The way he keeps promising he’ll hold the hearing. He’s just waiting for the right time.
  7. Did he mention his IKEA is the biggest in North America?
  8. How he was fiscally fit when you met him but now his budget deficit keeps ballooning.
  9. That time he stood you up when you asked for a report on the new Target Express on Hollywood Way at the next council meeting — and wasn’t even sorry about it.
  10. The way he swears he’d never keep secrets from you but blocks you from his private “City of Burbank” Facebook page.
  11. Yes, all the construction he green-lighted has slowed traffic in Burbank to a crawl. But, hey, didn’t he tell you he wanted to take things slow?


“Green” candidate Sharon Springer funded by anti-environment PAC

If you believe what Sharon Springer tells you, she is an environmentalist — a promoter of bike paths, recycling and community gardens. But her City Council campaign in being funded by a pro-development political group that’s been at the center of efforts to roll back regulations on big polluters for the last decade.

Strange bedfellows indeed.

According to public records, BizFed, a self-described “pro-business” PAC, which helped defeat a ballot measure aimed at curbing development in Los Angeles last month — and whose efforts to block clean air and water protections have been widely-criticized by environmental groups — gave Sharon Springer’s campaign the maximum donation allowed by law on March 15th.

Ms. Springer, a member of the Sustainable Burbank Commission, claimed in a recent interview that “improving our air quality, managing scarce water, using energy responsibly, enhancing public and diverse transportation options and moving forward on our zero waste goal” are among her central concerns.

Judging from its efforts to block clean air and water protections, BizFed does not share those concerns.

According to the LA Times, environmentalists “expressed outrage” over the group’s successful campaign to keep the Southern California Air Quality Management Board from tightening restrictions on trucks and other “mobile polluters” in February of this year. The PAC lobbied to make compliance by polluters voluntary instead of mandatory.

Environmentalists told the Times, the rollback on proposed anti-pollution laws would “hurt millions of people, including many suffering from asthma, lung, and heart disease and other pollution-related illnesses.”

The PAC also lobbied the LA County Board of Supervisors to reject the “Clean Water, Clean Beaches” parcel tax measure in 2013. “This is a big victory for the business community,” its website declares.

The wave of proposals for mega-development — not just in Burbank but around Southern California –have increasingly put environmentalists and developers (and their supporters in city government) at odds.

For example, according to a report by the LA Times, which was released just last week, city officials throughout Southern California have “flouted” warnings from health experts and allowed “a surge in home building near traffic pollution with little regard to the health implications for future residents.

According to the Times, “for more than a decade, California air quality officials have warned against building homes within 500 feet of freeways. And with good reason: People there suffer higher rates of asthma, heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer and pre-term births. Recent research has added more health risks to the list, including childhood obesity, autism and dementia.”

And yet, in Los Angeles alone, the Times found that “thousands” of projects within the pollution zone have been green-lighted recently, The newspaper based its analysis on census data, building permits and other government records.

In Burbank, all of the mega-developments awaiting approval, and many projects like the Talaria, which have already earned the City Council’s approval, are within the “pollution zone.”

Springer, whose campaign has spent lavishly on multiple campaign mailers, has yet to address or disavow the donation from Biz Fed, despite the obvious inconsistencies between the positions she’s taken to win the support of voters and this organization’s aggressive efforts to uproot environmental regulation and forward a pro-development agenda.

In the primary race, Ms. Springer was quick to criticize two of her Council race opponents for receiving an unsolicited campaign donation from a local developer, calling it hypocritical. In that case both candidates refused to accept the monies, citing a potential conflict of interest — and issued public statements explaining their positions. As of this writing, Ms. Springer has not issued a similar statement to the public.

On the next Episode of Flipped: I HEART BURBANK

The American shopping mall may be dead — or at the very least on life support — but a handful of real estate investment companies aren’t ready to sing a requiem just yet. Instead, they’re bucking the trend — snatching up shopping malls around the country at bargain basement prices and trying to turn them around.

