I Voted . . .

By Amanda Biers-Melcher

On Sunday, as my husband and I walked to the library on Victory to vote, I thought about all the times I walked there with my daughter — who turns twenty-two this week — in her Winne-the-Pooh Rumbly Racer.

After we dropped our ballots in the box, we stood for a minute and watched kids playing on the playground. The plastic dinosaurs were gone, as were the metal slides that got hot in the sun, replaced with twisty ones that look more like water slides. But the sand? Oh, it was still there — waiting to be poured out of sneakers by younger moms and dads.

On the walk back home I thought about what it was like to raise our children in Burbank. I thought about the times we spread picnic blankets out on the grass for “Robbo” concerts and animal shows or loaded up on library books after Story Time. I thought about twenty years of playdates and parties on Burbank’s playgrounds. Of early morning and late night baseball games on each and every one of Burbank’s ball fields. Of Parks and Recs classes and camps. Of family bike rides down the Chandler Bike Path on our way to the Donut Hut.

I thought about how lucky we were to live here these last two decades. And I thought about how I want the young families I see pushing strollers down my street to have the same opportunity to create happy memories my family did. And about how I want their elderly parents to be able to remain engaged in and supported by the community like mine are. And about how I want them to know their neighbors and look out for each other the way my neighbors and I do — and take comfort in the fact that, when they call the police or fire department, help will be at their door within minutes.

I want them to know that Burbank is a town where neighbors stop to chat when they’re out walking the dog. And where kids can ride their bikes to school. And where friends and neighbors come from all walks of life and represent a kaleidoscope of ethnicities — yet we still manage to find common ground.

Because that’s the Burbank I know. And that’s the Burbank I thought about when I cast my vote for Tim Murphy and Tamala Takahashi.

The next few years will not be easy for our small city. In fact, your vote in this City Council race might be the most important one you cast.

I voted for two candidates who, I believe, are willing to make a commitment to doing their very best for all of Burbank. The candidates who are willing to put the work in and follow through. Who are about action, not just words and empty gestures.

I hope you will do the same.

I did not vote for Paul Herman because I think developers already have too much of a voice in how this city is governed and that vision of Burbank is not one I share.

I did not vote for Konstantine Anthony because, in my opinion, he is not qualified for the job and electing him to the City Council would be ineffective at least — and disastrous at worst — for a number of reasons.

Maybe we don’t need a Wharton MBA on the City Council, but we do need somebody with at least some financial savvy as we try to simultaneously revitalize the local economy and plug the budget gap. Not only does Mr. Anthony seem not to have any relevant professional experience creating or managing budgets, he has demonstrated an inability to manage his personal finances.

That Mr. Anthony has said he’s declared bankruptcy is not, in and of itself, disqualifying for me. With onerous student loans, the housing crisis, medical expenses and a fraying social net, I believe such bankruptcy protections are necessary— an option you turn to as a last resort, when your situation gets desperate. I would never fault someone for falling on hard times and looking for a way to start over. But I would think twice about putting that person in charge of my city’s financial future if I did not see evidence that he’d made the most of the fresh start he was given. 

Likewise, I would not automatically count someone out because a warrant was issued for his arrest almost twenty years ago. (Santa Clara County Superior Court — Number: BB304274 Filing Date: 11/26/2003). Driving on a suspended license and skipping a hearing seem, to me, to be rather victimless crimes. But I might ask — what does the fact that the judge set bail at $8,000 (which is not a small sum) say about his opinion of Mr. Anthony’s willingness to take responsibility for his actions? 

I know a lot of the things Mr. Anthony talks about — social justice, equity, the environment, raising up the most disenfranchised members of our community — are things many of us believe should be addressed at the community level. He articulates a worldview which we, as progressives, embrace. But, I believe positioning himself as the one “woke” candidate in the race is simply a tactic to win over (especially) younger voters. It strikes me as insincere and downright cynical.

It’s easy to say the right things. But grandstanding is not the same as putting the hard work in to achieve change. Just look at how quickly Mr. Anthony lost interest in the rent control measure he used as a launching pad for his City Council race. Talk to members of the Magnolia Park merchants association — who will tell you about how he showed up long enough to make a video taking credit for the work they were doing to promote small businesses — and then promptly disappeared. 

Are there are other candidates in the race who lean left like Mr. Anthony? Yes. And they have put in the time to craft consistent policies that reflect that. Policies they might actually be able to help implement at the city level. They’ve served on city-wide committees that promote equity. They don’t just talk about change. They put in the time and do the work that change requires. 

I know many of us are frustrated that our local government doesn’t seem to work for all of us and a candidate who talks about upending the system might seem appealing. But, when we have a five-member council, and decisions require a majority vote, is the solution to elect a candidate with whom the rest of the Council refuses to work? A candidate who actually sued the city a few months ago — and has many more enemies in city government than friends? I honestly can’t see how anyone might believe a vote for such a candidate could serve their family’s interests.

We need someone to put in the work to implement policies which serve our entire community. Someone who demonstrates competence, commitment and character.

I don’t think that is something we can expect from Mr. Anthony. Governing is a lot harder than campaigning. It means working with others and listening, not just talking. 

We can’t go back in time to the Burbank that was and, honestly, I am not sure we should. We can be a greener, kinder, fairer city. We can be a city that works for every family in Burbank. But only if we elect City Council candidates we can count on to do the work, keep their commitments and hold themselves accountable to the voters who put them there.

Now, go vote.

Measure RC is on the Ballot. So Why Did the Folks Who Put it There Stop Fighting For It?

By Amanda Biers-Melcher

In retrospect, if I were to pinpoint the exact moment I should have known the architects of Burbank’s rent control measure had already shifted their attention from their professed goal of bringing housing justice to the citizens of Burbank to their actual goal — securing one of two open seats on Burbank’s City Council for perennial candidate Konstantine Anthony — it was an hour and four minutes into the Burbank City Council’s August 7th emergency meeting. 

That’s when Anthony — using his allotted three minutes of public speaking time to crow about the court ruling which forced the city to put the measure (which he characterized as “not perfect, but what in life is?”) on the November ballot— reminded listeners that he was running for City Council and started to spit out the address of his campaign website. 

The mayor said he was out of time and stopped him — thus providing an opportunity for his campaign manager-girlfriend, who helped engineer the scheme to put Anthony front-and-center during the legal battle over the measure — to step in and do it for him.

Their pivot was so sudden, you could almost hear the gears squeak.

So, I suppose I should not have been surprised to discover — when I reviewed their most recent financial disclosures — that this quarter, the “Burbank Tenants Rights Committee in Support of Measure RC,” which was formed to fight for rent control laws in Burbank which would be more restrictive than those passed by Sacramento lawmakers last year, spent . . .  nothing.

That’s right. The election is a little more than a month away. Ballots will start showing up in mailboxes as early as next week. And where are the champions of housing justice who made so much noise about how they’d fight for the city’s working poor and the renters who comprise the majority of Burbank residents by delivering rent control to Burbank once and for all?

Good question.

Right now, Measure RC is all dressed up, sitting at the table and perusing the menu. But the “Burbank Tenants Right Committee in Support of Measure RC ” just slipped into the ladies’ room and is calling an Uber.

I am sure the fact that nobody is lifting a finger to pass this ballot measure comes as a bit of a shock to the one supporter who donated $25 this quarter — not to mention all the donors that kicked in money in prior months. 

The committee has taken in more than $46,000 in contributions this calendar year. Twenty-three thousand dollars of that total consists of loans from Anthony and Rowder, who led the organization until last April when Anthony announced his city council candidacy and handed the reins to David Dobson, now the committee treasurer, according to the committee’s CA Form 460.

The ballot measure committee is currently more than $27,000 in debt. About $4000 of that is for past-due legal bills. Payment on the interest-free loans is due by the end of the year. 

Anthony, who last month asked the city to loan him money to pay printing costs for his candidate’s statement because he is indigent, loaned the committee $9,000 in April.

Meanwhile, “Konstantine Anthony for Burbank City Council 2020” raked in more than $16,000 this quarter, bringing its total to more than $31,000 this calendar year. After expenses — including salary and payroll costs for his campaign staff — the candidate still has roughly $15,000 in his coffers.

In recent months, Anthony has tried to distance himself from the Burbank Tenants Rights Committee — the non-profit organization he and Rowder created to back the rent control measure. But the outstanding loans continue to tie the two to the organization financially.

Unlike typical non-profits, BTRC was formed as a 501(c) (4) — or C-4 — nonprofit, which means it is allowed to make independent expenditures on behalf of political candidates, under certain circumstances, without losing its tax-exempt status.

This “dark money” spending is considered a major loophole in election spending because it permits wealthy donors to anonymously pass unlimited amounts of cash through nonprofits without contributing directly to campaigns (which place limits and disclosure requirements on donors). To keep its tax-exempt status, the organization just needs to demonstrate that politics is not its primary activity and that it engages in activities that promote social welfare. 

The Burbank Tenants Rights Committee, for example, has been hosting “information sessions” for tenants, and Gloria Kelly — who describes herself BTRC’s “legal liaison” — has been offering aggrieved tenants consultations with housing law attorneys via social media. But so far, the BTRC has not made any independent expenditures to support Anthony’s council run, according to the city clerk’s website , and Kelly says they don’t intend to.

However, the question of how — and whether — the BTRC will pay back the money it owes Anthony and Rowder (or settle its legal bill) remains unanswered.

