Whole Foods clashes with neighborhood

1 The City Council’s rejection in March of a proposal to build a Whole Foods Market in the Rancho District put an end to a months-long struggle that pitted a vocal group of residents in a quaint neighborhood against the interests of a commercial developer.

The project, which was proposed for the corner of Main Street and Alameda Avenue, triggered a vociferous public dialogue between store supporters and residents who worried that a 60,000-square-foot market would bring unwanted congestion to the neighborhood and compromise pedestrian and equestrian safety.

In an attempt to assuage opponents, the developer, Tom Davies, downsized the project two times, first cutting it to 50,000 square feet, then offering a 40,000-square-foot alternative as a last-minute effort to eclipse the council’s final no-vote.

But the council halted the project in a 4-1 vote, also denying Davies’ request that the vote be recorded “without prejudice,” which would have enabled the developer to largely avoid the time-consuming application process when proposing another project for the site.

In the aftermath, Rancho residents fought to restore some neighborhood protections that were lost with the passage of a 1998 zone text amendment, which left the allowable size and scope of new developments up to some interpretation.

The council reinstated some of those protections on Oct. 31, voting to prohibit large grocery stores from being developed in the Rancho District.

Citywide smoking ban approved by council

2 Anti-smoking advocates breathed a sigh of relief in late March, when the council approved limitations on smoking in public by a tight 3-2 margin. The ordinance prohibits smoking in several areas in Burbank, including parts of downtown, public outdoor restaurant dining areas and the Chandler Bikeway.

The law underwent some tinkering before it was finalized, including a reduction of the buffer zone between smokers and pedestrian pathways from 20 feet to 5 feet, in order to provide restaurant owners with more flexibility. The council also reduced the allowable square footage that a business can designate as a smoking area from 50% to 40% of the restaurant.

No sooner did the new standards go into effect that enforcement challenges plagued city staffers and officials. Calls and e-mails flooded city offices from residents complaining that the restrictions of the law were not being enforced. Fueling the problem was the fact that local business owners and managers were put in the difficult position of having to tell longtime customers that they could no longer smoke in restaurants and cafes. Even getting the word out was hampered by a disconnect between the law’s effective date and the posting of signs notifying patrons of the new policy.

In an attempt to surmount those challenges, city officials established a new staff position that would be tasked with going to local business owners to educate them about the details of the ordinance. The person filling the position would serve as a liaison between the city’s licensing and code department and local businesses, getting the word out about the new restrictions.

Burbank Police also began issuing violations — a $400 fine — as of Aug. 5. More than 40 tickets were handed out in the month of September.

Murder-suicide on Cypress Avenue

3 On Aug. 9 Rafael Shirinian’s bitterness toward his neighbors turned deadly.

When Vahik Farhadian, 48, walked through the front entrance of his apartment complex in the 600 block of Cypress on the afternoon of Aug. 10, Shirinian fatally shot him. Farhadian’s son, 22-year-old Oshin, fled the scene, but did not escape injury, police said.

Oshin Farhadian was shot in the shoulder as he escaped to the nearby apartment of Manyam Masihi, 49, who Shirinian then fatally shot in the chest before retreating into his own apartment.

Police attempted to coax Shirinian out of his apartment, sending a negotiator to speak with him. But 20 minutes later, he was dead from a self-inflicted gun shot wound.

Burbank Police Chief Tim Stehr, who was sworn in the day before the shooting, reflected what several people felt about the city and its typically peaceful communities.

“It’s very unusual for Burbank,” he said at the time. “It’s a very quiet neighborhood, and this is very unusual.”

Residents in the Cypress complex, unaccustomed to such violence, also expressed shock that such an event could happen in Burbank.

“It’s unthinkable that something like that happened here,” said Luis Robles, 42, who was in his apartment next door when the he first heard gunfire. “I was in shock.”

Writers’ strike affects community

4 On Nov. 5, members of the Writers Guild of America turned in their pens for picket signs to strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, attempting to wrest more DVD residuals and a better pay structure for Internet media projects.

Demonstrations in front of three of Burbank’s major studios — Walt Disney, NBC and Warner Bros. — brought out hundreds of writers, celebrities and one high-profile politician.

In front of NBC Studios on Nov. 16, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards proclaimed his support to a crowd of more than 600.

The writers guild staged protests around Los Angeles County in attempt to sway public opinion.

It seemed to have its intended effect.

On Nov. 14, a Pepperdine University Graziadio School of Business poll found that nearly two-thirds of all Americans sided with the writers.

But talks between the sides yielded little in the way of results and broke down Dec. 7 after the producers said they would not hold anymore negotiations with the writers union unless it dropped proposals that included authorization to join strikes of other labor organizations and full control over reality television and animation projects.

