All seven City Council candidates respond to our Preserve Burbank Questionnaire...

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All Seven City Council Candidates Weigh in on Preserve Burbank Questionnaire...

Last week we emailed all of the candidates three questions Preserve Burbank members wanted to know about.  Here are the questions and each candidate's unedited answers:

  1. The State of California has a very clear tree ordinance that the City of Burbank does not enforce.  As a result, many homeowners and developers have taken to clear cutting lots prior to remodeling or new construction.  Do you think the city should begin enforcing the existing state tree ordinances
(To be fair, several of the candidates emailed me to ask if I could provide them with the State of California Tree Ordinance and after some research (thank you Greg Rehner) I had to inform them that there is not, in fact, a state ordinance, rather a Los Angeles County ordinance that the City of Burbank does not enforce.  That being said, I think the issue remains the same with the following revision of the question: Do you think the city should begin enforcing the existing COUNTY tree ordinances?)
Elise Stearns-Niesen: I think that the laws of the State of California should be enforced equally everywhere.  I believe that our ordinances should follow State law in all cases.
Juan J. Guillen: Yes, the city should enforce ordinances that apply to charter cites, which best serve our community.
Emily Gabel-Luddy: There is currently no legislation in place to provide appropriate protections for native trees like oaks or sycamores in the City of Burbank. I think this would be an appropriate issue to include as part of the development of the Design Guidelines currently in the process.
Chris Rizzotti: I believe that beautiful trees such as oak trees need to be protected however I do believe in private property rights and believe that trees that are causing damage, up-rooting foundations, causing damage to sewer lines should be able to be removed by homeowner.
Sharon Springer: Yes, and also enforce parking lot tree canopy requirements.
David Nos: I have been searching for the California Tree Ordinance and only found California Government Code 53067 Which basically addresses pruning.  I will keep looking so I can properly understand this.   Trees are extremely important to the overall look and being of a community. 
I did speak with the Burbank forestry department about a California Ordinance and asked what their position was on it.  The woman I spoke to told me about several trees that the city will not cut down due to California law especially the oak, but that is Parkway trees only.  if a homeowner has an oak tree on their property he/she may cut it down. 
As to developers and homeowners clear cutting their property, consideration needs to be given for protected trees and plants, but I have a difficult time dictating what people can do or not do on their own property.  If it is within existing codes It should be allowed.  It is the only way to be fair to all parties.
Will Rogers: If the point of the ordinance referenced is to prevent the removal of mature, well-established trees that are in good health with a reasonably expected remaining lifespan, I would heartily and vehemently support enforcement, regardless of which governmental offices are responsible for that.
            I won't waste your time listing all the obvious reasons that well-established, mature trees are desirable, for the homeowner specifically, for the immediate neighborhood, and for the community as a whole.  That you've asked the question indicates to me you don't have to be convinced of these points.
            That said, I feel obliged to add that I am not familiar with the referenced ordinance, and so must qualify my statements.  What I'm especially concerned about are ordinances like those in Glendale wherein residents were being hit with fines of several thousands of dollars for un-permitted branch trimming, including work done by qualified professionals to the benefit of the entire tree.  I'd also allow for limited work made necessary by roots.
            I'm also a bit concerned about the terminology used here because, if the regulation(s) referenced is in fact a "state ordinance," legally and logistically it would typically be the state's duty to enforce that.  There are exceptions, and this may well be one of them.  But I have to provide the qualifier because, as noted, I'm not familiar with the ordinance.
            Finally, there are also virtually countless ordinances on the books (including local, state and federal regulations) that remain unenforced because court decisions, up to and including the State Supreme Court and the US Supreme Court, have concluded they are for some reason unConstitutional, or in some other way flawed beyond simple repair or adjustment.  Perhaps a government attorney has concluded that a decision on an unrelated matter somehow applies to the "tree ordinance."  Again, it's in an abundance of caution I note these and other possibilities when taking the step of speaking out on a regulation I've not already researched.
            I would appreciate any information you can provide me with regard to this ordinance so that I can research the matter.  If the ordinance exists as described, it could be a phenomenal tool for protection, and I'd have no reluctance championing its use.

  1. City Council voted last June to allocate resources for development of more specific Design Guidelines for new construction in Burbank (similar to the existing guidelines already in force in Glendale and Pasadena, but without the design review board).  Interviews have begun for hiring an individual or firm for the development of these new guidelines, however, by staff’s own estimates, the soonest any new guidelines could be drafted and proposed to City Council for adoption would be the end of the year.  How would you vote to consider some “low hanging fruit” ordinance changes that could be adopted sooner to stave off some of the projects that may be rushed through prior to that deadline? 
Elise Stearns-Niesen: Our current problem exists because the lack of detail on many issues, including ordinances, makes enforcement unequal.  I have no problem with amending or solving any ordinance problems immediately.  I would just want to make certain that everyone gets to have a say in developing any changes: property owners, neighbors, businesses and staff.  I want property owners and business rights protected, but not by affecting the neighbors or neighborhoods without their permission.
Juan J. Guillen: I would be in favor of adopting whatever protections we can now and amend the ordinance when more specific design guidelines for new construction can be adopted.
Emily Gabel-Luddy: I would certainly be willing to vote to consider adoption of ordinances on an “Urgency” basis to take advantage of “low hanging fruit”.   Examples of this could be revisiting the F.A.R. currently in the mansionization ordinance and reducing it to 0.35FAR from the current 0.40FAR, or by eliminating existing loopholes like the exclusion of garage space from FAR calculations.
Chris Rizzotti: As Vice-Chair of the Planning Board I voted for the hiring of an architectural firm to review our design guidelines for bulk and size. I also voted yes to adopt ordinances to implement the "low hanging fruit".
Sharon Springer: I would consider the ordinance changes, and unless there’s something weird and detrimental about them, vote affirmatively on them.  Carol Barrett, Assistant Director City of Burbank Planning and Transportation Division, stated in an email to me: "Options for moving forward in advance of the consultant study to modify provisions of the current zoning code that would help to address some of the concerns about mass and bulk."  It looks like this item may address possible options to implement prior to completion of the consultant study. I’m on the Urban Design and Healthy Living Subcommittee of the Sustainable Burbank Commission.  We were appointed by City Council to advise them on sustainability issues, and we participated in the visual preference survey.   Our subcommittee is concerned about massing, mansionization, and development that does not consider the context of the surrounding neighborhood.  We would like to meet with you (Preserve Burbank).  Most recently, I addressed City Council and also wrote a community commentary,0,3451160.story  for The Burbank Leader concerning the impacts of the proposed IKEA project. I also addressed Council on the proposed project at 550 N. Third Street - NE corner of Cypress.
David Nos: We need to tighten up the loopholes in our current ordinances that easily allow for the “Exceptional Project”
No Density allowances or underparking should be allowed. There are a number of conditions that allow for greater FAR than the ordinance calls for (which I believe is 40% of the total square footage of the lot).  I think those items should be reviewed to see if they hold validity and how much impact they have on the surrounding neighborhood. A tighter ordinance will ensure fairness as long as we are consistent.
Will Rogers: I fully support "anti-mansionization" guidelines, and have researched my own proposals to accomplish this with the city's Community Development offices to determine whether my ideas are 1.) Legally defensible and 2.) Sufficient to prohibit those homes that are constructed with massing architecture vastly different from those seen on the overwhelming majority of existing homes in a given area.
            The Council right now ostensibly includes an easy majority of members who specifically campaigned on pledges to impose anti-mansionization ordinances.  And still, with four years or more having passed with that majority in office, nothing substantive has been accomplished.  I find this grossly unacceptable, and attribute it, not to a lack of sincerity or honesty in the claimed position, but to a lack of focus and leadership.
            Beyond that, however, I would have to consider other "design guidelines on each of their own merits, because I strongly object to the cavalier and grossly unfair abuses I've seen in Glendale.  Though you qualify the question by ruling out "Design Review Boards," any individual or panel enforcing design guidelines becomes a defacto design review board (DRB).  And I've watched incredulous as a panel of council appointees in Glendale has directed a homeowners to alter their designs to install a rectangular window rather than the round one they imagined, this because, the DRB said, the round window did not closely match the style or theme of other homes in the neighborhood.
            The most heinous example I can recall from over the years saw a homeowner presenting plans for a significant remodeling and addition project, and it included rain gutters painted to approximate copper gutters with a patina of age.  The DRB ruled that, in order to win approval, the homeowner would have to surrender what they deemed to be a money-saving effort to mimic the look, and in fact install ONLY a real, all-copper rain gutter system.
            This single order resulted in a change costing many thousands of dollars, and was understandably rejected by the applicant.  The applicant canceled his project entirely, and ultimately sold the house and moved out of the city.
            I have seen arguments about potential upset to "the character of the neighborhood" used to justify all manner of changes to plans imposed, changes that appeared to be premised only upon the personal tastes of a neighbor, a DRB member, or other officials.  Everything from paint shades allowed, to the style of roofing shingles, through to whether a door could be painted - and what color - in a neighborhood where several neighbors had wooden doors that were simply stained.
            Design guidelines cannot be used to simply impose the transitory tastes of one group upon another, and I believe should be limited to those matters that can be defined and measured, such as FAR, height, width, and massing, and would also include shadow and view impacts.
            I have walked door-to-door virtually every neighborhood in the city since October 1, 2014, thus far having crossed in excess of 17,000 front porches.  There is great consensus among residents as to what they DON'T want, and most can point to an example within a few blocks of their own home.  But not once has someone bemoaned a Mediterranean style that sullied a street made up of Craftsman and mid-Century designs.  They don't exhibit concern about the Contemporary that's next to a Spanish, that's next to a Cape Cod.
            What they fear and disapprove of almost unanimously is the representation of a cardboard box that appears to be 40' high, one built virtually from lot line to lot line, with minimal architectural features that appear to have been glued on the essentially flat exterior almost as an afterthought.  Strip off the window frames, assorted decor, ubiquitous door columns, and the stucco concealing cinder blocks, and they better resemble tilt-up commercial or industrial structures looming over residential neighbors.
            I believe this is the problem that demands the council's immediate attention.

