Council Approves Vaccine Mandate for City Employees

First published in the Oct. 16 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

Despite concerns that employees could quit over the policy, the Burbank City Council approved vaccination mandates for municipal workers and some contract laborers.
The mandate that the council approved by a 3-2 vote on Tuesday will eventually require city employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or face termination. A separate policy for contractors, which passed with unanimous support, will require businesses to prove that their employees who come onto city property or interact with the public are vaccinated.
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Local Sprinter Reflects on Tokyo Olympics Feat

First published in the Oct. 14 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.

It was quite the summer for local runner Hanna Barakat. Despite not participating in the past two track and field seasons at Brown University, the 22-year-old sprinter managed to compete alongside the world’s best athletes on the biggest stage in all of sports.
Barakat, who graduated from Flintridge Preparatory School in 2017 and often trained at Glendale Community College, represented Palestine in the Tokyo Olympics during the summer, fulfilling a dream she’s had since she was a child.
“That was always a goal of mine,” Barakat said. “Growing up, the Olympics was always the bar in my household.”
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District Narrows Contact Tracing to Keep Kids in Class

First published in the Oct. 9 print issue of the Glendale News Press.

After starting out the school year quarantining entire classrooms after a potential COVID-19 exposure, the Glendale Unified School District has recently begun implementing new guidelines to keep more students in the classroom.
The policy change, approved by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, comes after about two months of the district requiring entire classrooms at a time to stay home for up to a 10-day quarantine period. Continue reading “District Narrows Contact Tracing to Keep Kids in Class”

City Reverts to Remote Meetings, for Now

First published in the Oct. 7 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.

In response to new legislation that allows municipal officials to continue to convene remotely, the La Cañada Flintridge City Council voted to have all local government meetings held in that manner for the next month.
Council and city staff members spoke at length during Tuesday’s in-person meeting about Assembly Bill 361, an amendment to the Brown Act — a 1953 law that guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in California local government agencies’ sessions. Signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last month, AB 361 gives cities flexibility in continuing teleconferencing meetings as long as they adhere to a new set of provisions.
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Erskine Offers Humor as Cure for Pandemic Perplexity

First published in the Nov. 26, 2020, print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.

Chris Erskine

The man, the legend, the mustache.
For those who have followed local resident Chris Erskine and his nationally known humor columns over the years, it will come as no surprise that the author has released an endearing COVID-19 diary just in time for the next Safer at Home order, with handy “Quarantini” recipes at the ready: stiff on the gin, salty on the laughs.
Erskine, who just retired from the Los Angeles Times after 30 years, has engaged loyal readers for decades by sharing his personal tales of hilarity, sorrow, sweetness and everything in between, often combined together. His fourth book, “Lavender in Your Lemonade,” will not disappoint that audience, and arrives in the nick of time, when readers are just far enough into the pandemic they can laugh over the confounding disappearance of T.P. worldwide (“the Charmin virus,” he calls it), but so deep into the solitude of separation that people are desperate for an escape.
Because, as Erskine writes, nothing is off limits to being joked about:
“To laugh at this awful pandemic, the same way we mock despots and tyrants, is to make it a little less powerful, to rob it of its muscle and ability to push us around too much.
“Laughter is like porridge. Laughter is the best revenge.”
And then, as is vintage Erskine, a punch line, kind of — one of his delectable, idiosyncratic teasers: “My buddy Tom just told me a pretty good COVID-19 joke. I’d pass it along, but it takes two weeks to get.”
Sitting down with the Outlook Valley Sun via Zoom, Erskine explained his inspiration for the book, a collection of daily Facebook posts meant for devoted adherents, dear friends, friends you can laugh at and others, he wryly added.
Ahead of his retirement, his Times column running once every two weeks, Erskine found himself with time on his hands. And in the midst of a pandemic, what else is a writer to do? He took to Facebook, a newer medium for Erskine, who wasn’t always well versed in social media.
“I’m one of those old guys who’s awake at 5 or 5:30 a.m., and I would just tap out a Facebook post. I’d never done anything like this before, but it was in the early days of COVID and we’d never seen anything like it. Writing is kind of my therapy, and I had a lot to say,” he said. “I knew that I needed to laugh a little bit, and it turned into a little bit of a morning pep rally. We all needed to know that we were going to survive this, no matter what.”
The daily posts, which garnered hundreds of responses and comments (that “oftentimes, were so much funnier and bouncier than what I had originally posted,” Erskine said, in a likely overstatement), caught the attention of publisher Mike Sager of Esquire magazine.
When he reached out to ask about turning the odds and ends into a volume, the famously self-effacing Erskine responded, “A book? They are barely Facebook posts, Mike!”
After some convincing, Erskine was on board. Part of the endeavor felt like an ode to his Facebook group, which had gotten him through some dark days, and vice versa.
“I kind of think of it as a plate of warm cookies … you know, it’s not life changing or anything, it’s just kind of a nice gesture to my neighbors,” he said. “It’s kind of a compilation of all the things we took for granted, and you know, I don’t think we’ll ever take it for granted again. And in that way, we’ll be richer and remember that even in the darkest times, there are things that can make us smile and feel better.”
The rest, as he writes, is the “Lavender,” the giggle-inducing explanation of bizarre yet delicious items one might find at Trader Joe’s, a jest to chasing down eggs at Easter only to come up with an empty basket, the alarm at not being able to see people smile or the chagrin of trying to order at the deli counter through mask-muffled grunts and hand gestures.
It’s a trip worth taking, to laugh at the ludicrous, even as readers slide deeper into the pandemic.
“I think humor is really the great unifier — doesn’t humor bring us together?” mused Erskine, who is finally comfortable with social media in the time of COVID. “It gives us that communal back-and-forth that I think we all need in a time when we’re super isolated. You know, we’re pack creatures at the end of the day, we need each other.”
As always in his writings, La Cañada Flintridge plays in the background, like his silent movie partner. He never mentions the town by name (“Partly because of potential stalkers,” he said, only half joking), but the Chardonnay moms, the hiking pals, the local watering holes and his trusty steed, White Fang, all ring sweetly familiar.
Erskine considers moving, sometimes, especially since his youngest, Jack (aka “Smartacus”), will be off to college soon. But he’d miss La Cañada too much, he said.
“I mean, I would love to move sometimes, but then I’d have to take all my friends with me. And, you know, there’s a lot of places that wouldn’t take them.”

