The City Council voted this week to approve a resolution apologizing for racist “sundown town” policies in Burbank’s history and pledging to pursue local, state and federal measures that promote equity.
A sundown town is defined as a city whose practices discriminate against non-white ethnic groups, particularly Black people, such as by requiring them to exit city boundaries by sundown.
The resolution itself contained no concrete policies aimed at combating racism, and there was little discussion from the council on the item during its Tuesday meeting, but city officials have hailed it as a critical first step that could later lead to action.
“It’s OK to go wrong, but it’s not OK to stay wrong,” said Councilman Jess Talamantes. “And this is one thing that we can change, this council and future councils can definitely change, moving forward.”
It is unclear whether there was ever an official ordinance restricting people of color from living within city limits. The resolution notes that city staff members did not find an official law that actively discouraged people of color from living in the city, though newspaper articles and historical testimonies reference discriminatory practices — many by individuals.
The 2005 book “Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism” also claims that Burbank and Glendale banned Black people from remaining in the city after sundown.
Through the resolution, the city resolved to “acknowledge, apologize for, and condemn all racist, discriminatory, or exclusionary aspects of Burbank’s history, and deeply regrets the pain and suffering such policies have caused” and pledged to “review and assess City policies, procedures, ordinances, values, goals, and missions through an anti-racism lens to foster an unbiased and inclusive environment that is free of discrimination, retaliation and harassment toward any person or group.”
In a 1965 Burbank Human Relations Council report submitted to the City Council for its Tuesday meeting, the nonprofit said some local real estate subdivisions used to have “restrictive covenants” preventing Black people from moving into the city. After a Black family succeeded in moving in regardless, the report notes, neighbors circulated a petition to force it to move, though the efforts failed after a BHRC member offered to rent the family an apartment.
Some Burbank property records also contained provisions preventing ethnic minorities from owning homes. A deed of a Burbank house built around 1950 that was provided to the Leader by resident Amy Karnikian required that the “property shall not … [be] inherited by or be otherwise acquired by or become the property of any person not of the Caucasian race.”
The deed, which was accompanied by a more recent document noting that its discriminatory provision was void under California law, also states that non-Caucasians could be allowed to occupy the property if they were servants or workers.
Linda Bessin, who made an unsuccessful bid for City Council during this year’s election, also said during Tuesday’s public comment period that the deed to her 1950 house stated that the property could not be sold to Black or Jewish people.
BHRC SUGGESTS STEPS
A draft of the resolution had been presented to the City Council on Nov. 10 by the BHRC, which works to promote equity and diversity. The organization, which was invited by the city to provide ideas for fostering dialogue regarding racial reconciliation, also asked council members to consider participating in a citywide campaign condemning hate and in its 2021 community conversations, initiatives they readily agreed to.
The BHRC was formed in 1958 after three Burbank car washes were threatened with bombings unless they fired their Black workers.
Per the BHRC’s recommendations, the City Council plans to appoint two of its members to a racial equity subcommittee that will lead the implementation of the nonprofit’s proposals and maintain the council’s participation in the discussion.
It was not clear how or if the potential subcommittee would differ from the one proposed by Councilwoman Emily Gabel-Luddy in November that is intended to help further the status of women, ethnic minorities and the LGBTQ community in Burbank.
The City Council also approved adding human relations and equity components to the city’s Youth Leadership and Residents Inspiring Service and Empowerment programs, two local initiatives offering community service opportunities and leadership training.
The newly planned partnerships between the BHRC and the city are arguably some of the most substantial in recent years, with council members inviting the nonprofit’s board members to present action items to the city after nationwide protests this year demanding police reform and racial justice.
But, as BHRC’s records show, questions regarding the future of equity in Burbank during periods when civil rights movements have flourished are nothing new.
“What can we look forward to 20 years from now?” reads the 1965 BHRC document submitted to the City Council. “Can we help shape the future of Burbank in the field of civil rights[?] Can we in some way turn Burbank into a model city truly demonstrating the democratic way of life? Isn’t this in our hands?”