Dallas, TX-based Cypress Equities — which bought a majority stake in Burbank Town Center from the mall’s current owner, Irvine-based Crown Realty and Development, for a reported $250 million last April — is one such company.

Cypress CEO’s Chris Maguire explained his strategy of buying failing shopping malls around the country for dimes-on-the-dollar to Bloomberg News: “They need capital, but there’s cash flowing, so you just sit and wait.”

The purchase of the Town Center mall wasn’t Cypress’s first foray into the Burbank area. The company bought Glendale’s Marketplace in 2013 and, in 2016, it added Pasadena’s Paseo to its roster. It’s been on a cross-country buying spree since 2014, when their private equity arm — Cypress Acquisition Partners Retail Fund — held a private equity offering.

Investors were invited to buy shares in the fund in return for a stake in Cypress’s future profits. The offering was a success. CAPRF collected $400 million from backers described in the fund’s SEC filings as “a diverse group of investors including public and corporate pensions; sovereign wealth funds; endowments; foundations; family offices; and fund of funds investors.”

One hundred sixty million dollars of the investor money — 40 percent — was specifically earmarked for shopping mall acquisitions. Cypress Equities currently owns 28 retail centers in 14 states.

What does Cypress’s ownership of the mall mean for Burbank?

In the short term, if you believe the company’s press, it means “a thriving, sustainable community in the heart of Burbank.” Not to mention a much, much fancier mall.

At the moment, Cypress Equities Real Estate Management (the retail management and property development wing of Cypress Equities, which was formerly known as Arrow Retail), is waiting for Burbank’s Planning Department to okay plans for a $55-million dollar facelift aimed at transforming the mall from a drab retail mausoleum to an airy, light-filled indoor/outdoor restaurant, shopping and family entertainment space.

The company is also partnering with Crown to re-purpose the abandoned IKEA space and the property around it into a mega-complex of apartments, condos, stores, offices, a hotel, a farmers market space and even a skating rink (maybe).

According to “I Heart Burbank,” the PR website for the project, plans include:

Extensive remodeling and renovation of the mall and “opening” of the Magnolia Street entrance
765 apartments on the former IKEA site
70 condo units where the Corner Bakery is now
An open-air pedestrian plaza
An additional 259 rental units at the current Office Depot site.
A hotel and additional retail spaces

These last two, it notes, are “subject to future market conditions.”

On the City of Burbank Planning Board’s website, plans submitted by the owners give us a few more details.

The 259 unit apartment building on the Office Depot site will be seven stories high.
A 15 story building will house house 70 condo units where Corner Bakery sits now.
That 7-story mixed use building will also include 37,420 sq. ft. of retail/restaurant space and the old IKEA parking lot will make way for a pedestrian walk that will connect the two sides of the street.
From the architectural drawings it appears as if that 7-story, 200 room hotel with 10,000 sq. ft. of restaurant space will sit where the Chevy’s and Barnes and Noble are now.
The developers are asking for permission to “make Improvements” to N. San Fernando Boulevard (which presumably means closing it to traffic for the pedestrian mall)

The project’s construction has been designed to take place in a series of “phases,” with the Office Depot site “maintain(ing) its current retail use for some time to come” because it has a long-term lease on the site.

Like the other developments pending in Burbank, even if this one is approved by the Planning Department, the Burbank City Council would still need to give it the green light.

And after that?

There’s no reason to believe the mall’s out-of-state owners are in Burbank for the long haul. If history — not to mention their own business model — is any judge, Cypress will stick around just long enough for market forces to make the mall and the adjacent mega-development attractive to suitors. Then they’ll sell it off to the highest bidder for a sizable profit and get out.

Clues can be found by examining their 2014 private equity offering. Commercial Real Estate Direct noted, “(Cypress Equities is) expected to complete its acquisition phase in about three years and hold its assets until about four years afterwards.”

Presumably, then, if all goes according to plan, Cypress will complete the Burbank Town Center project (or whichever elements of it still make financial sense by the time it’s approved) and then they’ll dump it. It’s what they did with The Streets of Woodfield, the mall they bought in suburban Chicago.