Glendale Memorial Hospital Honored With Community Award

First published in the Oct. 2 print issue of the Glendale News Press.

Glendale Memorial Hospital and Health Center is being honored with a Community Service Award from the city of Glendale and the Glendale Police Department for providing COVID-19 vaccines to essential city workers, including police, fire and city personnel.
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City Attorney Albano to Retire in November

First published in the Oct. 2 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

Amy Albano

Amy Albano, the city of Burbank’s lead attorney for the past decade and the first woman to hold that position, confirmed this week that she will retire in November.
Albano told the Leader in an interview that her last day as Burbank’s city attorney is Nov. 10. Since being hired to the role in October 2011, Albano has served as the top legal adviser to the City Council and, along with her staff, represented the municipality in court. The city has not made an announcement regarding Albano’s successor, who will be selected by the council (city attorney and city manager are the only two positions that the group appoints directly).
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District Updates COVID-19 Safety Plan

First published in the Sept. 30 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.

The La Cañada Unified School District modified its reopening and safety plan for the year in an effort to mitigate any more possible disruptions to in-person instruction due to COVID-19.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health recently gave schools the option of adjusting their quarantine policy to allow unvaccinated students in kindergarten through 12th grade who were exposed to an asymptomatic person testing positive with the coronavirus during a school day to remain on campus. Unvaccinated students who are in close contact with a positive case while at school are not required to go home and quarantine as long as both were seen wearing their masks properly. The exposed unvaccinated student is required to wear their mask indoors and outdoors except when eating or drinking. They also must practice social distancing whenever their mask is off.
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Glendale Library Wins Award for Community Impact

First published in the Sept. 25 print issue of the Glendale News Press.

The 2021 Unique Library Awards are honoring libraries for their exceptional community impact by recognizing 18 winners in the West Region, including the Glendale Library, Arts and Culture Department.
Unique Management Services, a leading library material recovery and patron communication services company, created three awards to celebrate high-impact libraries for providing vital services, protecting public assets and keeping patrons in good standing, the company said in a statement.
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GUSD, Teachers in Accord on Virus Precautions

First published in the Sept. 25 print issue of the Glendale News Press.

The Glendale Unified School District and the union representing its teachers agreed this week to a series of policies and protocols codifying COVID-19-related safety measures that will last for the remainder of the school year.
Meanwhile, the district and the Glendale Teachers Association continued to discuss what is expected to be an agreement addressing the effects that quarantining has on classroom instruction.
The understanding reached this week, in short, has the district aligning with applicable guidelines from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. It does not address other related issues, such as instructional policy in the event of student quarantines, nor does it impose any new vaccination mandates. Continue reading “GUSD, Teachers in Accord on Virus Precautions”