The City Council voted this week to fund enforcement of Burbank’s face-covering rules through May while also requesting some areas in Magnolia Park be prioritized.
The council’s decision Tuesday provided another $100,000 from the general fund to Willdan Engineering, which provides staff at the rate of $65 an hour each to ensure people are adhering to face-covering requirements in busy areas of Burbank. Nearly $100,000 was spent on the initiative from mid-October to late January.
In the same meeting, the council directed city staff members to bring back a potential ordinance temporarily limiting the fees third-party delivery services can charge restaurants to 20% of the order price. The proposed ordinance is expected to include — either immediately or eventually — protections for delivery drivers’ pay.
As a result of the first decision, a unanimously approved motion from Councilman Nick Schultz, more enforcement workers will be active near the intersection of North Victory Boulevard and West Magnolia Boulevard. The council also directed city staff members to try to have enforcement workers respond to same-day reports; their assignments currently adjust daily according to previous reports and observations.
“I think this is an excellent example of utilizing a highly trained civilian workforce to respond to a situation rather than approaching it with armed officers,” Schultz said.
Enforcement will also be increased in the section of West Magnolia between North Buena Vista Street and North Hollywood Way. That area includes Tinhorn Flats, a restaurant that the council frequently alluded to on Tuesday.
Councilman Jess Talamantes asked Police Chief Scott LaChasse why officers haven’t responded to residential complaints about people not wearing masks outside the location.
LaChasse noted that Tinhorn Flats is already facing other enforcement actions from the city and county because of its defiance of health orders. Willdan is not enforcing face-covering requirements on private property, though Schultz expressed interest in workers responding to locations with maskless patrons on the sidewalk.
When LaChasse said that the Burbank Police Department hasn’t received many complaints relating to face coverings there, Mayor Bob Frutos expressed surprise. He noted he had personally forwarded City Manager Justin Hess a “double-digit” number of emails containing complaints about Tinhorn Flats.
“If you read those emails carefully … it clearly states, by the residents across the city, to do something about that location,” Frutos told Hess. “There’s a breakdown [in communication] there. I want it to be fixed, sir, because the council, five of us, have agreed something has to be done.”
It is unclear what the BPD would do if reports were received regarding violations of mask rules. Sgt. Emil Brimway told the Leader that although officers technically can issue citations, that task is almost entirely assigned to Willdan, with the department focusing on education. Brimway added that the city manager’s office has received about 30 complaints regarding Tinhorn Flats.
FEW CITATIONS GIVEN
Between Oct. 16 and Jan. 19, according to a staff report submitted to the council, enforcement workers spoke with 6,534 people not wearing face coverings. Of those interactions, 5,864, or 90%, resulted in a warning; 507, or 8%, involved someone who refused to cooperate and 163, or 2%, resulted in someone being cited.
Most of those warnings were given in the month after the city began enforcement. Twenty percent of citations were issued to people who don’t live in the city.
Most people contacted about mask requirements willingly comply, city staff members said, and the BPD has received fewer complaints about people not wearing face coverings. But acting police administrator Courtney Padgett noted that, if someone refuses both to wear a face covering and provide identification, they can’t be cited.
Furthermore, few people cited appear to have actually paid their fines. The staff report states that the city has received payment for only 19 citations, 12% of the total. Only one-fifth of those cited were Burbank residents.
Some council members expressed concern about these points, particularly the gap between the number of refusals and citations.
Councilman Konstantine Anthony requested city staff members look into the possibility of increasing fines for those who refuse to identify themselves when defying mask requirements. Willdan workers wear body cameras, but while footage of resistant individuals can be sent to the city attorney’s office for investigation, LaChasse said, officials have not taken that step so far.
“I wish this wasn’t on a public forum, but we’ve basically broadcast to the entire city: if you don’t want a citation, just walk away from the person writing the ticket,” Anthony said. “What are we supposed to do now? Because we’ve basically pulled out the rug from Willdan to do anything.”
The size of the citation fee escalates for repeat offenders, though Padgett said there has only been one individual so far who has received more than one citation for not adhering to face covering requirements. Additionally, 13 citations have been appealed, with four being dismissed.