In 2012, using a $100 million dollar loan, Cypress paid $118 million for The Streets of Woodfield, in Schaumburg, Illinois. The mall is one of the biggest retail centers in Chicago’s Northwest suburbs. Cypress made a few minor improvements to the mall (the property had been completely renovated a decade earlier), repainting the parking garage and asking the city of Schaumburg for permission to add some additional signage. And then, in 2015, they sold it to New York-based Blackstone Group.

The flip netted Cypress more than $60 million, a 53 percent profit in return for its investment three years earlier. Not too shabby.

In the case of Burbank, provided the commercial real estate market remains strong, there’s no reason to believe the scenario would be any different. Cypress would take its profits and get out — which wouldn’t necessarily be bad for Burbank. Putting the multi-use development component aside for a moment, many residents would look at the mall renovation as a win for our city.

But as we examine this project in its entirety, and other development projects currently in the pipeline — but especially those ambitious enough to promise a complete re-invention of our downtown — we must do so while keeping in mind what might happen in a worst-case scenario.

Many experts warn that Los Angeles real estate, both residential and commercial, is experiencing another bubble. If investing in our downtown starts to become a losing proposition, can we count on an investment company, beholden to Wall Street, to take the project to completion, even if that means throwing good money after bad?

Who knows? And, frankly, Burbank might be willing to take such a risk. But we shouldn’t do so blindly. Thoughtful development means looking at all the options and weighing the good and the bad before making decisions that will change our city for a long time to come.$300mln-for-value-add-investment-fund.html

Mega-Developments Could Cost Burbank Schools Millions

Thanks to a 30-year-old California law which imposes a so-called “developer’s tax” on new construction in the state — money that’s earmarked to pay for school construction and facility upgrades and maintenance — Burbank’s schools will reap additional funds from the city’s development boom. But will it be enough to offset the impact of all those new students that will result from the new development?

An April 2016 analysis prepared for the school district suggests maybe not.

The School Fee Justification Study,” prepared for the district by the consulting firm Koppel & Gruber Public Finance, examined what impact an increase in new residential housing might have on the city’s schools, which serve more than 15,000 students in grades K-12. It determined that each additional square foot of construction would cost Burbank schools $4.10. However, developers of residential housing in Burbank will only have to pay $3.48 per square foot — the maximum set by the state.

As a result, Burbank schools could be left with a shortfall of $.62 for each square foot of new residential construction. And the district could be left high and dry when it comes to commercial development too, according to the study.

State law caps the tax on new commercial construction at $.56 per square foot. With the exception of hotels, the bulk of the commercial construction projects proposed for Burbank also fell short of covering projected costs, sometimes by more than 150 percent, according to the school fee study, which set the impact construction of a standard commercial office space at $2.07 per square foot, a large high-rise commercial office space at $1.97 a square foot, and shopping center at $.85 a square foot.

The school district says it plans to use the money it collects on new development to cover roughly $124 million in facilities costs over the next decade, including an almost $40 million-dollar renovation project which would “include modernization of existing classrooms and the replacement of portable classrooms with permanent classrooms,” the report said.

A rudimentary review of five projects currently in development in Burbank — Burbank Town Center/I Heart Burbank, Premiere on First, 115 N. Screenland, First Street Village, and The Avion (airport adjacent property) — indicates that the discrepancy between how much tax the schools can force developers to pay and how much the district says it needs to blunt the impact of new construction could rob Burbank of almost $2.3 million dollars.

How we got the numbers:

We obtained estimates of the potential square footage and use of each project from City of Burbank Planning Board’s website. For residential units, unless a more accurate figure was provided in the developer’s plan, we used 1,173 square feet as the weighted average square footage of the proposed units (an estimate based on information obtained from LA County, according to the district study). We determined the cost impact of each project on school facilities using the BUSD report’s numbers ($4.10), and then compared this to the total revenues the school fees would generate as a result of the developers tax at a rate of $3.48 per square foot.

