After serving for more than nine years on the city’s Planning Board,
Carolyn Berlin surprised other members by abruptly resigning, because
of what she called a disregard for board input by city staff.
“You could have blown us all away,” fellow board member Gary Olson
said of Berlin’s announcement at Monday night’s board meeting. “She
obviously feels somehow that there is some lack of respect for the
Planning Board, and I can’t substantiate that.”
Olson, who has served four years, is not reapplying for a seat on
the five-member board. But he said the decision has nothing to with
any dispute over recommending long-range plans for the city’s
development, including granting or denying permits and variances.
“I don’t think that people should stay too long on particular
boards,” Olson said. “I think it’s good for there to be new ideas and
Berlin, the board’s chairwoman, said a recommendation by city
planners to the City Council to approve the $200 million Platt
development despite being unanimously denied by the board exemplified
senior staff’s dismissal of board opinion.
“The staff became project advocates,” she said. “They recommended
approval of the project against our suggestion.”
But Community Development Director Sue Georgino said her staff
made its recommendation to the council after the developer had made
concessions to the city based on input from residents and the
Planning Board, including reducing the height of the project from 15
to 12 stories.
“The staff clearly considers the [board’s] recommendations before
they go to City Council and we reflect them in the staff report,”
Georgino said. “Our role is technical. We look at whether [a project]
Board member Margaret Taylor agreed with Georgino, and added that
Burbank has “one of the most professional and quality planning staffs
in the region.” As a consultant, Taylor has seen well- and
poorly-planned cities, she said.
Berlin said the will of residents is insufficiently represented by
staff, adding that she’s never seen as much public opposition as she
did with the Platt project.
“The community perceives that the Planning Board is being
disregarded, and that they are just being bypassed by the staff,” she
said of feedback from residents.
But Councilman Jef Vander Borght, who served on the Planning Board
for 11 years, said he sees no evidence that city staff is running
In the case of the Platt project, the Council disagreed with
staff’s recommendation and agreed with the Planning Board, he said.
The City Council also unanimously denied the project.
“The Council certainly treats the board’s input very seriously,”
Vander Borght said.