Finding solutions to the housing shortfall in Burbank has been a difficult task for its City Council and has proven to be a challenging topic for a group of high school students.
The John Burroughs High School chapter of Junior States of America gathered inside the council chamber at Burbank City Hall Wednesday afternoon to hold a mock council meeting. On their agenda was a discussion of the lack of affordable housing in their city.
Sophomore Jaden Gerard was the mayor for the meeting and senior Oliver Eccleston served as vice mayor. Junior Gabija Petrulis and seniors Kody Fields and Nickolas Markou played the remaining three council members.
The pseudo council members duked it out with sophomores Ari Kretz and Rawan Markarem, who were portraying two city staff members.
Ari and Rawan had a few suggestions they thought could help address the housing issue in the city. They suggested more housing in the Downtown and Media districts as well as in the proposed Golden State Specific Plan area just east of Hollywood Burbank Airport.
The teens serving as mock council members voted unanimously to support this plan and added that parking in these areas should be studied as well.
Their staff members suggested the city should look into home sharing, in which seniors living in single-family homes would be given the incentive to sell their house and live with other seniors in another house or a retirement home. The idea was to free up these houses so they could be put back into the market, but the council members thought it was not feasible.
“There are senior living residences all across Burbank and other adjoining cities,” Gabija said. “I see the validity of [this proposal], but I don’t think that we should make it a priority.”
Sitting in the gallery that afternoon were some of Burbank’s elected council members: Mayor Will Rogers, Vice Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy and Councilwoman Sharon Springer. They were joined by City Manager Ron Davis and Assistant City Manager Justin Hess.
The group of city officials listened intently to what the students had to say, and they chuckled every once in a while when the mock city council fumbled the procedures.
“It’s fascinating to see that they go through very much the same thought process and steps as we do,” Rogers said. “They come up with something that sounds like a great idea, but they poke it a few times and figure out that it won’t work and end up picking something more practical.”
The mayor added that seeing the students take an interest in local politics reassures himself about the future of the city.
“It just makes you proud they’re from Burbank and that you hope they stay,” Rogers said.
Jaden said after the meeting that she was excited to see her local council members attend the mock meeting and thought she and her classmates had a great discussion about affordable housing.
She said she is ready even at her sophomore grade level to be more active now within the community and local politics to make Burbank a better place for residents like herself and those who come to visit.
“Change needs to start at a local level,” she said. “The main issues that people talk about every day should be answered with local legislation here in Burbank, or let our representatives know about how much we care about it so they can take it to the higher-ups.”
Eccleston, who is the president of the John Burroughs Junior State of America chapter, said he aspires to be involved with local government in any way he can, whether as a city planner or council member.
Affordable housing, Eccleston said, was not too big of a topic for a group of high schoolers to tackle, explaining that it will be his generation that endures whatever decisions policy makers choose.
“If we start now, we can maybe work toward a better, cheaper and more equal future,” he said. “We’re going to be the ones buying houses, renting and possibly owning property one day, so it would be nice to have a voice in my future in Burbank.”