  1. One suggestion that has made to slow some of the large home projects being built could be an Interim Development Construction Ordinance (IDCO) that would freeze construction on new homes for the balance of the year that would be triggered by certain factors such as those already in force in the Hillside Development Ordinance.  For example, any home that would exceed 3,000 square feet or exceeds over 16 feet in height.  If such an ordinance could be drafted that would not affect smaller home construction or remodeling, would you vote for such an IDCO?

Elise Stearns-Niesen: I am generally not in favor of an IDCO for two reasons.  First, creating that type of ordinance means that the elected officials could not get their act together to solve these problems.  Secondly, in spite of what some people say, it would invite lawsuits.  I personally will work with all the elected officials in Burbank, as well as homeowners, community members, and businesses.  I will work with everyone to get reasonable solutions to our Mansionization and Development issues. The truth is that I live here, and these issues affect me too.
Juan J. Guillen: Yes, I would. It is my understanding that an Interim Development Control Ordinance (IDCO) could be drafted so that smaller home construction is not negatively affected.
Emily Gabel-Luddy: I would be willing to consider adoption of such a temporary ordinance if it could be narrowly drafted to affect the problem developments without imposing undue burdens on homeowners seeking to make smaller improvements on their homes.  Ideally I would prefer that such an ordinance be drafted with the input and support of both Preserve Burbank and the Burbank Association of Realtors.
Chris Rizzotti: I would not be in favor of an IDCO. Our City Manager has a ready stated that you cannot carve such an ordinance out and that the affect to homeowners would be devastating who were trying to do simple projects around the house. I am in favor of reducing size in bulk through closing loop holes. If a carve out is possible, I would want to hear from members of the public before I voted on this ordinance.
Sharon Springer: Yes.  I have talked with many residents in our community and they are distressed by mansionization, most recently, Reese & Oak and Elmwood & Wilson Court, as well as other individual examples right next door to them, down the street, or soon to be under construction.
David Nos: No I do not support the IDCO it in effect allows the Council to NOT address things until later.  Your “Low Hanging Fruit” question above could easily be rolled into the IDCO and ignored.  No I think we need to deal with this now and not kick the can down the road.  It has been an issue for far too long and now it is out of control.
Will Rogers: I have some experience with IDCOs, having researched and covered them amid proposals to advance a slow-growth-related IDCO in the early 90s, and another discussion related to the airport battles of the mid and late 1990s.
            I do not categorically reject them out of hand, but believe the use of them is grossly over-simplified by proponents.  If not crafted virtually perfectly, they open the city to potential liability.  Further, I believe crafting one as proposed here - applying to some residential projects and not others - would be especially fraught with pitfalls. 
            Moreover, exactly the same possibility the IDCO is meant to address exists WITH the IDCO.  That is, as soon as it's learned an IDCO is on the way, it's possible to rush in and file off-the-shelf plans for the most onerous, imposing and dreadful over-the-counter project ever seen in Burbank, thus creating a "pipeline project."  Having already reserved a space with a project that touches the upper edge of every limit, the owner/developer is then free to reduce the plans as they wish throughout the following months to suit their actual needs and desires.
            I believe the time, effort and resources would be better spent developing and then enacting the long overdue guidelines.  During this period the permit staff would be directed to closely monitor on a daily basis the submission of new projects, and if at any time they observed an uptick in applications that could be reasonably attributed to an industry effort to beat the imposition of guidelines, THEN the council could respond - potentially even on an emergency basis - to impose the sort of IDCO you describe.

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