I wish I could have made this event at the old Ikea. I didn’t get home from work until 7:15 that evening. So hopeful they will do something similar again. But here’s an interesting viewpoint from Burbankmom.com. This is the blog that always seems to be in lockstep with the development class in our city. This time she’s a bit “sad.” Which is telling. I’m neutral on this project but very concerned for the congestion it WILL bring. I already avoid the Empire Center and downtown is already pretty bad. You can justify this massive development any way you want but the fact remains: I HEART BURBANK will further transform the downtown area into the congested, zoo-like atmosphere of the Santa Monica 3rd Street promenade when it’s completed. No one can argue against that. But of course Burbank Mom makes it sound like any dissent would be akin to “panic”. Do we want all this for a measly one-time 2.5 million increase to the city’s coffers? Remember the sales taxes go to the region not directly to our city. And the idea that Macy’s “owns” San Fernando Blvd. That one sounds pretty fishy to me. Will have to check that out and report back. The best course is to pay attention to the project and keep getting the word out so the people who live in the area can weigh in.
If you live, work or do business downtown OR if your kids go to Burbank High you need to attend this open house for the new I Heart Burbank development at the Old Ikea site on San Fernando. It’s this Thursday from 6pm-8pm. More info here. Be advised they are asking to email or text you news etc. Not singling out these I Heart Burbank people specifically, but you should always be cautious online.
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.]
Written by Amanda Biers-Melcher
The Burbank City Council’s decision to extend the Verdugo Avenue bike path to Victory Boulevard and add some safety enhancements earlier this week was hailed as a victory for Burbank bike enthusiasts and those who envision a less car dependent future for our city. Indeed, since its inception the painted bike lane that hugs Verdugo’s curb in both directions has — like virtually all the bike lanes, paths and routes in Burbank – been little more than a road to nowhere.
Now — if the map of Burbank’s bike routes posted on the city’s web site is accurate (linked below) — the Verdugo bike lane will narrow to a bike route (this is a biking area alongside cars without a designated lane — marked in green) before connecting to another proposed bike path on Victory Blvd (a designated path like the one on Chandler Blvd shown with a blue dotted line). Riders would presumably then be able to reach downtown Burbank via another proposed bike route on Olive (designated by the green dotted line).
The problem with this plan should be immediately apparent to anyone who has actually attempted to ride a bicycle on the streets of Burbank — either on its bike routes or even the Verdugo bike path (as this author has).
It doesn’t feel safe. At all.
And that, transportation experts say, is the number one obstacle to creating communities where residents choose to commute by bike.
To see a spike in bike riding a city must be willing to make a commitment to protected bike lanes. Protected bike lanes are on-street lanes that are physically separated from automobile traffic by curbs, planters, parked cars or posts. They look like this:
A 2014 study by researchers at Portland State University, which was partially funded by the Department of Transportation, looked at eight cities and found that when protected bike lanes are added to a street, bike traffic rises by an average of 75 percent in the first year alone. Ninety-six percent of respondents in the study said protected bike lanes made them feels safer — even in areas where they’d previously had unprotected painted lanes (like the one on Verdugo).
Cities around the country are getting the message that unprotected bike lanes are insufficient. For example, in response to an increase in bike-related accidents New York City is in the process of converting some of its bike lanes to protected lanes. If Burbank is serious about encouraging biking it needs to make a similar commitment. Half measures — like extending the painted lanes along Verdugo and adding a green bike route sign where that road narrows — will do little to address the fundamental problem and can, in fact, instill a false sense of security among those who do decide to bike in this city.
Likewise, if Burbank wants to make a commitment to car-free transportation, it needs to adopt a sensible overall plan instead of greenlighting individual projects in a haphazard manner. (There is a City of Burbank Bike Master Plan but, after eight years, it seems hopelessly out-of-date). Bicycle safety experts say that having huge gaps in cycling networks — and bike lanes that abruptly end, as Burbank does now — are particularly dangerous as they unexpectedly dump riders onto busy streets. There is little point in approving bike lanes for individual streets without addressing the overall connectivity issue.
For example, last year the city added a painted bike lane along Edison Blvd from Burbank Blvd to the North Hollywood border in response to resident complaints about speeding and limited visibility when drivers attempted to enter or exit from neighboring side streets (including the author’s). While the stop signs were a welcome addition, the new bike lanes create a baffling situation for the journeyman cyclist.
Setting aside the fact that having cars park along the curb to the right of the bike lane increases the likelihood that one riding past will be hit or at the very least “door-ed” — or the fact that the city bus is apt to careen thoughtlessly through the bike lane to the bus stop at the corner of Maple Street without warning — the worst thing about the new bike lane is that it abruptly ends where Burbank Blvd. meets Hollywood Way. As a result, the rider is suddenly left with no choice but to join the busy stream of traffic along that artery (again, dodging parked cars and weaving buses) — or to ride on sidewalks to access the bike path at Chandler.
This same lack of regard for connectivity was apparent when the city greenlighted a new bike path on Leland Way earlier this month (although, in this case, planners did seem to recognize that a protected lane — in this case by plastic barriers — was preferable to the unprotected lanes proposed in the past). Like the bike lane on Edison, the proposed path on Leland also ends abruptly without providing a connection to any other bike routes, lanes or paths.
All of which begs the much larger question: as much as “sustainability” has become a buzzword in Burbank as of late, do we actually want our city to values bikes over cars? Indeed, the very question of whether creating a car-free Burbank is possible or even desirable is up for debate.
Even if cost is not the primary issue — since much of the cost of creating a bike-friendly infrastructure will be born by outside funds (like, for example, the Measure R funds provided by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority) — there can be no denying that making Burbank more bike-friendly by replacing car lanes with bike lanes will have a significant impact on those who live and work in the city by adding to an already significant traffic burden. And, tensions will only worsen with the upcoming boom in mega-development and endless construction projects. Blocked roads, slowed traffic and the sudden population surge will make the city’s streets more congested than ever.
So why aren’t we having this politically-contentious conversation?
Perhaps it is because Burbank’s elected officials believe taking half-measures, like extending the fundamentally-flawed Verdugo bike lane — which allow them to appear environmentally conscious without making an actual commitment to wholesale change. — is enough to satisfy most of the city’s residents. And if this seems like the political equivalent to calling yourself an environmentalist while driving an SUV, well, it is. But when only sixteen percent of residents even bother to vote maybe our representatives are not wrong in believing they can get away with it.
Unfortunately, this approach is likely to create a lose-lose situation for everyone — making day-to day life that much harder for those of us who need to get to work and school and get our kids to practices and games and dentist appointments — and endangering those intrepid enough to attempt to ride their bikes by failing to make the kinds of upgrades that could make cycling a safe and practical choice.
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.”
Here’s a flyer every voter in Burbank needs to see and share. The upcoming municipal election is crucial and this shows in vivid detail why. If you are concerned about what is happening to Burbank please share this with your friends and neighbors. Click on the picture to load a high resolution PDF version. Right click on it to save it for sharing. And don’t forget our sharing buttons for FaceBook, Twitter and Google + below this post.
This is insane. Please watch all the way through. Do these people ever drive along Hollywood Way near Portos?