In a recent social media exchange Anthony suggested he might donate any unused campaign funds from his city council run to the organization, before walking that statement back in a later communication. Such a cash infusion would allow the committee to pay Anthony back the $9000 he loaned it and, thus, benefit him personally.

While election laws specifically attempt to prevent candidates and ballot committees from mingling funds or personally benefiting from their campaign fundraising efforts, the city attorney says such a move would not technically be illegal. Whether it would be ethical — and how such a move might resonate with voters — is another question entirely.

As for the obviously-flawed Measure RC, without a committee actively backing it, without a single yard sign in sight — it’s hard to imagine it won’t flop at the polls, which, in my opinion, is good news for Burbank. 

Further, we once again get another window into the character of Konstantine Anthony — who seemed to have no problem walking away from the cause he used to make a name for himself the moment it was politically expedient to do so, leaving supporters of the ballot measure high and dry and the committee formed to support it deeply in debt.

And, this, ultimately is good news for Burbank too. Because I doubt I am the only voter in Burbank who believes when you’re deciding who to vote for, character counts.

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.

.

ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS: We Show You The Money in the City Council Race

By Amanda Biers-Melcher

In the interest of transparency, California law requires that candidates for public office disclose certain financial information in filings which are available for review by the public.  

Candidates running for a seat on Burbank’s City Council are required to file scheduled financial reports disclosing any contributions over a hundred dollars, loans made to their campaign and any expenditures on CA Form 460.

Candidates must also disclose any financial interests so voters can be made aware of any potential conflicts of interest on CA Form 700.

I reviewed both of these forms for each of our council candidates to see what I could learn about them. If you’d like to do the same, you can see both the 460 for the quarter ending 6/30 —and 700 forms filed earlier this month — here.

Who’s ahead in the money race?

With $25,183 in his campaign coffers (including a $7,000 loan from the candidate himself), Assistant District Attorney Nick Schultz edged out two-time council candidate Konstantine Anthony — who reported $15,473.

In third place with $6,733.74 was Tamala Takahashi, the only candidate to score a star-studded contribution (with Mayim Bialik of “Blossom” and “Big Bang Theory” fame pitching in the maximum allowed amount, $500). Fifteen hundred of Takahashi’s take was a loan the candidate made to her own campaign.

Only three other candidates reported contributions: Linda Bessin added $6,019.72 to her war chest; incumbent Tim Murphy posted $2,770; and, while real estate developer Paul Herman did not collect any contributions, he did loan his campaign $2,500.

(Note – donations of under $100 are not required to be itemized on Form 460 – although some candidates did include them and I counted them in their totals).

Take it to the Limit

By law, donations to campaigns from any individual — including the candidate himself — are capped at $500. The two financial front runners — Nick Schulttz and Konstantine Anthony showed themselves a little love last quarter, kicking in the $500 maximum contribution.

Linda Bessin. . .took things one step further. 

If you take a look at page 4 of her CA Form 460, you’ll see the top line of Schedule A indicates the candidate made a $1,500 contribution to “Friends of Linda Bessin” on 4/29/2020. 

That’s three times the allowed amount which is . . .strange.

Burbank Municipal Code says “ No person shall make to any candidate and/or the controlled committee of such a candidate and no such candidate and/or the candidate’s controlled committee shall accept from a person a contribution or contributions totaling more than five hundred dollars ($500.00) for each election in which the candidate is on the ballot or is a write-in candidate.”

Hmmmm. . . Very interesting

By law, every elected official and public employee who makes or influences governmental decisions is required to submit a Statement of Economic Interest, also known as the Form 700. 

The Form 700 serves two purposes — it provides the public with enough information about an official’s personal financial interests to police that official and make sure they’re acting in the public’s interest and not their own — and identifies potential conflicts of interest so the official can recuse him or herself when necessary and abstain from making discussion or decision-making. 

In Burbank City Council races — at least in recent years — these forms are typically short and reveal few surprises. They list the candidate’s source of income — usually from a job or business — both theirs and their spouse’s — and maybe a few stock or mutual fund holdings.

The exception, in this race, is the Statement of Economic Interest filed by Linda Bessin.

You can look at it Here

Not only is it a whopping thirty-six pages long, it lists investments in an impressive array of stocks and, most significantly — a partnership stake in a New York City-based hedge fund, Bloom Tree Fund Q.P, L.P.  

According to the hedge fund database whalewatcher.com, shares in Amazon make up the largest percentage of this fund’s portfolio. Bessin’s partnership in the fund nets this self-described retired claims adjuster more than a hundred thousand dollars a year (although we can’t determine, from the disclosure form, how much more).