Local businesses and the Burbank economy felt the strain as the strike continued.

The two sides have not formally met since, even as Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien — both members of the writers guild — returned to work Jan. 2.

Election stirs up dais in ‘dirty’ campaign

5 The election of Gary Bric and Anja Reinke to two open City Council seats in April followed a heated campaign that many political observers called the dirtiest in recent memory.

February’s primary nominating election narrowed a pool of seven candidates to four, pitting Burbank couple Philip and Carolyn Berlin, who ran a joint campaign, against Bric and Reinke.

About a week before the mail-in ballot deadline, political hit pieces targeting Bric and Reinke started showing up in Burbank mailboxes, spurring questions about who was behind the mailers.

But the mailer did little to change the outcome of the race and the four candidates finished in the same order as they did in the primary election, a fact Bric and Reinke did not fail to point out during post-election comments.

Bric, in his fourth bid for a council seat, was the top vote-getter, edging out Reinke by 15 votes. Bric and Reinke captured 63% and 62% of the vote respectively. Carolyn Berlin received 33% of the vote and Philip Berlin finished with 32%.

The 2007 election also put before voters five amendments to the city’s 90-year-old charter, which serves as a blueprint for local government.

The measures were recommended by the 15-member Charter Review Committee, which the council created in November 2005 to review the document.

Voters approved three measures, one that enables City Council members to appoint a replacement for a council vacancy no matter how many months are remaining in the term of the seat.

The committee recommended the change to eliminate the need for a costly and time-consuming special election.

A measure was also approved that gives the council the ability to pass and amend budget items by a majority, rather than a four-fifths vote.

The committee made that recommendation in order to give the council the ability to conduct business in the absence of a council member.

The last measure approved by voters effectuated other minor changes to the Charter, including cleaning up archaic language and incorporating the duties of the Police Commission, an oversight body, in the Charter’s text.

But voters largely rejected two measures that would have made the city’s clerk and treasurer posts appointed, rather than elected, positions.

Opponents of the measures contended that they would have removed voters’ ability to decide the fate of two important city positions.

NBC set to move from Burbank

6 More than 56 years after it was founded in Burbank, NBC announced on Oct. 11 that the studio will leave its home on Olive Avenue for Universal City by 2011.

The move will include “The Tonight Show” studios, long a staple of Burbank as long lines waited to see Johnny Carson and Jay Leno.

All news operations, including KNBC, Spanish language television KVEA and “Access Hollywood,” will also relocate to Universal City, NBC announced.

The network plans to build a multilevel, environmentally friendly production facility across the street from Universal Studios.

The project will integrate the latest in energy- and water-efficient technologies. It will also feature a technologically advanced studio with HD news and Internet capabilities, officials said.

Local reaction was mixed between those who thought Burbank’s move would tarnish the city’s reputation and those who think the city is positioned well for the future.

But others felt secure in the city’s standing.

Burbank Mayor Marsha Ramos was hopeful that the city is well-positioned to welcome a new media and technology corporation, given the city’s fiber-optics infrastructure and its tax structure.

Fireworks canceled, but lasers are in

7 Fire safety concerns sparked the cancellation this year of the city’s traditional Fourth of July fireworks display at the Starlight Bowl.

The decision came after Burbank Fire Department officials assessed moisture levels in the hillside near the bowl, concluding the terrain was far too brittle to conduct a show safely.

The year was plagued by wildfires across Southern California, locally with an outbreak above Barham Boulevard in March, and the Griffith Park fire, which scorched more than 800 acres over a two-day period in May.

According to fire officials, the cancellation was a last resort, and preventative measures, like trimming back brush in the hills or pre-treating the area with fire retardant would not have remedied the situation.

Community response was mixed, with residents both bemoaning the loss of a perennial holiday staple while agreeing that safety was a priority.

Park, Recreation and Community Services officials replaced the fireworks with a patriotic laser light show, which brought out about 2,000 attendees, a significant decline over figures closer to 4,000 in 2006.

In regards to Fourth of July fireworks displays in the future, fire safety officials said that cancellations may become more of the norm than the exception.

District contract talks reach impasse

8 Months of heated negotiations between the Burbank Unified School District and the Burbank Teachers Assn. came to a head in early February when district officials declared an impasse in talks.

A state-appointed mediator was brought in to help settle the talks, despite protests from teachers, which included picket lines in front of City Hall, at the district’s board meetings, and some teachers working less after-school hours.

Kim Allender, the teachers association co-president at the time, called the district’s decision to halt negotiations and the call for an impasse an insult and an affront.

The district requested the Public Employment Relations Board of California to provide a mediator after Burbank teachers packed City Council Chambers to protest the district’s position during a board of education meeting.

The teachers association was asking for a 6% to 8% raise.

