Rags Riches – Candidates Make Opinions Known at Forum


The Scene: Burbank City Council chambers wherein 7 candidates snuggled up together where 5 sitting City Council members often struggle with each other.


Seated left to right and in the order they will appear on the ballot;: Emily Gabel-Luddy, Juan Guillen, Sharon Springer, Will Rogers, Elise Stearns-Neisen, Christopher John Rizzotti, and Dave Nos. Entertainment types will note that Emily Gabel-Luddy was in her usual far left spot enjoying her usual key light and Will Rogers got to sit in the Mayor’s key light, center stage. Dave Nos was in the usual spot of Gary Bric on the audience’s far right.

Breaking News as endorsements go: I asked the Mayor, Dr. Gordon, after the event was over who he was endorsing to sit next to Emily Gabel-Luddy – assuming she was re-elected. He paused. “Juan Guillen.” was all he answered. “Thank you, I said, “Thank You!” Later, I realized that Mr. Guillen had indeed sat next to her throughout the debate and so maybe my question was misunderstood, or, answered literally. This reporter will ask it again.

The Burbank League of Women’s Voter’s Tom Carter got the proceedings started at 3 minutes after 7:00 PM PST with the Pledge of Allegiance. In his comments he noted the need for a “democracy to treat each other with respect”.

Rita Zwern moderated and instructed all of us in the audience to not have any demonstrated reactions, like applause. However, this rendered the proceedings mute with just one audible gasp. More on that later.

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The audible gasp from the audience occurred when Emily Gabel-Luddy was asked by Zwern which of the other candidates she supported for the vacancy created by Gary Bric.

“I want them all on the board!” she enthused magnanimously, “I come from a point where decision-making needs to be practical.” However, with a pause and adding some drama: “I have supported Mr. Rizzotti. Let me tell you something about our relationship. He and I don’t belong to the same political Party.”

Will Rogers responded: “I disagree with Miss Emily Gabel-Luddy about her endorsement.”

Elise Stearnes-Neisen opined: “It was an interesting question Miss Gabel-Luddy received.

Opening Statements:

In the opening statements I noted who read from their script and who seemed extemporaneous.

Emily Gabel-Luddy started the proceedings by highlighting her working together with the rest of the city council in lowering the city’s debt during her time in office and mayorship and reducing that debt by $8.5 million to a small surplus.

Juan Guillen – the mayor’s candidate stated: “I have noticed frustrated residents who feel their voices haven’t been heard.” Readers will remember there was a “candidate, a Marine” who jogged by a City Hall gadfly last week and according to the gadfly wouldn’t shake his hand because it was too sweaty. Mr. Guillen, who mentioned his service as a Marine was cool and calm tonight.

Sharon Springer opened with, “I love Burbank and it has been my home for 23 years.” She then read her scripted answer.

Will Rogers stated, “I was a journalist in this very chamber for 23 years.” Wow! I thought, this should be good. His first idea was “business development that respects neighborhoods”.

Elise Stearns-Niesen: “I was born and raised right here in Burbank and worked my way through college by working for the City.”

Christopher John Rizzotti: “I’ve been fortunate to live in Burbank my entire life.” He mentioned Better Burbank, the group, and a lot of other things but spoke too fast for me to transcribe.

Dave Nos: “I want to do what’s right for you and be fair.” That seemed to sum up the vibe in the room and what people were looking for.


The first question from the moderator noted that 3 projects in the last year required “Material Variances”. But it was the Talaria Project that was on everyone’s mind.

Emily Gabel-Luddy: “The idea of population pressure and building is a very hard balancing act. I supported the Talaria Act because the final project proposed was better than the earlier version.” She summed upped her answer with “We have a procedure that allows for planned development and the Talaria Project went through that process.”

Juan Guillen: “Exceptional Projects should have exceptional community outreach” – he read in a prepared answer.

Sharon Springer: “When affordable housing is razed no one asks the developers to replace them. And later, “On the IKEA project I appeared before the council 4 times.” She talked about a woman who was evicted by the sheriff because she hadn’t moved out quickly enough from a unit that was being razed. She read this tale of horror in a prepared answer that reinforced the depth of feeling people have about this issue.