Now, there’s no shame in savvy investing, and Amazon certainly seems like a smart investment given its record-setting profits as of late.. But, in my opinion, voters should be cognizant of the fact that the behemoth online bookseller may soon become a major player in the Burbank landscape as the company solidifies plans to lease most of the Avion complex adjacent to the airport and use it as a distribution center. 

Add to that Amazon’s stated intention of boosting its Amazon Air delivery service, to compete with FedEx and UPS,  and the fact that such a business plan would likely seek to capitalize on the proximity of its distribution center to Burbank’s soon-to-be-expanded airport. — and you can see why this particular financial arrangement could become problematic.

More Money Matters

According to the City Clerk, only one city council candidate took advantage of a provision in the law that allows him or her to postpone payment for the cost of printing and mailing Candidate Statements — a $3,200 expense — by requesting a waiver on the basis of indigence.

The clerk granted this relief to Konstantine Anthony — who, on his Form 700, reported his rideshare business and money derived from work as an In-Home Supportive Services Provider each provide him with less than ten thousand dollars in income. He is still, according to the Burbank Municipal Code, responsible for paying the money after the election and may use personal or campaign funds to do so.

It is interesting to note that in months prior to requesting that taxpayers front him thirty-two hundred dollars, Anthony’s financial position allowed him to make a nine thousand dollar loan to the Burbank Tenants Rights Committee, according to the ballot committee’s disclosres. 

Also, according to his campaign manager’s claims on social media, the candidate has accumulated more than $20,000 in campaign contributions — if you also count those under one hundred dollars and not reported on a Form 460 — and has his sights set on collecting forty to forty-five thousand dollars by November 3rd. 

To make her determination, however, Burbank Municipal Code required the City Clerk to review only a “Statement of Financial Worth” — on which the candidate must disclose his income, personal property and real estate holdings and pending financial obligations — and the most recent federal tax statement, without investigating further.

Konstantine Anthony was required to sign a promissory note with the city and agree to a payment plan for reimbursing taxpayers for the expenditure on behalf of his campaign. In other words, it is a loan, not a gift.

Coming Soon!

Does “Dark Money” belong in Burbank politics? We investigate how tclose financial ties between a candidate and a non-profit that can legally keep its donors secret might play a role in the City Council race.

Rent Control Measure Would Give Landlord-Tenant Commission Unprecedented Power

By Amanda Biers-Melcher

Last year, a friend of mine had her rent go up almost three hundred dollars a month. Her paycheck — not surprisingly — stayed the same. Each month was a scramble to cut costs and pick up some extra side jobs here and there. It was stressful. It was terrible.

And her story is not unusual. According to a 2019 study, rents in LA County have increased by 65 percent over the last decade and wages have not kept up.https://www.latimes.com/business/real-estate/story/2019-12-27/l-a-rent-rose-65-percent-over-the-last-decade-study-shows

It’s no wonder cries for housing justice — and complaints that “the rent is just too damn high” — have gotten louder in recent years. 

In January, as part of an effort to address these concerns, the state implemented a controversial rent control measure as part of a larger housing bill. The new law, which is set to expire in ten years, seeks to control price increases and regulate evictions for mostly older rental properties statewide (see my earlier post detailing how it works https://eyeonburbank.com/2020/08/12/with-rent-control-on-the-ballot-for-burbank-a-look-at-the-local-measure-and-californias-year-old-housing-law/). And, in November, Burbank voters will face a ballot measure which aims to put even tighter controls on rental properties in our city (see link above).

It might be tempting to vote “yes” on this ballot measure. Especially if you like the idea of rent control. Especially if you believe in housing justice. Especially if you are sick and tired of your elected officials not doing nearly enough to address the growing housing crisis in our city.

But, you shouldn’t. Really.

Because no matter how you feel about the overarching policy — even if you believe some sort of rent regulation is necessary to keep families in their homes— even if you are desperate for a solution — any solution —to our housing crisis— the Burbank Rent Stabilization and Tenant Protection Act is, in my opinion, flawed. Further, I believe it is being championed by those whose personal interests and political ambitions could potentially be served by its passage at the expense of Burbank taxpayers (whether they realize it or not) — and I will explain why.

But first, let’s look at what, in my view, is one of the most concerning aspects of the proposed ordinance: its creation of an independent Landlord-Tenant Commission with extraordinary powers.

The commission’s members would be appointed by the City Council — not elected — and would operate without oversight from it, the City Council or the City Attorney.

It would be empowered to create its own budget, hire and fire staff, assess taxes on landlords (at whatever amount they decide), hire attorneys for and subpoena witnesses in judicial hearings and even, in some cases, recommend to local law enforcement that landlords face criminal charges.

The ordinance the ballot measure would put in place also says the city must foot the bill not only for the initial set-up costs (which the commission can pay back, or not; it’s up to them). It also says that the city is obligated to cover any annual budget shortfalls in perpetuity. 