Because the impact on schools by commercial development varied according to the type of development (shopping centers compared to banks compared to commercial offices, etc.) we relied on the BUSD’s numbers to determine an average commercial cost impact ($1.40 per square foot) and compared it to the maximum school fee assessed on commercial properties ($.56).

Since the BUSD report determined the impact from hotels would be $.49 (below the minimum), and the district can not assess more fees than the cost of impact — we determined each square foot of hotel space should be taxed at a rate of $.49 per square foot. We used 300 square feet (slightly less than the average US hotel room size according to USA Today) to determine the overall square footage of hotel projects proposed.

Burbank Town Center/I Heart Burbank
70,000 square feet of new commercial square footage, approximately 200 hotel rooms and approximately 1,100 housing units

Total square footage: 1,290,300
BUSD impact ($4.10): $5,290,230
School Fee ($3.48): $4,490,244

Shortfall: $799,986

Total square footage 70,000
BUSD impact ($1.40) $98,000
School Fee ($.56) $39,200

Shortfall: $58,800

Total square footage 60,000
School Fee ($.49) $29,400


Premiere on First
Two options have been proposed. Both would include 154 residential units. One would include 181,517 square feet of commercial space; the other proposes 126,000 square feet in hotel space and 15,589 square feet of commercial space.

Total square footage: 180,642
BUSD impact ($4.10) $740,632
School fee ($3.48) $628,634

Shortfall: $111,998


Option One – Commercial/No Hotel

Total square footage 181,517
BUSD impact ($1.40) $254,124
School Fee ($.56) $101,646

Shortfall: $152,478

Option Two – Commercial & 230 room hotel

Commercial sq. footage 15,589
BUSD impact ($1.40) $21,825
School Fee ($.56) $8,730

Shortfall: $13,094

Hotel square footage 126,000
School Fee/impact ($.49) $61,740


115 N. Screenland
40 residential units with an average size of 1,284. 3000 square feet of commercial use.

Total square footage 51,360
BUSD impact ($4.10) $210,576
School Fee ($3.48) $178,732

Shortfall: $31,844

Total square footage 3,000
BUSD impact ($1.40) $4,200
School Fee ($.56) $1,680

Shortfall: $2,520


First Street Village
261 residential units and 21,265 square feet of commercial space

Total square footage 306,153
BUSD impact ($4.10) $1,255,227
School Fee ($3.48) $1,065,412

Shortfall: $189,815

Total square footage 21,265
BUSD impact ($1.40) $29,771
School Fee ($.56) $11,908

Shortfall: $17,863


The Avion
1,177,489 in commercial construction. 150 room hotel.

Total square footage 1,177,489
BUSD impact ($1.40) $1,648,485
School Fee ($.56) $659,394

Hotel sq. footage 45,000
School Fee/impact ($.49) $22,050



It’s important to note that the analysis prepared for the district was a cost projection — the actual cost impact on schools could, in fact, turn out to be much less (or much more).

Also, the school district must meet certain legal requirements before imposing the fee on new construction in the first place. They must:

1. Determine the purpose of the fee;
2. Identify the use to which the fee is to be put;
3. Determine how there is a reasonable relationship between the fee’s use and the type of development project on which the fee is imposed;
4. Determine that there is a reasonable relationship between the need for the public facilities and the type of development project on which the fee is imposed;
5. Determine that there is a reasonable relationship between the amount of the fee and the cost, or portion of the cost of the public facility attributable to the development on which the fee is imposed; and
6. Provide an annual accounting of any portion of the fee remaining unspent or held for projects for more than five (5) years after collection.
So, in fairness, the report prepared for the district should be read in light of the fact that the school district has an impetus to, perhaps, provide the “worst case scenario” in calculating, the potential impact of the new development on schools. After all, it may only assess the developer’s fee if it can show that its needs are equal to or greater than the amount of revenue it would collect from the tax.