Will Rogers gave an extemporaneous answer and stated “There is a naked lack of balance in the system” and then described a city process of building development with conflicts of interest and named a city person involved.

Elise Stearns–Neison read in a prepared answer, “We need a protocol. Everyone should have a say in every project that affects Burbank.”

Christopher John Rizzotti, also reading from a script, “Let’s get technical here”, he started and then, in explaining his position, he was the vocally strongest candidate. Perhaps television sound levels were moderated but I wondered if it would be a change in the somber chambers Burbank has been used to.

Dave Nos noted that (so called) “Exceptional Projects may have a matrix available now but I have yet to see a definition yet.” He was referring to the definition of just what is an exceptional project and he was concerned about “knee jerk reactions” and offered that “we need to close the loopholes”. Concluding in what I assumed was another Talaria reference, “We have to protect the community. We need MORE communication.”

The next question was to Juan Guillen about long term challenges to the budget.
“We are faced with all these unfunded issues” He said, “and past councils have let future generations” pay the bill.

Sharon Springer was asked about her thoughts on replacing the central library building. “I would put the rebuilding out for competitive bids… use the site more wisely and and maybe build it higher than it is”, she responded.

Will Rogers was asked about alternative transportation and reducing car usage: “It’s unfortunate that the bike paths in Burbank have become the subject of ridicule. We have to open up again, our bike plan and install it. I have a neighbor who commutes to Glendale everyday on his bike” and he told a story explaining how inadequate the Burbank cycling experience is.

This reporter asked a question on one of the cards and was pleasantly surprised to hear it read: “Many voters are asking what neighborhoods you live in and what neighborhood you would represent if on the city council?” Of course city council positions are “at large” with no districting but I felt it was important to see what shook out.

Elise Stearns-Neisen answered first, “I want to represent my neighborhood AND everyone in Burbank.”

Christopher Rizzotti, “I have lived in EVERY residential zip code of our city.” He now lives in the Rancho district.

Christopher Rizzotti was also asked about the drought. “Our city has been very aggressive. The writing is on the wall… we are using our earth’s resources and we need to… recycle and conserve resources” He also stated “we need to explore this in our schools”.

Elise Stearns-Neisen was asked for an answer on unfunded city worker pension liabilities. “That is an important priority for the council to pay that down”, she answered and then stated she “wants to see more police officers on the street”.

Dave Nos was given the opportunity to address issues not addressed. “Burbank is going to be gridlocked very quickly with the (Talaria Project)” he said, adding that he “supports mini busses for people to get around the city” and thinks offering recycled water for lawn watering may be a solution to the drought.

Emily Gable-Luddy, speaking without notes: “Labor has stepped up (on unfunded liabilities) in paying their share.” She also mused, “You know I look forward to seeing the “Exceptional Development” issue come before the council and the discussion to iron that down.”

Juan Guillen responded to Will Rogers, “It’s time to go back to basics. As a cyclist I don’t feel any safer on the bike path as a result… it goes nowhere…”

Rita Zwern then informed the candidates that it was time for their closing statements.

Emily Gable-Luddy closed with a statement suggesting the city needs a “sustainable way of moving forward” and noted that sometimes Burbank has found itself “even fighting our own state of California” and “litigation from other places”.
Then, in an acknowledgment of the other candidates who made the Talaria project their main point of attack, she said “I have always given you reasons as to why I supported issues.”

Juan Guillen closed by reading his statement: “I believe you, the resident, should be at the forefront of every decision we make… we can no longer pass the buck… we have deteriorating infrastructure… I’m a Marine veteran, 35 years old… I want to bring back the servant in Public Servant.”

Sharon Springer also read her closing statement: “My focus will be maintaining our quality of life and small town charm. I will focus on economic development… I’m a small business supporter.”

Will Rogers without notes stated: “I have priorities and plans. I want to see our street lights synchronized. I want to see an end to the pendulum (political) that swings every few years… I want to see developers have to take their plans to neighborhoods affected.” This reporter could have sworn he heard, “I have visited 16,000 households.”

