Letter to the Editor: Readers Disagrees on Letter Writer’s Take on Council Action

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Letter to the Editor:

I write in response to a recent Letter from David Donahue decrying the City Council’s actions on Tuesday to listen to concerns from a group of their constituents – tenants facing evictions due to their landlords’ unverified “intent” to renovate. Mr. Donahue may have let his personal emotions about this issue impede his rational faculties when writing his letter, as it contains numerous mischaracterizations, errors of omission, and outright falsehoods.

Mr. Donahue asserts, with no evidence whatsoever, that the Council’s unanimous decision to simply discuss (not act on) a matter that was not on the meeting agenda was unprecedented in Burbank’s history. I invite him to share the extensive research into every Burbank City Council meeting ever held that he no doubt conducted to arrive at this claim.

Regardless of precedent, Council received approval to agendize the issue from the City Attorney (whose legal knowledge of the Brown Act, I’d wager, transcends that of Mr. Donahue). While he credits Council members Mullins and Takahashi for being “taken aback” by this action, Mr. Donahue neglects to mention that their votes were included in the unanimous decision to discuss the matter. Watching the process of Council and staff determining what legal options were at their disposal play out live may have been unusual and messy, but it also was an example of democracy in action.

To that end, Mr. Donahue laments that “equal representation was not allowed” because landlords were unaware that the renters they are displacing might choose to voice their concerns in a public forum. Last I checked, anyone can speak at Public Comment, and Council meetings are broadcast live, so landlords had every opportunity to show up or call in to express their views. Mr. Donahue had the chance to do so himself but instead chose to use his 3 minutes on another topic.

If landlords want to claim ignorance of the fact that renters were going to mobilize on this matter, perhaps this can serve as a learning opportunity: not listening to your tenants has consequences. Decisions, after all, are made by those who show up.

Furthermore, if Mr. Donahue actually cares about “equal representation,” I’m sure it concerns him that while renters make up nearly 60% of Burbank residents, they constitute only 40% of Council and just 20% of the Landlord-Tenant Commission. Also absent from his calls for equal representation is the obvious lack of equal power between landlords and tenants, which is at the heart of why so many renters facing eviction – themselves speaking for far more who could not speak at the meeting due to work schedules, family obligations, health issues, or language barriers – chose to make their voices heard.

On that note, Mr. Donahue makes the patently false claim that the tenants who bravely risked retaliation from landlords by giving heartfelt public testimony about how forced eviction will upend their lives – some with their young children at their side – were “led by several activists who are not likely residents.” As one such “activist,” I can say with certainty that we all reside in Burbank. The same, however, cannot be said for many of the landlords, property owners, and developers who are responsible for forcing hard-working Burbank families out of their homes. Yet Mr. Donahue makes no mention of this fact because doing so would undermine his argument.

He also mocks one renter for “using the often-used trope of ‘this is violence against us’” in their comments. I wonder how he would characterize someone capitalizing on a legal loophole to forcibly remove his family from their home. Hopefully he never has to answer that question. But the profound lack of empathy in Mr. Donahue’s characterization of tenants is not surprising, given that in the video of the meeting that he suggests we all view, he can be seen clearly smirking as those facing the prospect of homelessness tell their stories.

These are just a few of the many holes that can be easily poked in Mr. Donahue’s egregiously one-sided view of Tuesday’s proceedings; properly accounting for all of the misinformation he spouts would require a much longer letter.

I will therefore close by responding to his expressed fear that Tuesday night’s Council meeting may be a sign that “the Burbank you’ve grown to love will change before your eyes” by saying that such change cannot come soon enough. And if Mr. Donahue does not like that change, unlike many tenants facing eviction, he has the resources and the freedom to leave of his own accord.

Jared Cavagnuolo
Burbank