After issuing a proclamation denouncing prejudice, the Burbank City Council indicated its support for a nonprofit organization’s recommendation that the panel formally acknowledge and apologize for racist aspects of the city’s history.
Early in the council’s Tuesday meeting, Mayor Sharon Springer presented a proclamation condemning “all forms of prejudices” and embracing “inclusivity, equality and diversity.” The decree also affirmed Burbank’s commitment to promoting equity and diversity in city programs and services, though it did not announce any new initiatives.
But what could be new, if council members approve, is a formal recognition and apology from Burbank for its previous “sundown town” policies that discouraged people of color, particularly African-Americans, from living in the city.
The idea for that resolution was presented by the Burbank Human Relations Council, an organization formed in 1958 after three local carwashes received bomb threats over their employment of Black workers.
Nonprofit officials were invited to the meeting by Springer and Councilwoman Emily Gabel-Luddy. There, former Burbank mayor and BHRC board member Marsha Ramos asked the City Council to consider, among other initiatives, helping the BHRC with its 2021 community dialogues and adopting a sundown town resolution.
“I think as a nation, we’re struggling with all that we’ve been faced with, including our history,” Ramos said later in a phone interview. “And I think if you face your history, who you’ve been … it allows you to move forward and look brightly to your future.”
A draft resolution penned by the BHRC, which Councilman Timothy Murphy on Tuesday requested be placed on the agenda for a future meeting, notes that “many real estate subdivisions created in Burbank adopted and enforced racially restrictive covenants and deed restrictions that kept African-Americans and people of color from purchasing property and living in those subdivisions for several decades in the 20th century in Burbank.”
Assistant City Manager Judie Wilke explained in an email that they believe what will be placed on the agenda will be “similar if not the same” to the draft, though she was not sure when the item would be presented to the City Council.
Ramos also suggested that community members be allowed to add their signatures to the resolution.
Glendale’s City Council passed a similar resolution in September, reportedly making that city the first in California to formally apologize for its racist history and only the third in the nation. A report from Glendale’s staff members mentioned that Burbank and Glendale “had ordinances which prohibited Black people from remaining after sundown.” Ramos explained that the BHRC was not able to find a sundown ordinance in Burbank’s city and historical records, but that there was likely a pattern of discriminatory policies.
Burbank’s population was only 2.8% Black in 2018, according to the most recent estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Council members roundly voiced support for BHRC’s ideas for city partnerships, appearing eager to direct city staff members to place the resolution on the agenda along with the other initiatives.
“There were a lot of activities that we need to recognize and overcome by coming together,” Murphy said. “It’s always fascinating to hear people’s stories. The fact that someone wouldn’t rent to your family — I think how that would have affected our community in so many ways.”
Community members who called in during the public comment period also said they were in favor of the move, with Heather Robb, a member of the city’s Sustainable Burbank Commission, pointing out that the Burbank Unified School District had also approved an anti-racism statement on Oct. 1.
“How shameful that we have valued some people’s comfort over the life-and-death reality for others in our community,” she said. “I strongly encourage [the] council to pass a sundown town resolution, and I hope you will follow the words of that resolution with actions and make our city as safe, welcoming, fair and just to Burbankers of color as it is to white residents like myself.”
Carmenita Helligar, a Black resident of Burbank who has previously called the City Council to express concern about her experiences with local police, also referenced the BUSD, saying her children had been made uncomfortable at school by teachers reading aloud books containing racial slurs.
She also asked council members to support changing the school district’s curriculum to exclude those books, a move district officials asked teachers to make this semester after receiving a number of complaints.
After explaining that she supported a sundown town resolution, Helliger added, “But I am also calling to make you aware that racism is not something in the history of Burbank — it is still happening right now today in your school system.”
Ramos also told the Leader that the BHRC hopes Burbank will especially pay attention to the part of the draft resolution that commits the city to examine its policies and goals through an anti-racist lens.
“We hope, and it’s part of the resolution that we’ve proposed … that the city will look internally,” Ramos added. “I think that it’s a very important piece to show true movement.”