Editor’s Note: myBurbank sent eight questions out to the eight different candidates running for Burbank City Council. myBurbank will run a different question each day for eight days (except for weekends). We have in no way edited any of the responses that we have received and have come directly from the candidates. We gave them no limits to the amount of space they wanted to use for their answers and have rotated the order of the candidates each day so no one has an advantage. After reading these questions and answers, myBurbank hopes that the voters of Burbank will have an informed opinion before casting their votes. Remember, you can vote for two candidates and every vote is valuable!
Question 4 of 8:
How do you feel the City has handled the response to COVID-19? Do you feel they are doing enough for businesses and trying to keep the public safe? What do you see for the recovery of Burbank moving forward?
We are in an unprecedented moment with challenges we have never seen in our lifetimes. I feel the current council has taken some good measures, but that they have not taken enough action. I believe our response needs to be resolute and proactive.
If elected I will immediately work to develop a plan to safely restart and restore our local economy. Within my first 100 days in office, I would work to create the Burbank Economic Recovery Taskforce (BERT) to ensure that we are bringing jobs to Burbank that provide a livable wage and benefits to our workforce. I believe that it is crucial that we bring all experts and stakeholders to the table to inform the Burbank City Council on the best strategies for economic recovery. Accordingly, I would like to see BERT be comprised of leaders from the entertainment industry, small business owners, entrepreneurs, retailers, organized labor, community leaders, and representatives from the food & beverage and hospitality industries.
This task force would be directed by the Burbank City Council to develop and execute a comprehensive economic recovery plan for Burbank that balances the need to ensure the protection of employees and the public with our mutual interest in ensuring the economic livelihood of our community. From there we can explore tools at our city’s disposal including tax incentives, infrastructure investments, and creative solutions such as establishing flagship events and converting certain business districts into pedestrian-friendly areas. We need to put everything on the table and have our businesses, residents, workers, advocates, and experts work together to find solutions on how to navigate and recover economically from this pandemic.
Compared to our neighboring cities, Burbank has done a good job at keeping residents safe and the number of cases and deaths low. As a community, we need to continue to wear masks in public, comply with social distancing rules, and make smart choices to protect our neighbors.
Closing San Fernando Road to allow for more outdoor dining space was a great step towards stimulating our local economy. I would like to see a similar closure in the Magnolia Park area as well given the number of small businesses that need our help. Encouraging residents, through social media or publicly, to support our local businesses is something the City can do to help those owners. Recovering from the Pandemic is a community effort, and the small business owners in our community need our help to stay open.
Moving forward, we need to outline a safe re-opening plan. This would entail the continued use of masks and social distancing in public places and a gradual increase in capacity for businesses operating indoors. For places able to operate outdoors, the City should ensure there are no impediments to business through road closures and similar measures. Again, this recovery is a community effort, so every resident should take the necessary steps to ensure safety.
I think we are doing an excellent job on the virus. Burbank is doing the best it can considering that we are bound to follow the health officers in the state and the county since we do not have a health officer of our own. That is the law which a lot of folks do not understand. I have asked to agendize the costs and procedural rules if we hire our own health officer in the future. We will be discussing that soon, I hope. In the meantime, our disaster coordinator is doing a fantastic job of communicating with the health officers at both the state and county level. He also is doing a great job of relaying the information to us and our community.
We are doing everything we can for businesses under the rules of the emergency declaration. Once an emergency is declared the city council loses some of its authority and our city manager gains more authority. Burbank is a Charter City and a City Manager form of government. This gives the City Manager the ability to respond more quickly than a 5-member council can in light of the Brown Act. The Brown Act requires us to post notices before we meet and discuss plans in public before we can implement a plan. A perfect example of that is our mask policy which will finally be discussed on 9/15/20. If we think the county/state is wrong we can lobby them and ask for changes and adjustments – sometimes we win and sometimes we lose.
Look at the outdoor dining and how we closed San Fernando Road from Magnolia to Angeleno pretty quickly when indoor dining was closed. We were able to help lots of businesses and also quickly expanded it to other areas as well. This is just one example. We have to re-open very carefully with cleaning protocols we have never used before and with social distancing and masks. If Costco can do it, so can we. I formed a sub-committee a few months ago to assist small business owners. We do this by meeting and listening to them and also working with them. Through the city we have been lobbying both the county and the state. I again publicly thank my sub-committee of Vice Mayor Bob Frutos, Chamber CEO Tom Flavin, Council candidate Paul Herman and Jeff Wright, all who contributed their time, energy and ideas to help our city get back on its feet economically. We have to be careful but optimistic and remember that there will be other epidemics and we must prepare for those and stockpile a reasonable amount of supplies and make sure it stays fresh. We also have to stay apprised of science and medical experts and stay in touch with them and listen to them.
When COVID-19 came to Burbank, our City Council said it’s not our responsibility, it’s all up to the City Manager, and then they didn’t meet for over a month. During that time, we had to find out where to shop, where to get medical care and what we could and couldn’t do. There was no leadership from our elected officials. There was no sense that they even tried to connect with and help our residents.