Elise Stearns-Neisen also read her statement saying she wanted to “keep the discussion alive on water and alternative sources… improperly timed signals… have an open door policy… represent ALL neighborhoods fairly and equally.”

Christopher John Rizzotti read: “I’m having the time of my life. I have the track record of public service and… success. If elected, I will meet with voters each and every week.”

Dave Nos spoke without notes and was the only person to first thank the League of Women Voters. “This (the public of Burbank) is all about you…traffic, streets fixed… I want to be your voice.”

Moderator Rita Zwern appealed to the public to “Join us for the following Meet-n-Greets”;

Monday, January 26th, 2015
6:30PM – 8:00PM PST
Bellarmine Jefferson High School
St. Eleanor Hall
465 East Olive Avenue

Monday, February 9th, 2015
6:30PM – 8:00PM PST
Burbank High School
902 North Third Street

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015
6:30PM – 8:00PM PST
Westminster Presbyterian Church
542 North Buena Vista Street

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015
6:30PM – 8:00PM PST
Burroughs High School
1920 Clark Avenue
NOTE: entrance through Indian Alley on Parish Street

School Board Forum following the City Council Forum

Seated left to right and in the order they will appear on the ballot; Steven L Ferguson, Dr. Armand Aghkhanian, Roberta Reynolds, Jesse Tangkhpany, Gregory Sousa, Vahe Hovenessian

In the opening statements Steven Fergusson lightened the mood and brightened the tempo compared to the City Council Forum with an “I am excited!” Dr. Aghkhanian advocated small class sizes, safe schools and a transparent budgetary process. Roberta Reynolds proclaimed she was a “lifetime resident of Burbank and a product of Burbank schools”. Mr. Tangkhpany told his story; “We come from a family of immigrants and when we came here we had to get a lot of our food from Family Resources and churchs and that he was a worker for SEIU Local 99. Gregory Sousa is a “graduate student earning a degree in tax law”. He has a student in the Burbank district and believes “Schools are where citizens are assimilated”. Vahe Hovenessian said: “I have a student in our schools and a 4 year old who will be”. He is a member of the PTA and the boosters.

The first question got right to the heart of the matter facing the school district this year. It was; “Describe the role of a board of a board member” and relate that to the role of the superintendent in the district?

Steven L Ferguson: “The board serves as equal parts administrative and ambassadorial. I would like to reach out to business owners to streamline the process for student to employer.” He thanked the League and the two departing board members Dave and Ted. He noted that the board needed work horses and not show horses and that he was endorsed by the teachers.

Dr. Armand Aghakhanian quoted Martin Luther King, “think intensively and to think critically” in his opening remarks and noted in closing he was endorsed by city council members and superintendents.

Roberta Reynolds an incumbent answered the first question about the Board having the responsibility to hire, fire and discipline the superintendent. “The superintendent has the responsibility for the district.” she continued. In closing she asked the voters to “allow me to continue the leadership” the school board has developed while she was on it.

Jesse Tangkhpany : “I have worked with multiple school districts”. In response to the board’s role; “Parents should work through channels and not the board members with regards to questions about individual students.”

Gregory Sousa also answered about the board’s role: “The person who runs the district is the superintendent. The superintendent serves at the (pleasure) of the board. The role of the board is to inform themselves.”

Vahe Hovanessian: “Hire and evaluate and fire the superintendent.” he answered. And about the future, “I’m hoping for the future superintendent to have an instructional background”. In closing he stated; “I am honored to have the current Mayor, Dr. Gordon’s endorsement as well as Jesse Talamandes. He also noted endorsements of some current school board members.

Moderator Rita Zwern noted that there will be meet-n-greets for the public to meet the school board candidates on the same dates and times mentioned for the City Council candidates.

For additional questions about the forums please email; cityclerks@burbankca.gov
You can also follow FaceBook.com/BurbankVotes and Twitter-follow @BurbankVotes.
www.burbankca.gov/election is the city’s web address for this election, information about the candidates and voting.

Editors Note: Rags Riches is a political commentary – any opinions offered are by the author and do not reflect any positions of myBurbank.com


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