But the potential impact of building residences for thousands more families whose children may use the district’s 19 schools should not be discounted either. It is one other important factor residents need to examine as we head to the polls next month. We need a city council that thinks before acting and considers all the ramifications of its decisions. We need a council that puts Burbank families first and won’t greenlight projects that allow outside developers to turn a quick profit and stick Burbank schools with the bill.

With Canvas For School Credit Scheme, City Council Candidate Gets an “F” In Ethics

When two students from Burbank High School reportedly handed a hillside resident one of City Council candidate Sharon Springer’s election flyers and told him they were earning community service credit for going door-to-door for the candidate last month, they had no idea they were dragging Burbank into a contentious political debate that has been raging in school districts across the country.

The question at the center of the maelstrom: should students earn high school credit for campaigning on behalf of a political candidate?

In recent years, public schools nationwide have added the requirement that high school students complete mandatory community service hours in order to earn their high school diplomas. Increasingly, political campaigns are attempting to capitalize on this — leveraging the offer of credit for service for free student labor.

In “14 Ways to Find New Campaign Volunteers,“ an article published on, a website aimed at grassroots political candidates, targeting high school students is listed as #5:

“High school students often need to fulfill a certain amount of community service hours for their school or college applications. Working on your campaign will give them the time or credit they need, and will add more energy to your campaign.”

The problem is, this isn’t always true. And, in Burbank, at least, the practice is banned.

In Burbank’s case, it is unclear whether Ms. Springer approached high school staff with her offer of community service credit, or if the proposal was initiated by a member of the BHS staff. Ms. Springer refused to provide any details when Burbank Viewpoints asked for her side of the story; “that issue has been resolved,” she said.

The confusion lies in the fact that rules governing what constitutes “service learning” vary from state to state and even from school district to school district. For example, in Burbank, students must select volunteer activities from a pre-approved list of nonprofits — from the Burbank Public Library to BTAC. Those seeking service credit for activities which are not on this list must first get approval from high school administrators.

In the recent example, the Burbank High students, members of the Key Club, apparently believed that since their club was on the approved list and they were undertaking the campaign activities under the auspices of the club, going door-to-door for Sharon Springer would earn them the promised hours; the school’s principal said it would not.

However, had the students been canvassing in Glendale or Pasadena, their activities would have been sanctioned. The Glendale High School website tells students “if you volunteer your time in the campaign without being paid, then it qualifies as community service in our program.”

This lack of consistency among schools helps fuel the controversy. For example, parents in a town in Maine were outraged when their local high school included a notice soliciting volunteers for the Clinton campaign among activities eligible for community service credit hours (the school apologized and removed the listing). In Florida, voters knocked down a proposed law that would have permitted the practice for students hoping to earn service hours to qualify for state scholarships.

From a legal standpoint, the practice raises some troubling questions.

Generally, the courts have ruled that schools must maintain political neutrality, even going so far as to place limits on teachers’ First Amendment right to free speech (Garcetti v. Ceballos (126 U.S. 1951 [2006]). Teachers, including club advisors and school administrators, may not take advantage of their positions of authority over students to promote their own political views or use public resources to support political activities.

In Burbank’s case, it is unclear whether Ms. Springer approached high school staff with her offer of community service credit, or if the proposal was initiated by a member of the BHS staff. Ms. Springer refused to provide any details when Burbank Viewpoints asked for her side of the story; “that issue has been resolved,” she said.

School administrators say their opposition to the practice is based both on the policy that forbids participation in partisan activities and a concern for student safety.

Indeed, sanctioning door-to-door solicitations by unsupervised students could potentially subject the school district to liability. In 2010, a youth club leader in New York was charged with 11 counts of charge endangerment for enlisting kids to go door-to-door selling chocolate bars to raise funds for its organization.

“Knocking on people’s doors is really dangerous,” says Reid Maki, director of Child Labor Advocacy at the National Consumers League — citing abuse, robbery, reckless driving, and sexual exploitation as possible hazards of soliciting door-to-door.

While the state laws that govern door-to-door sales by students don’t apply to campaigning, the state of California seems to recognize the inherent danger of the practice. Like other states around the country, it has instituted strict laws to govern it, including the requirement that children under 16 be supervised by an adult.

