A little more that a year from now, I expect screams of outrage may roll through Burbank. It will ignite area politics, enrage residents, terrify many who’ve bought homes in recent years, light up familiar activists and inspire new ones, all brandishing furious charges of corruption and government secrecy. Worse, I’m worried this wave of attention will come far too late to do anything productive.
At a Nov. 14 meeting of Burbank’s City Council and the Airport Authority operating Bob Hope Airport, a council majority approved hiring a firm to study a “concept” for replacing the existing terminal, and installing up to 3 million sq. ft. of development on 58 acres next to the new terminal. The development includes up to 8,200 parking spaces, yet another hotel, and a variety of office and business spaces to be built over 10 to 15 years.
The government agencies involved have NOT kept this secret. The airport did speed from what officials said was a blank slate awaiting public input, to renderings, square footage and landscaping in less time than I can sketch out a bathroom remodel. But the airport and the city went beyond what the law demands for notifying the public of official discussions getting underway.
Still, at the Nov. 14 session, where the council could have slashed the 58 acre concept, but didn’t, the meeting was packed with staff, consultants, lawyers and elected officials. A handful of local business champions were there, apparently just as silent cheerleaders. But only four or five Burbank residents not paid or elected to be there bothered to show up. And perhaps half of them were from that familiar band who speak at every public meeting and rant about every issue.
My fear is the study now underway will suffer the same apathy. The experts will conclude, as they virtually always do, that by reducing the project’s size somewhat – which developers tailored their plan to anticipate – the impacts of a new terminal and 58 acres of development are a fair exchange for the vague promise of jobs, and can be easily fixed by shifting traffic lanes and tweaking signals. If the process continues as most do, consultants, staff and elected officials will also argue the project has public support because the Chamber of Commerce and business people they talk to privately love it, and the residents said little or nothing when they had the chance.
Also as we’ve all seen countless times, I’m expecting that, when the project is finally approved, then we’ll finally see newspaper articles and hear discussion awakening Burbankers to the creature first unchained back in 2013. People will demand to know why it was kept secret and they weren’t told. But it wasn’t, and they were.
Some ignoring current events may rely on Burbank’s “Measure B,” which prevents a new terminal from being built without voter approval. That requires pretending Burbank’s voter turnout has not been falling since the 90s. And any election watcher can tell you the precincts near the airport have some of the worst voter turnout numbers in the city!
Project supporters will need only invest in goosing the already more-active neighborhoods that won’t suffer the project’s impacts directly: places like the Rancho and hillsides. It also means assuming that, if a Measure B vote did fail, thus stopping a terminal project that I believe has some positives, eliminating the chance of any replacement terminal virtually in perpetuity is in Burbank’s best interest.
No matter where you stand on the project, not paying attention now invites war later, and in the worst possible circumstances, alongside 2015’s council campaigns and elections. That means a few hot weeks of charges and claims, campaign war chests, anonymous mailers, and all the hallmarks of Burbank’s ugliest battles.
Moreover, even if the new terminal were voted down, the 58 acre development next door could proceed.
I urge Burbank residents to learn about the EIR process underway. Visit web sites for the city and the airport to sign up for notices of every public meeting, and when the EIR process solicits public comment and questions, participate! Help point the projects where you want them headed today, instead of trying to stop them or save them at the last minute in 2015.
Bob Hope Airport web page for development matters:
Burbank City Hall web site page for registering to be notified of airport-related matters: