For city of Burbank employees, home isn't often where the job is

Most city employees commute to Burbank from elsewhere, which city executives said is a personal choice for employees that may depend on individual circumstances like economics, family ties and practicality.

Of the city’s 1,550 employees, 38% live in Burbank, according to an analysis of city data.

“Our employees love their connection to the community and school system, so I'm not surprised so many choose to live here,” City Manager Mark Scott said via email. “For some, though, it's just not reasonable or logistically possible.”

Affordability plays a role in the decision, as well as the fact that some employees have spouses that work in a different direction, and other families are already attached to a neighborhood or school system, he said.

Of all the city departments, the fire department has the least number of employees who live locally, with 13% of the 130 living in Burbank. A handful of firefighters hail from as far as Lake Arrowhead, San Diego and Goleta.

“The fire service is a competitive field and we attract candidates from all over California,” said Burbank Fire Chief Tom Lenahan. “You’re basically always trying to look at getting [the] best candidate that you possibly can.”

With the nine-day scheduling cycle in which firefighters work 24-hour shifts on-and-off for five consecutive days, followed by four days off, employees can finagle their schedules to work multiple days in a row, or carpool, to cut the frequency of the lengthy commute.

“It seems like the guys that live the farthest are here the most,” Lenahan said.

Scott, meanwhile, said he’s lived in four of the five cities he’s managed, which he enjoys. Even so, he’s faced personal and financial hits as a result of the moving.

“I've lost all Prop.13 protections, my kids have had interruptions in time with Dad, my 88-year-old mother was traumatized by news reports and blogs (in Fresno), and there's no such thing as a quick trip to the store,” Scott said.

But he loves getting stopped at the grocery store, as it’s often an opportunity to collaborate with residents.

“But I don't write traffic tickets or red tag buildings under construction,” he said.

Burbank resident and employee Drew Sugars felt it was important for him, as the city’s spokesman, to live in the community. Plus, as a father of three, the schools are great and his commute is short, he said.

“I can go weeks without going on a freeway because I have everything I need in this city,” he said.

Lenahan, meanwhile, has raised three kids in Santa Clarita, where he’s lived since 1986. For him, as well as others who bought homes and started their families elsewhere, it would be impractical to move.

“It’s hard to relocate somewhere when your family’s been raised in a certain neighborhood and they’re used to that school system and growing up there,” he said. “That’d be a drastic change.”

Judie Wilke, director of parks, recreation and community services, moved back to Burbank, her hometown, from Santa Clarita after the Northridge earthquake. When disaster struck, she was locked out of Burbank, separated from family and work.

“When the earthquake happened I decided I wouldn’t live that far from work and family,” she said.

The parks and recreation department, one of the city’s largest departments, employs the most Burbank residents.

Nearly 60% of parks and recreation employees live in Burbank. Wilke, speculating, said that could be because the department employs many college students who are home over the summer, looking for work. But she also said she could point to many employees of more than 20 years who live in town, as well as employees who are equally dedicated but live elsewhere.

For Police Chief Scott LaChasse, who does not live in Burbank, what city employees call homeis irrelevant.

“My biggest concern, as the chief of police for the city of Burbank, is that we recruit and retain the best and the brightest — and it’s a collateral issue of where somebody lives,” he said.

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World