It’s important to note that, in such a scenario, the city would have to pay the entire amount the Landlord-Tenant Commission demanded (with no initial oversight over the budget). This figure would not be negotiable. And the city would have to do this before allocating resources to any other programs which lack such a legal mandate — effectively prioritizing this commission over other city-funded projects like public safety, parks and recreation, infrastructure, etc.

Let me say that again: these commissioners would not be elected officials and therefore would not answer directly to voters (although the Council could vote to remove them) yet they would be empowered to unilaterally carve as much taxpayer money out of the city budget as they wanted, to fund their activities. To fund the salaries they would set (including their own). To fund any costs they deemed “reasonable” or “necessary.”

Now, you might ask —  will this really be a problem? Isn’t the tax on landlords supposed to make the Commission self-supporting? 

In theory, yes. In practice, no. 

In fact, in Mountain View, CA a rent control measure nearly identical to the one proposed to Burbank (and quite possibly crafted by the same legal team) was passed by voters about three years ago;  last year its Rent Board demanded the city make up a roughly two hundred thousand dollar deficit.  

It seems that, in Mountain View, the Rent Board’s efforts at getting landlords to pay the annual tax — which was supposed to pay for its operation — were lackluster at best. And, with the city on the hook to fill in the budget gap, the commissioners had little impetus to fix the problem.

Another troubling feature of the measure on November’s ballot is the provision that ties the hands of the City Council should it attempt to make changes to the ordinance once it becomes Burbank law. 

Despite City Council candidate Konstantine Anthony’s assertions on social media, that electing him to that body would allow him to work with the council to “tweak” and “refine” the law, the language of the ordinance itself is clear. The city would only be empowered “to enact complementary or non-conflicting ordinances” or take actions “designed to comply with or further the terms and purposes of this Chapter.”  They could not, for example, limit the powers of the Landlord Tenant Commission.

So why create a body like this reimagined Landlord-Tenant Commission and allow it to operate unchecked outside the laws that normally govern city agencies?  Why is that baked into this ballot measure? One might argue that the purpose is to limit political interference in the commission’s activities and to provide the independence necessary for it to carry out its duties effectively.  

But that seems to me to be a rather Pollyannaish view and quite detached from any understanding of how a body like the one the ordinance would impose might function in real life.  As any student of city politics knows, creating a powerful quasi-governmental body that falls outside the purview of city government — and which can operate under a completely different set of rules as it makes decisions which impact the economic livelihoods of those subject to its authority — usually has another consequence.  It invites abuse of power and even corruption. 

It’s certainly easy to see how an ambitious politician might take advantage of the opportunity to serve on this commission not only because it affords the rare chance to write one’s own paycheck, but also because it would allow him to amass a significant powerbase. 

By hiring the “right” people, making the “right” decisions in disputes brought before it and striking deals with those in the best position to lend a helping hand later on, he or she could easily use the commission as a stepping stone to higher office. That the commission would have license to publish materials and host events — which would serve to keep that ambitious politician in the public eye — would also not, in my mind, be a small consideration. 

And, while I have no idea whether those promoting this ballot measure are well-intentioned and simply unaware of how easily a position on this commission could be exploited, I don’t think we, as voters, have the luxury of being willfully ignorant. Instead we must be vigilant and consider all the potential negative consequences of a “yes” vote — especially because the ordinance would be so difficult to unravel were it to be implemented.

To that end, I encourage you to read the proposed ordinance for yourself, here.

By (Some of) the People, For (Some of) the People

By Greg Sousa

The fundamental problem with the “2020 Burbank Just Cause Eviction and Rent Regulation Measure” — which goes before Burbank voters on November 3rd — is that it was written to satisfy a special interest, not the best interest of the community. Although it is being sold as an exercise in community activism, a more objective observer might see it as a subversion of the democratic process.

This becomes clear when one looks at the traditional legislative process. 

Most of us remember how it used to work: a bill is introduced in a legislative body that represents a cross-section of the electorate. The bill changes (hopefully for the better) as it goes through committees, hearings, and amendments. Throughout the process, the public at large has an opportunity to weigh in on the bill, either through public hearings or through their elected representatives. In many cases, a bill goes through the same process in the other chamber of the legislature, until finally, the bill makes it to the desk of someone who must sign the bill in order for it to become law.

(Click here for a refresher) https://youtu.be/OgVKvqTIttohttps://youtu.be/OgVKvqTItto

In theory, this traditional legislative model results in an inclusive, deliberative process, because ideally, the law should be a way of balancing the competing interests within a society, rather than a means for one group to exact retribution upon another. 

In practice, it affords an opportunity for many to weigh in on the matter, not just those who are promoting the legislation. Democracy prefers this approach, because unilateral lawmaking rarely results in good public policy.

