As Election Day Nears, EyeOnBurbank Checks in on the Council Race

By Amanda Biers-Melcher

Yard signs are appearing on lawns around Burbank, and in another week or so ballots will start showing up in mailboxes. That’s right. We’ve moved full steam ahead into election season with a contentious rent control measure on the ballot and two City Council seats — one currently held by Tim Murphy and one soon-to-be-vacated by outgoing Council member Emily Gabel-Luddy, who will not seek another term — up for grabs on November 3rd.  

At the end of the month, candidates with their eyes on those seats will file new disclosures and we’ll be able to see who’s ahead in the money race. But for now, I thought I’d take a look at the candidates I think are worth examining further and share some initial impressions based on what I’ve observed or learned about them by perusing their websites and reading their public statements.

My favorites: Murphy, Schultz & Takahashi

Broadly, I am leaning towards supporting two of these three candidates — Councilman Tim Murphy, Nick Schultz or Tamala Takahashi — each for different specific reasons but also for one overarching reason: all of them strike me as being in the race for exactly the right reasons.

Based on their personal statements, the issues they prioritize, and their past behavior, they all seem — to varying degrees — to care more about giving back to Burbank and making it a better, fairer place to live than they do about satisfying their own personal ambitions or lining the pockets of their cronies.

How. . .refreshing.

Councilman Tim Murphy won my support when he cast the lone vote against the disastrous Avion Project north of the airport, which, we have since learned, will likely turn my neighborhood into the nexus of an Amazon distribution center.

(It seems more and more likely that Amazon will also take full advantage of its proximity to the airport, and the uber-bookseller’s fledgling Amazon Air service will find a home in our soon-to-be-renovated airport — but that’s a discussion for another day).  

The Environmental Impact Report for the Avion Project gave it “F” grades for traffic at intersections up and down Hollywood Way (forget about going to Porto’s, folks), and raised concerns about air quality — but only Councilman Murphy found that problematic. The project was ultimately green-lit anyway, but I appreciated the fact that at least one council member was troubled by the idea of building a hotel on a former Superfund site.

In general, I’ve found Councilman Murphy to be responsive, and even when I don’t agree with him on a specific issue, I appreciate his intelligent and thoughtful approach to decision-making. 

Some may complain that Murphy agreed not seek a second term when he was appointed to fill the late Will Rogers’ council seat and has since gone back on his word. But I don’t think he lied. I think he changed his mind. And, I believe him when he says that given the city’s tenuous state, he believes his staying on is best for Burbank. I also agree that his experience could be an asset, and I certainly think his intelligence will be (he’s an attorney and a former administrative law judge).

I also find it interesting that he helped create the Boys and Girls Club when he was originally on the council almost 35 years ago, and continued to stay involved with the organization, even when his own kids were grown and he was out of public office. He says he is running, in part, because he hates the idea of leaving a job unfinished, a statement validated, in my mind, by his continued dedication to the Boys and Girls Club initiative he started.

Nick Schultz is not a familiar face on the Burbank political scene, but he doesn’t seem to be a political neophyte either. While I’ve never seen him speak at a City Council meeting, he lists a number of political affiliations within greater Los Angeles in his bio and has scored endorsements from quite a few boldface names.

And, while it’s true I tend to weigh Burbank-specific experience heavily when picking a city council candidate, I’m drawn to Nick Schultz primarily because he’s pinpointed government ethics as one of his top priorities.

Schultz, who lives in the Rancho section of Burbank with his entertainment attorney wife, is an assistant DA in the DOJ’s Fraud and Special Prosecutions division. And one of his specialties is prosecuting public corruption. Some readers might know why this, in particular, warms my heart. But for those who don’t — 

About four years ago, David Spell, Greg Sousa and I took it upon ourselves to look into the funding behind the “Yes on Measure B” (pro-airport expansion) ballot committee and were shocked by what we found. 

In a nutshell, during the run-up to the vote on Measure B (the airport terminal renovation measure) the pro-expansion ballot committee arranged a secret — illegal — meeting to secure a last-minute $50,000 donation from the city-sponsored Burbank Hospitality Association, which collects tax money from Burbank hoteliers, which it’s supposed to use to sponsor tourism-friendly events (not to make donations to political campaigns). 

You can read more about it Here. Or Here

Despite our efforts, the participants in the scheme got only a slap on the wrist from the FPCC and the LA District Attorney’s office — which was disappointing not only to the three of us — but, ultimately, to anyone in Burbank concerned about fairness, transparency and good governance. 

Anyway, Schultz has a number of specific proposals aimed at increasing transparency and holding local officials accountable. For those, like me, who worry that decisions about planning and land use are too often made through back-room deals, or who fear that big-moneyed interests are able to exert too much influence in Burbank — this is great news.

For example, Schultz proposes creating a citizen-run Ethics Commission to, among other things, help investigate any violations of the city’s ethics rules. He also wants the city to do a better job of responding to public records requests in a timely manner, and promises to hold monthly town hall meetings to give residents an opportunity to voice concerns on any and all matters, at a time when many in Burbank complain they’re being ignored by city employees and elected officials.

