The looming COVID-19 pandemic that forced 2020’s State of the City Address to be held virtually rather than in person was a major focus during Mayor Sharon Springer’s speech, but she encouraged residents that the city was adapting to the challenges.
The Tuesday speech, titled “Burbank Together, Rays of Light,” took an optimistic tone, though it also acknowledged the threat posed by a coronavirus that has killed more than 220,000 Americans, including dozens of Burbank residents, and caused businesses to shutter.
In a prerecorded 12-minute video streamed, clips were shown of Gregg Garfield, whom Springer described as the first person in the city to contract the virus. Personnel interviewed at Providence St. Joseph’s Medical Center said they did not expect Garfield to survive. Fortunately, he recovered weeks later.
“In Burbank, we have lost residents and loved ones to COVID-19,” Springer said. “And my fellow council members and I send our thoughts, prayers and deepest condolences. We are persevering, we are adapting and we are strong.”
Springer highlighted ways in which the city has tried to adapt to the pandemic, referencing local eviction moratoria, the closure of parts of San Fernando Boulevard to allow restaurants to expand their outdoor seating and the Burbank Unified School District’s pivot to distance learning.
The video also showed interviews with business owners who have shifted products to accommodate the times. For instance, Liquid Sky Store, a local sports clothing brand, is now churning out face masks.
Springer spoke little about the pandemic’s impact on the city budget, though she said city staff members have been analyzing the effect, and that the city treasurer had increased investment returns slightly.
At a recent City Council meeting, municipal staff members said that the city expects a General Fund deficit of about $10.9 million this fiscal year, though that will likely be offset by cost-saving measures.
Springer also referenced the widespread protests following the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans in encounters with police. Earlier this year, several demonstrations took place in Burbank, some attracting hundreds of protestors.
“Black Lives Matter,” Springer said. She also praised the Burbank Police Department, which has met with organizers and managed traffic during protests.
“Burbank Police Department responded with compassion and competence,” Springer continued. “They’re committed to constant improvements, serving all of Burbank’s residents with equality, respect, integrity and excellence.”
The BPD faced a number of allegations from former police officers, particularly in the late 2000s and early 2010s, who claimed the department discriminated against minorities and protected officers who used excessive force.
Since then, city officials have credited current BPD Chief Scott LaChasse for implementing reforms and transparency initiatives, though after the wave of local protests, a few residents have expressed concern at city meetings that Black people are being unfairly treated.
Springer also lauded more than a dozen development projects in construction or planning for Burbank, which will add housing units and jobs to the city.
The Warner Bros. Second Century project, which involves a new 800,000-square-foot office building complex in the city’s media district, “will let everyone know they have arrived in the ‘media capital of the world,’’’ Springer said. The project is expected to fully conclude by 2023 — Warner Bros.’ centennial anniversary.
Other projects include the Avion Project, an approximately 60-acre business park adjacent to the Hollywood Burbank Airport; a three-fourths-mile portion of the bike path adjacent to the Burbank Western Flood Control Channel, which will be completed by the end of 2020; and the First Street Village, a residential-commercial site in downtown Burbank, whose first construction phase will be completed at the beginning of 2022.
Springer noted that, in 2019, the City Council had set a goal of building 12,000 units over the next 15 years. She added that when combining under-construction, entitled and approved projects with the number of accessory dwelling units planned, the city could soon see more than 1,600 units toward that goal.
Acknowledging that many people likely would love the chance for a do-over of 2020, Springer said: “Burbankers are strong people — we write our own story. Our City Council continues to build on strengths, our resilience and our desire to serve you. Let’s be the light for each other.”