We may contrast those ideals with the initiative process, which originated in the progressive movement of the early 20th century. 

The ballot initiative was meant to serve as the people’s check on the legislature. However, the initiative process has come under fire from those who argue that it places too much power in the hands of special interests, that it leads to bad public policy, and that it unreasonably limits the legislature in setting budget priorities.1 

Critics also point out that special interest groups will sometimes promote flawed initiatives in an effort to force the legislature to pass a less harmful alternative.2

So then, how does the Burbank Tenant’s Rights Committee initiative stand up against these objections? 

In fact, the BTRC initiative raises each of those concerns. For example:

  • The process behind the Tenants Rights initiative was neither inclusive nor deliberative. Rent control proponent Konstantine Anthony initially made the rather incredible claim that he had personally authored the initiative, and — even after backing away from that claim — made no pretense of public participation in the process. There was no grass-roots effort to gather the signatures required to place the measure on the ballot; paid petition circulators were hired instead. 
  • On its face, the proposed ordinance satisfies a specific interest group by burdening one part of the community for the benefit of another, while at the same time limiting the budgetary priorities of the City Council by imposing unlimited financial liabilities upon the City.
  • Perhaps the most glaring issue with the proposed ordinance is that it would make bad public policy.  As many have observed, the measure would create an independent entity that would operate beyond the oversight and restraint of the voter, while also having the authority to collect fees and assess penalties (in other words, it would bring about taxation without representation).  Much like the over-expansive theory of free speech that resulted in the Citizens United decision, the unfortunate irony here is the misuse of a progressive innovation (the initiative process) to bring about less accountability and transparency in our local government.3
  • Arguably, the BTRC did not promote this measure in good faith, but only did so to force the City Council to adopt a less onerous alternative. This is especially plausible in light of Mr. Anthony’s repeated threats to force the City to incur substantial legal expenses should it decide not to cede to his demand that the measure immediately be put to a vote.

This is probably not the initiative process envisioned by the original progressive reformers. 

When California adopted the ballot initiative (as part of the reform movement that also included giving women the vote), it was predicated on the assumption that an informed electorate would be the bulwark against ill-advised legislative proposals (indeed, now that they’ve had a chance to read the entire 36 page rent control proposal, many people see its shortcomings). 

While it is possible to understand how our fellow citizens might have signed the petition without fully understanding its implications, it seems far less likely that the proponents of the ballot initiative were equally oblivious. And the fact that they appear not at all concerned by the unanticipated consequences of their actions is alarming to anyone who cares about the democratic process and good governance in Burbank.

  1. See, for example: Matsusaka, John G.; Direct Democracy Works, Journal of Economic Perspectives, https://pubs.aeaweb.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1257/0895330054048713
  2. Bollag, Sophia; Special Interests Make Smart Use of California’s Ballot, https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/west/2018/07/05/494176.htm
  3. For an excellent discussion of Citizens United and its unintended consequences, see Brill, Steven. Tailspin (pp. 112-156). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

With Rent Control on the Ballot for Burbank, A Look at the Local Measure and California’s Year-Old Housing Law

By Amanda Biers-Melcher

Even before a global pandemic tore a gaping hole in the fabric of our local economy, it was pretty clear to anyone paying attention that a lack of affordable housing was a problem in our community — with more people experiencing homelessness, more families living in RVs and vans around Los Angeles and in the quiet corners of Burbank, more young adults moving back home and families doubling up and too many people teetering on the brink of financial disaster. 

And even with a 6 percent drop compared to this time last year, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in our city (as of August 11, 2020) is $2,495. 

That’s less than a mortgage payment on the average home (a 30-year with 10 percent down on an $839,000 home —with a friendly interest rate of 3.5%) which would set you back $3,391 a month, but it’s still a lot. 

Here’s a quick calculation —  if you were to rent the average two-bedroom home in Burbank you’d be paying just shy of $30,000 over a twelve month period. For this to represent a third of your household budget you’d need to bring home $90,000 a year after taxes. Ouch.

And, in addition to the exorbitant cost, renters pay another price when they rent a home: uncertainty — the fear that a landlord might suddenly raise the rent, or come up with a reason to evict you in order to squeeze more profits out of his real estate investment and force you and your family out of your home and back into a rental market where affordable homes are in short supply.

Last year, a new state law sought to address those problems, at least partially, by barring residential landlords from raising rent more than 5 percent plus the local rate of inflation, in any one year, and requiring landlords to show “just cause” when terminating a lease. 

The Tenant Protection Act of 2019, which took effect in January, applies (mostly) to multi-family rental buildings in Burbank that are at least fifteen years old — and that’s a rolling date, so if a rental until was built in 2006 it will be covered in 2021, 2007 in 2022 and so on. The rationale for exempting newer buildings from regulation is that this will encourage developers to continue to build affordable housing.

