“We’re a wonderful melting pot,” said Burbank Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy near the beginning of her State of the City Address at yesterday’s luncheon at the Los Angeles Marriott Burbank Airport Hotel. Wonderful indeed in a big little city that’s an industry powerhouse and magnet for talent all over the globe, a place that’s being described as “the town behind the tinsel” of Tinseltown.
The Mayor’s short film, “Classic Burbank Short Stories,” proved to be a fitting ambassador for the Media City, where professional storytellers mingle with people with interesting stories. Like “a nun’s story” 75 years ago, when The Sisters of Providence founded a hospital that has since grown to regional importance. Like the saga of Beatriz Porto fleeing the concentration camps in Cuba and founding the legendary Porto’s, whose Burbank bakery is a veritable “Café Americain” for industry hopefuls looking to book passage to Hollywood success. And like the stories of dreamers and drawers at Cartoon Network and Nicolodeon putting their stamps on popular culture alongside Disney, who back in the day had hired many a talented refugee who had escaped, often barely, from Hitler’s Third Reich.
“Burbank’s economy is strong and the outlook is good,” said the Mayor, a definite attention-getter in a state where many communities are financial basket cases. Burbank had been able to persuade its entertainment industries to stay rather than bolt for Texas or Canada, and it had succeeded in replacing Lockheed with the revenue casino known as the Burbank Empire Center. It also hasn’t hurt that Burbank welcomes 3.5 million visitors annually, many of them making Burbank their base camp for various Hollywood safaris.
But there’s a second part to the logline: Many people who work in Burbank can’t afford to live in Burbank (as many businesses have noted,) and the municipal government needs more money, or it may have to close several parks and libraries as well as reduce police and fire presence.
Housing affordability is in part a problem of success. Employment in Burbank has grown to 150,000 people as compared with 107,700 residents, which has made the real estate market hot even by LA standards. It’s a daunting challenge even with Burbank’s median household income of over $76,000. Recently the Council allowed accessory dwelling units (“granny houses”) and is already processing 200 applications. The Mayor is also hopeful that several projects underway or under development would not only offer more housing, but also a greater range of housing choices for single Millennials as well as larger households.
And sadly, some can’t afford housing of any sort, even though they may be working. “This past year homelessness has come to the forefront,” said the Mayor. The City is enlisting the help of several agencies, including the Burbank Housing Corporation and Family Promise of the Verdugos.
Needing more money is largely due to the elephant in the room for many California cities: pension costs. In Burbank, the City Council and administration have taken steps to shrink the elephant. The Mayor pointed out several measures that will generate an expected $9 million in annual savings, most notably by having City employees bear a greater share of their retirement costs. In the short term, the Council has enacted a hiring freeze, leaving 223 positions vacant. (The Mayor thanked City employees for holding the fort and keeping customer service at a high level.)
But to shrink the elephant to the size of a rambunctious rottweiler, the public will need to vote for Measure P this November, which would increase the sales tax by ¾%, with all revenues staying with the City—some eliminating the remaining budget shortfall, and the rest available for major street work and other needed capital improvements.
In the course her address, it became clear that the Mayor was putting forward her strongest selling point for Measure P: In Burbank, to use an industry turn of phrase, “the money stays on the screen.” For example, the Mayor pointed out that Burbank police officers have caused violent crimes to shrink 11%. And Burbank firefighters did not allow a single house to be lost to the flames, in spite of several major fires that ravaged the hillsides. (And Burbank’s firefighters are nationally recognized the leader in paramedic best-practice treatment protocols, which will be instituted throughout LA County.)
The Mayor concluded her presentation with a moment of silence in memory of the late Mayor Will Rogers who, like his famous, rope-twirling namesake, knew how to tell stories that uplifted a community and helped make it a better place.