Since Sharon Springer won’t explain her campaign’s role in mobilizing the student volunteers it’s impossible to say if she was aware of Burbank High’s particular requirement. Perhaps, initially at least, she was not (a reasonable-enough supposition given the inconsistency from district to district). But her failure to consider all the possible ramifications of her decision — especially if her campaign initiated the activity, but even if her role was limited to providing the flyers for students to deliver on her behalf, should still give Burbank residents pause.

It doesn’t take much thought to realize, for example, that dispatching unsupervised high school students to ring the doorbells of complete strangers could be potentially dangerous, and most voters would agree that jeopardizing the safety of students for political gain is unacceptable. Likewise, it’s hard to argue that subjecting our school district to potential liability in return for free labor isn’t irresponsible behavior. The students themselves have every right to be furious. They spent an entire afternoon walking the hillside on Sharon Springer’s behalf, apparently under false pretenses, and are no closer to completing their service requirement than they were when they started.

Perhaps most importantly, however, it was incumbent upon this candidate to consider the ethical implications of her actions. Legalities aside, basic fairness dictates that public resources not be harnessed for personal or political gain. A candidate who values ethics and fair play would consider a situation like this one carefully. Enlisting like-minded young people and offering them an opportunity to engage in the political system and experience grassroots organizing firsthand is one thing. Orchestrating, or even being a party to, a scheme to trade high school graduation credits for free labor is quite another.

Unfortunately, a willingness to test — and occasionally cross — legal and ethical boundaries, especially when it comes to utilizing public resources for personal or political gain, is nothing new to Burbank. The illegal donation of $50,000 to airport boosters by the Burbank Hospitality Association is just one recent example. If this is something Burbank residents want to change, they need to start demanding that their representatives hold themselves to a higher ethical standard and take a closer look at the decisions they make on the campaign trail. There’s only one way for Burbank residents to send the message that ethics matter.

They need to vote for candidates for whom ethics matter.



Are Chinese Investors Driving Burbank’s Mega-Development Boom?

Hanhai Plaza. Land purchased for $100 in 2003 by Cusumanos. Sold to Chinese investors for $22 million 11 years later.

“This purchase is a gateway to entering the multimedia and entertainment industry,”

That’s what Lucy Lu, the chief executive of the Chinese investment group Creative International Investments, said in a press release back in 2014, when her company paid the Cusumanos $22 million for Burbank Civic Plaza — a four-story building for which the Burbank developer had paid the city a mere one hundred dollars 11 years earlier.

She was referring to the Chinese company’s plan to use the building as an incubator space for Chinese media companies as that country seeks to raise its entertainment industry profile. But, looking now at the slate of mega-developments jockeying for a green light from the Burbank City Council, perhaps residents should ask if the Cusumano sale was actually the gateway for something else — namely a wholesale campaign by Burbank developers to cash in on a Chinese real estate buying spree.

Experts say that Chinese investment in US real estate — and in Southern California in particular — has gone from a mere trickle to a flood, and indeed, from 2009 to 2014, Chinese investment in Los Angeles County doubled, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation. Last year, the country’s investment in foreign commercial and residential property broke new records, with an increase of almost 53% over 2015, according to JLL Global Capital, a leading real estate investment bank.

While the Chinese spent their yuan all around the world, the United States was the most popular destination for their cash, drawing in $14.3 billion. West Coast cities — particularly San Francisco and Los Angeles — collected the bulk of those Chinese dollars, continuing a multi-year trend that has transformed the Southern California real estate market, and which experts say will continue, despite recent efforts by the Chinese government to stem the flow of money out of China.

Developers in Southern California have not been shy about tapping the Chinese investor market. The website for downtown LA’s megalith “The Metropolis, the biggest multi-use development on the West Coast, for example, is in both English and Mandarin.

A recent listing from Brad Korb
A listing from Brad Korb, one of Burbank’s top realtors.

