A three-month battle over the installation of sidewalks on a section of North Screenland Drive has ended with a victory for sidewalk proponents.
In a 4-to-1 decision, the Burbank City Council this week sided with the Public Works Department and approved the construction of sidewalks within the public right-of-way
on the 1800 and 1900 blocks of Screenland Drive despite protests from many of the affected residents.
Without the sidewalks, council members said the city would be at risk of losing out on thousands more in federal funding for infrastructure-related improvements — a position Burbank can’t afford, given tight budgets and the competition for grants.
The decision was a reversal of a 3-2 vote on Dec. 7, when the council voted to decline $125,000 awarded through a federal Safe Routes to School grant the city applied for in late 2006.
Many of the affected residents on the two blocks had protested the planned sidewalks as an unnecessary intrusion onto their yards, and said city officials hadn’t properly notified of them of the project.
But the original vote sparked criticism from community members. Councilman Gary Bric requested the project be brought back to the City Council, saying he had concerns about how the lack of sidewalks could impact public safety.
The grant is “designed to improve and enhance the safety of school children walking or bicycling to and from school,” according to a city report. In recent weeks, officials from Luther Burbank Middle School, which is at the end of the 1800 block where North Screenland Drive meets Jeffries Avenue, and parents have come out in support of the sidewalks.
Assistant Principle Brian O’Rouke spoke in support of the sidewalks at Tuesday’s meeting because he said he felt compelled to advocate for the safety of students at the school.
“Kids who take North Screenland Drive as a route to and from school place themselves in danger each day,” he said. “They must step around cars and landscaping to access the street — add the many cars going in each direction, and the danger increases.”
Public Works Director Bonnie Teaford agreed there was an wording error about where “bulb-outs” — curb extensions to improve safety for pedestrians — would be located, but maintained that the project application was not flawed and remained valid.
Councilman David Gordon, the lone dissenting vote on Tuesday, said he believed the $125,000 North Screenland Drive sidewalk component should be left out of plans for spending the federal grant funds.
“I don’t believe they’ve had their due process here because they did not get adequate notice,” Gordon said. “Their input was not provided to the state when the state rendered its decision.”
If state officials had received residential input, he added, they “would not have approved the components of this application to install the sidewalks on the street.”
But Mayor Anja Reinke reiterated her concerns about the city’s liability if an accident did happen on the street, should the city pass up the opportunity to install sidewalks when the money was available.
“Once this is in your lap, we have legal liability,” she said. “If some kid gets hit, some senior gets hit, some accident happens — we have the opportunity to fix this problem, and if you outright don’t do the right thing, you face legal liability in the future.”
City officials said they expect to have an estimated construction schedule within the next two weeks. Concerns about hedges and other obstructions will be worked out during the design phase of the project, they said.