It should come as no surprise that the new state law is pretty controversial; landlords are not big fans of it and even some academics have weighed in to say that rent control can actually drive up housing costs by creating a shortage of options for those looking to rent.

I don’t know if they’re right. But I do know that if you didn’t like the state law, you’re going to like Burbank’s own much stricter rent control measure — which after lots of legal maneuvering and controversy will be on the ballot in November — even less.

And, frankly, I don’t like the “2020 Just Cause Eviction and Rent Regulation Measure” much either, primarily because I believe the lack of oversight over a newly-envisioned Landlord-Tenant Commission provides far too much opportunity for abuse. 

But that’s a discussion I will save for another day. Here I intend to do my best to compare the state law with the rent control measure headed for the ballot in Burbank.

Both the state law and the proposed ballot measure share two central features. They regulate how much landlords can charge to rent property they own and prevent landlords from evicting tenants for no reason. 

But there are important differences between the two in terms of what types of rentals they cover, how strict the regulations are and how (and by whom) they are enforced.

To what kind of housing units would each apply?

State law:

Rentals that are at least fifteen years old; multi-family buildings and condo and single-family homes owned by a corporation or a real estate investment trust are subject to both the rent control and “just cause” eviction provisions of the state law as long as the tenant has lived in the rental unit for at least a year.

The regulations don’t apply to a new tenancy — if a unit is vacant, a landlord can charge whatever he wants for it — or to a duplex where the landlord lives in the other unit. 

Units that were already under local rent control law when the state law took effect and some other types of housing — like school dormitories and government subsidized housing — are also exempt from state regulation.

Ballot measure:

Rental units built before February 1, 1995 would be subject to rent regulation and eviction protections with very few exceptions (e.g. government housing, housing designated as affordable, dorms).

Single-family homes and condos and apartments built after February 1, 1995 would only be subject to “just cause” eviction provisions and buyout agreement restrictions and not rent regulation. That’s because another state law — The Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act of 1995 — places limits on local governments and gives landlords the exclusive right to set rents for new tenants at whatever rate they choose (typically the market rate).

A landlord who rents out a room in a house he or she lives in would be exempt from the ordinance as long as — take note — they share a kitchen or a bathroom with their tenant. Short term temporary rentals would also not be covered by the new local law. 

How much can my landlord jack up my rent?

State law:

5 percent, plus the local inflation rate but no more than 10 percent. So if you’re paying $2,495 and the inflation rate is, let’s say, 3 percent, your rent can still go up 8.3 percent — or $207 — a year.

Ballot measure:

This will be set by the Landlord-Tenant Commission based on the annual percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index for the LA area, ending in March of that year and capped at 7 percent.

Landlords would be allowed to raise the rent according to the percentage set by the commission, once a year, in September.

So if, for example, the Consumer Price Index went up by point-5 percent from April 2020 to March 2021, the most a landlord subject to the new ordinance would be able to raise the rent the following September, would be point-5 percent.

The rent on that $2,495 two-bedroom apartment would go up $12.47.

If the landlord wants to increase rents by any more than that, she’d have no choice but to file a petition with the Landlord-Tenant Commission. 

This newly-imagined agency — whose members are appointed by the City Council but which is completely independent of it, the City Manager or the City Attorney (more on that in another article) — would then schedule a hearing during which the landlord could make a case for why she needs to raise rents by more than the standard percentage. 

The Commission would analyze the landlord’s operating expenses (with rules governing which types of expenses may be considered) and then determine what percentage increase — if any — would allow the landlord to enjoy a “fair return” on her investment in the property.

Something important to note: the first rent increase — which would become effective September 1, 2021 — would be based on whatever the rent was as of September 30, 2019 — presumably so landlords can’t raise their rents in anticipation of the passage of this measure.

Under what conditions can a landlord kick his tenants to the curb?

State law:

Landlords have to show “just cause” (like failure to pay rent or a crime committed on the property) and give proper notice, to evict tenants. If the tenant has lived at the property for at least one year the landlord has to give them a chance to “cure” violations.

There are also a few instances in which landlords can evict tenants who have done nothing wrong — like when the landlord wants to take the apartment off the rental market, move in a family member, comply with a government order or do substantial renovations that will take at least 30 days and make the unit unsafe to occupy. 

In such “no fault” evictions, the landlord is obligated to pay the tenant the equivalent of one month’s rent.

Ballot measure:

The city ordinance is similar to the state law in describing circumstances under which a tenant could be evicted for cause — and it would only permit no fault evictions under conditions like those provided for by the state law — taking it off the rental market, moving in a family member, etc — with a few key differences.

