Despite a multimillion-dollar deficit, ongoing police oversight reforms and depressed utility revenues, a dispute over whether to install sidewalks on two blocks of North Screenland Drive has become a major political hot potato for City Council candidates.
More than half of the homes on the street sport lawn signs supporting City Council candidates based off whether they support their stance on installing sidewalks on the 1800 or 1900 blocks of North Screenland Drive — an issue that council candidates have either avoided or latched on to in the waning weeks of the campaign.
Screenland resident Janet Strong, one of the most vocal opponents of the sidewalks, said her street has turned into a political football with the primary election for City Council fast approaching.
At a Feb. 8 City Council meeting, she said "bringing this back at election time shows a lack of respect for the homeowners on the block."
According to Strong, it took months for the issue to appear make it to the City Council, but mere weeks to return to the agenda when Councilman Gary Bric asked for reconsideration of decision to not install sidewalks, which city officials said could put Burbank at risk of losing thousands of dollars in federal grants.
Bric, who is seeking reelection, disagreed with Strong's assertion that the request was politically motivated.
"This has nothing to do with an election coming up," Bric said. "Safety is the only thing motivating me."
Residents along North Screenland Drive lobbied hard the planned sidewalks, which were part of a Safe Routes to Schools grant the city applied for in 2006 to improve and enhance routes students take to Luther Middle School, located at the end of the 1800 block of the street.
When the city originally applied for the funds, officials polled the 1800 block of Screenland Drive on the sidewalks and reported a 50% acceptance rate. But due to an oversight, residents on the 1900 block were not originally notified.
Residents decried the move, and the City Council voted 3 to 2 against the sidewalks.
The following week, Bric announced he was reconsidering his vote based on safety concerns and eventually asked for the item to return to the council.
City Council candidate signs popped up in force following a Jan. 17 election forum, where candidates were asked about the North Screenland Drive brouhaha.
Candidate Robert Frutos, who serves as chairman of the Burbank Police Commission, supported neighborhood empowerment and opposed the sidewalks, while candidate Jacqueline Waltman, a member of the Landlord-Tenant Commission, questioned the city's ability to maintain additional sidewalks while existing infrastructure awaits repair.
Planning Board chairwoman and City Council candidate Emily Gabel-Luddy did not stake out a firm position.
Lawns on North Screenland Drive are covered with election signs either supporting Frutos and Waltman, or Bric.
City Council voted 4 to 1 to have the issue return to City Hall on March 1 for a final vote.
Councilman David Gordon dissented after opposing the the sidewalks in December.
"One of the saddest parts of being on this council is seeing a community divided in this fashion," he said.