Almost two months later, after teachers picketed and protested outside of City Hall on board meeting nights, the district and the Burbank Teachers Assn. reached an agreement.

The teachers’ salary increase varied between 4% to 7.25% over six pay columns, depending on teaching experience and education, with the most experienced and educated teachers receiving the highest raises.

The raise cost the district about $4.5 million with the agreement including financial compensation, increased planning time for third-grade teachers and increased health benefits.

New airport baggage facility

9 City officials approved a new baggage facility at Bob Hope Airport in November that some residents considered a direct violation of the development agreement that governs against terminal expansion.

The facility will house a new, state-of-the-art $2.5-million explosive-detection device and conveyor system that is faster and more efficient than the outdated security system currently being used in Terminal B, airport Police Chief Ed Skvarna said.

The planned facility was not without concerns from residents who felt the facility represented an expansion, which, if true, violates the airport’s 2005 development agreement with the city.

To alleviate those legal concerns, the city commissioned a report from a law firm to see whether the new facility satisfies terms of the agreement.

The firm, Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell, stated in a memorandum that the application is for a project that is consistent with the development agreement.

Administrator and district face lawsuit

10 A Burbank Unified School District administrator and a secretary found themselves embroiled in the beginnings of a legal battle over allegations of sexual harassment this year.

Danielle Baez, the school district secretary who filed the lawsuit, alleged in her complaint, filed June 1 in Los Angeles Superior Court, that Craig Jellison, senior director of facilities, repeatedly sent her sexually explicit e-mails beginning in December 2005.

Baez also alleged that Jellison sexually assaulted her in the district’s facilities building in late July 2006, locking her in his office and making unwanted advances.

Jellison had received a pay cut of almost $9,000, a title change from facilities officer to senior director of facilities a few weeks before the lawsuit was filed.

The district also shortened Jellison’s contract to end June 30, 2008, from its previous version, which had him employed with the district until June 30, 2010.

In response to the suit, the district filed a motion with the court in late September to have it thrown out on the grounds that it was frivolous in nature.

After a hearing on the case, the judge denied the district’s request asking for Baez’s lawyers to qualify some of the suit’s contentions before the case could move forward.

Baez has not returned to her job since she took medical leave in March citing emotional distress, and she is seeking an undisclosed amount of financial restitution from the district.

Jellison remains at his post.


Council approves winter shelter

A winter shelter at the Burbank National Guard Armory opened Dec. 12, galvanizing public opinion after Glendale announced its National Guard facility would be closed for repairs.

At a Dec. 4 Burbank City Council meeting, a stream of mostly supportive speakers representing community interests, faith groups and business factions lauded the shelter’s proposed site and brushed aside worries that its proximity to Providencia Elementary School and Pacific Park would pose a safety risk.

Detractors said the opposite, voicing concern that the shelter would endanger children at the school and park.

Attendance at the shelter has steadily risen since its opening from a first night where just six guests attended to a recent night where more than 50 guests stayed the night.

Seller makes a profit off city deal

City Council members were in disbelief in March when a speaker exposed the details of a December 2006 city real estate transaction that brought a windfall profit for the seller.

In December 2006, the Burbank Housing Corp. — a nonprofit agency that buys and rehabilitates residential properties for affordable housing — entered into a $1.4-million purchase agreement with property owner David Augustine of Burbank Properties, LLC, for a two-story, eight-unit complex on Verdugo Avenue. The council approved the agreement by a 4-1 vote at its Jan. 23 meeting.

But a city staff report that gave the council some details of the purchase did not include information that Augustine had acquired the property for $1.03 million on Nov. 21, 2005, just 10 days before selling it to Burbank Housing — at a profit of $365,000.

Construction tees off at clubhouse

The City Council gave the green light in June to start construction on a new clubhouse at DeBell Golf Course to replace its dilapidated existing facility.

The vote followed a two-part, $9.44-million renovation process that first saw the tearing up and eventual paving of the parking lot in November and the clubhouse razing in December.

Crews are set to begin construction on the new clubhouse, which officials said will increase the amount of usable space available to golfers and bring the facility into Americans with Disabilities Act compliance.

Though attendance at the golf course dropped during construction, officials are hoping the improvements will bring back its core group as well as a new crop of players.

The clubhouse is due to be completed by October 2008.

Joint-use plan in for field improvements

Burbank city officials, district administrators and trustees banded together this year to begin a $14.2-million renovation project of fields at Jordan Middle School and Burbank and John Burroughs high schools.

The joint-use project with the city includes tearing down and rebuilding Memorial Field at John Burroughs High School and refurbishing the stands at Burbank High School’s stadium. It also includes replacing the fields at both high schools with artificial turf and all-weather track. The cost of the project would be split between the city and the school district. The project at Jordan Middle School includes a plan to put in a 70-space parking lot and new public restrooms.