So, what does all this mean for Burbank? Is there reason to think our local development boom is linked to this larger trend?

Well, we can’t ignore the fact that many of Burbank’s more savvy real estate brokers are already tapping potential buyers in China for their commercial, multifamily and single-family listings. China’s popular online real estate site is currently advertising more than a dozen Burbank properties, including: 220 East Valencia (12-unit rental property) 3118 Burbank Blvd (former home to The French Confection Company, the specialty cake store). 1913 Jackson Street (a triplex investment property) 2317 N. Frederic Street (16-unit apartment building)

And these single-family homes: 3018 W. Wyoming 7774 Shadyspring Place 1920 N. Evergreen 1133 N. Reese 344 N. Florence 1110 N. Griffith Park 1526 N. Catalina 2124 N. Brighton 2900 Scott Road 2712 Kingsway Drive 434 Parish Place 1421 W. Oak

So the answer is — it sure feels like a trend.

By examining certain trends we see in previous efforts to attract Chinese investment, and noting similarities between those projects and what’s being proposed in Burbank, we might be able to better evaluate the developers’ intentions.

Too Many Apartments (And Too Few Parking Spaces)

The projects which will go before the Burbank City Council are for mixed-use developments, which combine housing with retail and commercial use. It is a relatively new land use for Burbank (the Talaria being a notable exception), although it is becoming more and more visible in DTLA, where shiny new super-towers dot the Los Angeles skyline with increasing frequency. It is worth noting that this kind of development — high-density, multi-use buildings located in urban centers — is the norm in China.

“Compared to the United States or other developed countries, mixed-use development is already common in China, where many neighborhoods feature all the services most people need within walking distance,” reports the China Business Review, a publication of the US-China Business Council.

The ability to house a lot of people who will presumably walk to the grocery store, ride their bikes and take public transportation to work, and rarely if ever get in their cars, is the major selling point for this type of development — and indeed, local boosters say it will obviate a need for additional parking and minimize the dwelling’s impact on local traffic patterns.

Cusumano's next development
The Cusumano Company’s latest project on First Street.

However, a significant difference between the Burbank projects and the Chinese variety is how the heavy hand of the Chinese government influences their city planning process. As Jennivine Kwan, vice-president of international operations at the US Green Building Council told the China Business Review that the Chinese government’s role in urban planning makes it easier to create sustainable communities. “China is one of the few places in the world that actually decides where a city is going to happen. They actually build the city,” Kwan said.

This difference is significant, and something Burbank residents might consider as they evaluate promises from our local developers to build green, self-contained communities. While all of these promises of sustainability are of course appealing on their face, the reality is that Burbank lacks the transportation infrastructure necessary to make a car-free lifestyle feasible. Post-war city planners went in a completely different direction with our town. For better or for worse, Burbank was built for car culture and to fulfill a postwar vision of a suburban utopia. Burbank residents would do well to consider that those decisions can’t be undone by simply building a handful of high-rises with low-flush toilets.

Don’t we have enough hotels in Burbank?

There may be a reason all these development projects include plans for new hotels. Consider this, from The Washington Post:

“Hotels, which often come with prime real estate, big-name brands and a promise of stable returns, have become an especially popular parking space for China’s billions.”

The interest by Chinese investors in the hotel market — and especially in multi-use projects that include hotel and office space — stems from a desire to capitalize on the relative stability of that sector, as well as in increase in Chinese tourism, especially by middle class Chinese, according to research analysts at HVS financial services. They report that according to the National Travel and Tourism Office, 2.19 million Chinese visitors traveled to the U.S. in 2014, a 21% increase over the prior year. These visitors contributed over $2.3 billion in travel spending. Moreover, the analysts continued, U.S. inbound travel from China is expected to continue to grow, and Chinese investors have been focusing on acquiring mid-scale hotels to capture the demand from the country’s middle-class.

That the projects awaiting approval in Burbank comply exactly with the needs of this particular investor group may not be a mere coincidence.

Who Can Afford to Live in These Apartments?