For example, if a landlord wants to substantially remodel a rental unit, he has to give his tenant the right to move into any comparable apartment owned by the landlord, at the same rent, or allow that tenant to return to the original rental when the repairs are finished, at the same rent as before. 

The tenant can also elect to move out, in which case the landlord would pay a relocation fee — and these fees amount to much more than the month’s rent mandated by the state law.

For example, under the proposed ordinance, if a tenant has lived in the unit for more than three years, he’d be entitled to a $10,550 relocation payment — unless he is over 62 or disabled in which case, he’d be entitled to double that amount— or $20,050  

If the tenant has lived in the rental unit for less than three years, she’d be paid $8,050 — unless she’s disabled or over 62 — in which case, again, the fee would be doubled.  

However, a tenant whose household income is 80 percent below the Area Median Income (as defined by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development) would be paid the higher amount, regardless of how long that tenant has lived in the home.

This same relocation fee structure would apply if a landlord wants to permanently take the unit off the rental market, if the property is condemned or if the landlord wants to evict a tenant to move herself or a family member into the unit — although that fee could be slightly less for a family member move-in if:

 — they have not kicked out a tenant to move a relative into one of their units within the three previous years; 

— they own fewer than six rental units; and

— the relative does not own any residential property in the city of Burbank, 

In this case, the landlord would only be on the hook for $7,750 per tenant (or double that amount for tenants who are disabled or over age 62).

Also, the landlord or relative must intend — in good faith — to move into the re-claimed rental unit within sixty days after the tenant leaves and remain in the unit for at least 24 consecutive months. 

The Landlord-Tenant Commission would have the power to measure whether or not the landlord acted in good faith — and if it determined he did not — could force the landlord to let the tenant move back into the original apartment and pay the tenant’s moving expenses.

Can my landlord just decide to convert my building to condos?

Short answer: yes. 

The Ellis Act, a 1986 law, gives property owners the right to take their rental units off the market and tear them down or turn them into condos or hotels.  

And this is a bit of a hot button issue in the rent control battle. Most so-called Ellis Act evictions are used to change the use of the building from a rental to a condo or coop. 

That’s because taking a rent controlled unit off the rental market only completely removes that rental unit from regulation if it stays off the market for ten years.  Prior to that the owner must offer any unit he puts up for rent to the evicted tenant at the same price the tenant previously paid, plus the yearly allowable rent-control increases. 

That tenant would pay the rent control rate for the first five years after moving back in and market rates the following five years. And, if the displaced tenant does not move back in, any new tenant gets to pay the rent-controlled rental rate for five years.  

Condo conversions are not subject to any of this. 

The Burbank ballot measure can not supersede the state law which permits owners to take their units off the rental market, but it can — and does — impose additional notification requirements and set a higher relocation fee than state law provides (as discussed above).

Can a landlord buy out a tenant’s lease?

Absolutely. As long as the tenant agrees to it.

The Costa-Hawkins Act (see above) allows landlords to charge the market rate for new vacancies — which creates an impetus for creating such vacancies when the rental real estate market gets “hot.” To this end, landlords will frequently offer tenants a lump sum payment (cash-for-keys) to voluntarily vacate the lease and move out.

The Burbank measure can’t bar buyout agreements but it does attempt to provide tenants with additional protections— including allowing tenants to back out of a buyout agreement thirty days after signing it and providing additional oversight. Landlords would be required to file buyout agreements with the Landlord-Tenant Commission and the ordinance would grant that agency the power to impose additional requirements on landlords, in accordance with state law, if and when it deems that necessary.

What about enforcement of all these regulations?

State law: 

Tenants who believe their rights under the state law have been violated can sue landlords in court.

Ballot measure: 

Both tenants AND the Landlord-Tenant Commission can take the landlord to court (separately or together) and the commission has the power to enforce additional penalties as well — including a $250 fine for a first violation and $500 fines for a second, third or fourth violation. 

Landlords who violate the city law five times in a year could face misdemeanor charges, under the proposed ordinance. And, according to the city code, a person convicted of a misdemeanor charge in Burbank could face six months in prison, in addition to fines.

Any other major differences?

Yes.  

State law:

Automatically expires in 10 years. 

Ballot Measure:

Does not expire and is pretty bulletproof. 

In fact, it expressly prevents the Burbank City Council from changing “substantive provisions” of the ordinance or from taking “any action that contradicts the express terms and purpose” of it or from passing any local laws that are not “non-conflicting or complementary.”

As with most things, the devil is in the details when it comes to the “2020 Just Cause Eviction and Rent Regulation Measure” and while I endeavored to highlight some specific provisions of the proposed law and its relationship to existing rent control laws, there are likely some components of the proposed ordinance I failed to expand upon and potential consequences I failed to anticipate. 

To this end, I invite you to read it yourself and am posting a pdf version of the proposed ordinance right here.