City gets a new police chief

Twenty-nine-year Burbank Police Department veteran Tim Stehr was named chief of the force in August, taking over for outgoing chief Tom Hoefel, who retired from the position after seven years.

Stehr joined the department in 1979 as a police cadet, working his way up through the ranks to deputy chief, a position he took over in 2006. His career took on a deep sense of urgency in November 2003, when he led a manhunt for David Garcia, who is now awaiting trial for the shooting death of Officer Matt Pavelka.

Community support for Stehr’s appointment was enthusiastic and swift.


Austin Cook

The Burbank Unified School District collectively mourned the untimely death of Austin Cook, an 11-year-old John Muir Middle School student, on Nov. 29.

Austin, a sixth-grader at Muir Middle School, died of a heart attack at about 2 p.m. after collapsing during a midmorning run in his physical education class.

Austin collapsed at about 10:30 a.m. when the class was running laps.

He was taken to Providence St. Joseph Medical Center, where doctors tried to revive him.

The grieving process for the young boy, who was an athlete and a member of a local youth football team, went beyond his own campus and extended to Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, where he had attended before Muir Middle.

A pancake breakfast was held Dec. 22 to raise money for the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles’ Division of Cardiology in Austin’s name.

Anthony S. Coy

Bob Hope Airport Fire Chief Anthony S. Coy died May 29 from an infection caused by strep throat.

He was 40.

Coy took his post as the airport’s chief during one of the darkest times for aviation safety employees and for the county — four days after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Rallying together with the airport police and other operations and safety staffers, he led his department in shutting down the Bob Hope Airport tarmac in the immediate wake of the attacks and beefing up security measures in the aftermath.

Hired in 1995 as a firefighter for the airport department, it was only three years before Coy was promoted to shift captain, and another year later he became fire chief.

Before his career in Burbank, he was in the Air Force for 12 years.

Even though he received offers to work in the benefits-heavy world of city firefighting throughout his career with the airport department, Coy stayed on the job and rose through the ranks at Bob Hope Airport.

An avid RV camper, surfer, skier and baseball fan, Coy loved the outdoors.

Lawrence Signey

The Rev. Lawrence Signey, who served as pastor at St. Robert Bellarmine Catholic Church, died March 10 at St. Joseph’s Medical Center after a brief illness caused by a kidney infection. He was 46.

Signey was known for being a mentor to numerous children at St. Robert Bellarmine Catholic School. Before coming to St. Robert Bellarmine about five years ago, Signey served as pastor at St. Bede the Venerable Catholic Church in La Cañada Flintridge.

Born on April 4, 1961, in England and raised in Long Beach, Signey had an interest in religious vocation as early as the first grade.

In ninth grade, he entered Queen of Angels High School Seminary in Mission Hills, where he later served as spiritual director.

He was then promoted to dean of students at the seminary. Signey’s education included a master’s degree in religious studies from St. John Theologate, a seminary in Camarillo.

He also attended St. John College in Camarillo, earning a bachelor’s degree in philosophy with a minor in English.

He taught confirmation and religious education classes to children and teenagers, and he was the former associate pastor at Holy Family Catholic Church in Glendale.

Those who knew him also remembered his ability to make people laugh.

Margaret Sorthun

Burbank city elections and local politics in general were dealt a blow in early March when longtime Burbank resident Margaret Sorthun died.

Sorthun, who ran in the primary election for a seat on the City Council, died March 8 after a brief illness.

She was 71.

Sorthun had checked in to Providence St. Joseph Medical Center with pneumonia just before the election returns on Feb. 27.

She finished in seventh place, with 341 votes.

Sorthun was propelled into city politics in 2006, when the City Council named her to a Blue Ribbon Task Force charged with reviewing interim standards on limits for fences, walls and hedges.

Her appointment came after she emerged as a strong voice in community opposition to new height limits that many residents argued would limit property owners’ rights.

Council members Gary Bric and Anja Reinke were sworn into office in late April with Marsha Ramos taking the mayoral seat on the council.

Sue Stamper

Known as the “Silent Saint” to many, Sue Stamper died Dec. 11 from complications following surgery at the age of 70.

As the first woman president of the YMCA and a member of dozens of community organizations, Stamper helped shape the trajectory of many social-action networks and was a constant source of altruism for many in Burbank.

In 2003, Sue and her husband Larry Stamper were honored with the Woodbury University Movers and Shapers Award for their service to Burbank and its residents.

As an active member of the First United Methodist Church, where her husband was a pastor, Stamper started a Sunday school music program, taught classes, started a book club and organized a Children’s Summer Club, where she taught crafts, music and games.

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