A major concern for cities that have seen a spike in Chinese investment – from Silicon Valley to Arcadia to downtown Los Angeles — is that the influx of foreign funds resets rents to a level that puts apartments out of reach for local residents. Yes, Burbank’s proposed projects would add thousands of rental units to our city’s housing supply, but with rents set at about the Los Angeles average (about $2,000 for a one-bedroom), the projects would do little to address the city’s shortage of affordable housing (the median household income in Burbank is about $66,000 a year).

So, why would developers build apartments most people in Burbank can’t afford?

While it’s true that for middle class and wealthy Chinese families, buying — not renting — is generally a more attractive option, the reluctance to rent might be overcome by one of our city’s noted strengths: the reputation of our local schools. A review of Burbank single-family home listings on indicates that sellers recognize the value in promoting their proximity to Burbank’s well-regarded schools. “Walk to award-winning Bret Harte Elementary,” says one listing. “Close to John Burroughs High School,” another notes. “Award-winning schools are within walking distance of the front porch,” yet another listing brags.

According to The New York Times, “education plays an outsized role” in the real estate decisions of Chinese families, and those middle class families who can’t afford to buy a home in a top school district like Palo Alto, for example (where prices have skyrocketed in recent years) will often rent an apartment to allow their children to attend American high schools and state universities. Some 23,500 Chinese students were enrolled in American high schools in 2013, the last year for which such numbers are available (the number is probably higher now), and according to the Institute on International Education, almost a third of international students at American Universities are Chinese.

If, in fact, the ultimate goal of our local developers is to sell these developments to Chinese investors, marketing these apartments to Chinese families makes perfect sense. The planned 12-story apartment building across the street from Burbank High School, for example, seems particularly well-located for families hoping to take advantage of educational opportunities in Burbank. And while Burbank would certainly be enriched by this addition to our culturally diverse community, it’s fair for us to consider the potential impact of a large influx of short-time residents who have an agenda other than making our city their home, and no stake in its future.

Why It Matters

As our city considers whether to give the go-ahead to a series of major development projects that will inarguably change the landscape of this city forever — whether one believes that change will be for better or for worse — it’s necessary to consider as many potential outcomes as possible.

An argument can be made, of course, that in a profit-driven global economy it’s completely unreasonable to expect a developer to consider a community’s wish that ownership of its prime real estate remain in the hands of those with a personal stake in its city. Capitalism dictates that decisions be based on profit margins alone.

And, of course, there is the gaping hole in Burbank’s budget that must be addressed. It might be true that development — even development intended to maximize profits at the expense of local ownership — is the price we must pay if we want to fund Burbank’s beautiful parks, libraries, and schools. Maybe the cost of living in beautiful downtown Burbank is selling off beautiful downtown Burbank piece by piece.

However, if this is the choice that must be made, residents should approach it with their eyes wide open. If our local developers are indeed operating with an eye on the Chinese market, we need to consider all the possible ramifications.

For example, we might ask:

Is the recent trend of Chinese investment a repeat of Japanese investment in U.S. real estate in the early 1990s? (That didn’t end well).

Is building developments tailored to Chinese investment a sound financial bet, given the recent slowing of the Chinese economy?

What if our local developers have overestimated the zeal of the Chinese investor, and later discover there are no great profits to be made off their building folly? Will they just walk away? And if so, what will become of our downtown?

Alternatively, what if our local developers’ bets pay off — are we, as a community, okay with selling off downtown Burbank like so many pieces of Monopoly property?

As residents we have a lot to consider, but it all comes down to this:

Fundamentally, do we think development in our city should be be aimed at creating spaces where we can live, work and raise our families? Or should building projects be tailored to make them attractive to buyers in the global marketplace, for whom our city is nothing more than another place to turn a profit?

We need to have a conversation where we consider the risks and benefits of both scenarios — with regard to our budget, certainly, but also in terms of what kind of future we, collectively, envision for our city. Most importantly, we need to have this conversation now — before our City Council gives these projects the green light — and it’s too late.


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