He writes on his web site: “It’s of paramount importance that every Burbankian be confident and trust the integrity of city government processes, from contracts to land use decisions.” 

And, I agree. So Nick Schultz is a candidate I will continue to watch.

Tamala Takahashi volunteers a lot of her time to help the citizens of Burbank — and has been doing so for quite awhile, but she doesn’t seem to seek the limelight. As a result, she’s mostly flown under the radar during this council race.

However, I’ve noticed one thing about Takahashi I like a lot: she consistently uses social media not to promote herself, but to provide useful information to the public about, for example, the availability of cooling centers for seniors during the recent heat wave or an upcoming information session about allowing AirBnBs.

Her apparent dedication to simply doing good is what inspired me to consider her as a candidate more seriously, and to take a look at her website. That’s where I saw she’s served on committees tackling initiatives from infrastructure to civic pride to the public libraries over a number of years.

In examining some of her positions, I found common ground with Takahashi — who, like me, has also raised and is currently raising teenagers in Burbank — around our shared interest in supporting education and, more specifically, in finding ways for the city and the Board of Education to work together more effectively for the benefit of the kids. But where I really connected with Takashashi was with her support of Arts initiatives and organizations like Burbank Arts for All and the Cultural Arts Center. 

As one who considers the Arts integral to the human experience, I share her desire to not only support but to prioritize the cultural arts in Burbank.  She writes, “I would like to see a clear commitment to the arts in our city, as a focus front and center. Perhaps changing our slogan eventually to “Live, Work, Play, Create.”

Which reminds me — shameless plug — don’t miss this year’s virtual “Burroughs on Broadway.” Buy tickets Here

Lincoln Melcher performs in “Burroughs on Broadway” 2019 (photo credit: Suzy Shearer)

Hard Pass on Paul Herman & Konstantine Anthony

There’s an old French saying: “Qui ressemble, qu’assemble,” which, loosely translated, means “Birds of a feather flock together.” 

It’s with that sentiment in mind that I permit myself to judge a person based on the company they keep — or, in the case of a city council race, by the people who endorse them. 

I spotted two names on the long list of endorsements on Herman’s web site and stopped reading: Airport Measure B booster Linda Walmsley, and the lead actor in the $50,000 donation drama discussed above, Sunder Ramani.

Read more about Ramani Here

My personal belief is that the interests of the folks who support Herman are already being served by the City Council at the expense of Burbank families, and he is the last person I’d like to see on the council.

Or, well, maybe not the last person.

Konstantine Anthony presents himself to voters as an advocate for the working man and members of the community who are too often excluded and marginalized. I don’t disagree with many of his messages. I’m just not sure I trust the messenger.

What makes me mistrust him? Maybe it’s Anthony’s near-constant self-promotion at City Council meetings and on social media — or his habit of surreptitiously deleting social media posts whenever he can’t control the discussion. And while I’m not saying he outright lies to voters, it does seem to me that he often works to deceive them with carefully-worded narratives and convenient, small omissions. 

However, that being said — a few weeks ago, many in Burbank (including my adult daughter) discovered an unsolicited email in their inboxes. This email made a number of claims — many of them salacious — about Anthony’s past, his personal entanglements, and his financial missteps. I don’t condone “dirty trick” tactics like these, so I won’t expand upon those claims. 

But do I think it is fair to examine how a candidate behaves in his personal life in order to make judgments about his character and values? Absolutely. 

When I evaluate a candidate’s character, I try to use facts I can verify —and not rumor and innuendo — to ask myself, what does this person’s actions say about how he honors his commitments? Does this person conduct himself with decency? Do I believe he treats others fairly? 

And, of course, I bring my own biases into that evaluation. For example, I might understand that nobody can ever know what goes on inside another person’s marriage, but because I am a wife and mother and bring that perspective to my analysis, I might consider the circumstances surrounding a candidate’s divorce when making judgements about his character. 

Others might not — and may think using that metric is unfair. The bottom line is, each of us has their own unique life experiences, and it is through that lens that we evaluate information. 

Were Anthony the only candidate in the race with policies that aligned with my own — if he were the only candidate talking about diversity and inclusion or articulating plans promoting “green initiatives,” housing justice, and protecting the most vulnerable members of our community — focusing on his character would seem like the height of privilege and I might have to weigh things differently. 

But he is not. 

Both Schultz and Takahashi take similarly progressive positions on a number of the same issues —and explain their visions in great detail on their websites. Takahashi, for example, currently serves on the BUSD’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee — and proposes the creation of a similar body citywide. Schultz proposes creating a city commission on the status of women to ensure gender equality and equal access to opportunities for women in Burbank. (Yes!)

Voters have no shortage of options in this city council race, and that provides us with the chance to consider not only which policies we support and how each candidate’s positions support those policies, but also which person we believe will best live up to our trust. 

For me — whether I’m voting for the President of the United States or the city dog catcher — character counts.

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