Currently there is no information from the City as to what is happening with our local businesses. We have no data regarding how many businesses have closed and how many are closed permanently. We don’t know if the Federal assistance reached our city and helped us in the way it was meant to help. We are, in essence, flying blind. We need to see an effort to get current data on what is happening in Burbank for our small local businesses, and then promptly and efficiently identify a plan of action. There are still untapped State and Federal resources that our City Council could utilize to give a lifeline to these businesses in the most needed way.
No one is talking about how much City revenues have decreased since March. We have still not received any confirmed figures from the City Manager’s staff. This factor will affect all efforts at recovery. As long as residents are doing what needs to be done to keep the virus under control, we can explore reopening more businesses and seeing what activities can be done safely until an effective vaccine is available for all of us.
Though COVID-19 has put many states to the test, California has responded well, through safer-at-home guidelines and keeping our community informed and free from preventable outbreaks.
COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on all aspects of life in Burbank, especially for working families. This summer, I joined a coalition of other parents in the district to demand our schools implement full distance learning education, and we were successful in this effort. I’m currently signed on to a petition for the city to enforce a mask mandate for all businesses and public spaces, which our current city council is refusing to implement. COVID-19 is real, and it is deadly, and we must protect our residents. All of these measures are designed to keep the number of COVID-19 cases down, which is the most effective way to reduce the dangers and stress on our frontline healthcare workers.
To prepare to get back to business when the state of emergency is lifted, we must implement a worker retention ordinance that includes a right of recall for all workers to be rehired at their previous pay and benefits.
One of the largest uncertainties weighing on residents’ minds is whether or not they can afford to pay their back-due rents and mortgages. I will work with state and federal leaders to cancel all rents and allow forbearance on qualifying mortgage payments for renters, homeowners, and small businesses.
In addition, I believe Burbank during this trying time would be in a prime position to implement the kind of local universal basic income (UBI) pilot program seen in Stockton, California. We are a city with a large income gap between rich and poor, so as a council member I will push the city to explore UBI in the form of a small pilot program.
COVID has been a difficult and confusing time for everyone. Now that we’ve been in this journey for many months, it’s extremely clear how cities need to be adaptable, clear in their communications, and thoughtful in decision making. While there have been many difficulties during this time, some of the hardest parts of this process have been when there is not clear or conflicting information, the information changes rapidly, or decisions are made suddenly.
But overall, I am incredibly proud and inspired by the immense amount of support and care that we’ve given one another in our city during this time. Everything from helping each other find toilet paper, to delivering meals, to checking in on neighbors, to sewing masks, to donating to charities. We have Project Hope, BTAC, our school lunch program, Family Promise, Burbank Housing Corporation, YMCA, Boys and Girls club, and so many other social services and partnerships with the city that have provided a wide net for so many of our residents. We can do this, because we are a tight knit, high quality community.
Moving forward, we need to continue supporting these programs, and continue to improve support for small businesses, workers, residents, and our unhoused, to make sure that we stay flexible and adaptable to the changing needs of our community. And as we continue to serve, to clearly communicate safety protocols, how to get assistance, and any changes in laws or ordinances.
We also have to keep a close eye on a few important issues that may arise as we recover from COVID – renter evictions, mortgage defaults, and small businesses going bankrupt due to low income and having to pay back PPP loans. The city may not be able to directly address these issues, but we need to make sure that the city is aggressively partnering with services and programs that can help.
The city had a good start at the beginning of the pandemic with the COVID hotline and web page. Now is the perfect time to update that into a COVID portal, that can be easily accessed and used to direct those affected to the right resources. In particular our landlord/tenant commission for renters and landlords, and a dedicated personnel in the Economic Development Department to help small businesses with their challenges.
Economically, most cities will be very challenged with recovering from COVID, and we as a city will face at least a $20 Million deficit. We need to be creative to weather the storm, and find efficiencies and innovative ways to do more with less, together. It won’t be easy, and there will be some hard decisions to be made. This is why we need council members with experience dealing with budgets, who are thoughtful and careful in their deliberations, and who have a history of building partnerships, to be ready for anything in this unprecedented time in our city.
Michael Lee Gogin:
I actually think that the county has made a big mistake in the way we have been asked to follow their Covid-19 agenda. I do think that social distancing is good for us to follow however, I do not think that closing any or all businesses was a smart move. Besides, our tax revenues were crushed by the inactivity. It is as if the politicians were purposely bankrupting our city. For sure, many businesses had to shut down along with a lot of life long hopes of having a successful thriving business.
Small Mom & Pop size businesses will take awhile to get to a normal level of business. Reopening will be hard and take a long time to recover if at all.
I feel that the City of Burbank did about as well as could be expected in the handling of its response to COVID-19. Hindsight is 20-20 and we all like to play Monday morning quarterback, but none of us could have foreseen the scope and scale of this pandemic. To me what matters more is not what we have done but what we need to do! The City needs to continue to be nimble, creative, and adaptive in its approach to allowing businesses to open and operate in a safe and healthy manner to the public. Our economic response must be two-fold:
Manage our City finances through this looming economic crisis by using all the tools in our toolkit to keep our budgets whole without sacrificing jobs, essential city services, and the quality of life we enjoy here in Burbank.
Kickstart our local economy by providing our local small and medium sized businesses here in the City the resources they need to survive and thrive, such as cutting red tape and streamlining the permitting processes for our local businesses.