Speaking of “Grave Disappointment”

January 4, 2016

In a letter to a newspaper weeks ago, a Burbank resident referenced plans for a new terminal at Bob Hope Airport in the context of a neighborhood group, and materials most recently released for a City Council meeting on Nov. 16. She wrote, “I am gravely disappointed that neither [Will Rogers] nor the council in general took the time to send us a link to the Conceptual Term Sheet, or to give us details regarding an issue of great concern to all Burbank residents.”

She was wrong – many times over. Indeed, if I’ve stood for anything over the last 25 years, it has been getting information from City Hall to the people.

Terms now being discussed with the airport are different in only two substantive ways from those previously endorsed, distributed by and approved by then-Mayor David Gordon and the full council back in 2013 and 2014

In the last two years the terms changed in following ways: 1). For several reasons, and in multiple steps, most concessions demanded by the Airport Authority were dropped. 2.) Airport officials now imagine that, even if voters approve a terminal, some in City Hall may still thwart construction. In July the Authority added a demand that, if construction is approved, inspectors from Glendale or Pasadena enforce Burbank’s building regulations, rather than Burbank’s own inspectors.

This demand was a huge, inadvertent gift to those engaged in demagoguery on airport negotiations.

This demand was a huge, inadvertent gift to those engaged in demagoguery on airport negotiations, and I’ll address it here another time. But the letter writer’s charge is effectively that I didn’t provide “Save Burbank Neighborhoods” with documents for both types of change. But I have provided those, repeatedly.

It’s hard to prove one has contacted SBN’s leaders, because literature SBN distributes includes no contact information and no names. Those citing association to SBN, or wearing t-shirts with its name, have declined my repeated queries about who its leaders are.

Today SBN’s web site only offers “New site coming Fall 2015…!” The old site offered no information about who to contact for information. For two years the group has taken positions on various issues, and occasionally handed out fliers with scandalous accusations (those deliveries always seem to miss my house – which is otherwise in SBN’s “neighborhood”).

Thus, for two years I’ve sent emails, links and meeting requests to a pair who routinely wear SBN t-shirts, and stand at the council’s public podium declaring their association.

My earliest efforts to connect with SBN on airport issues began with my contacting Burbank residents of every stripe. On Nov. 22, 2013, long before I considered running for council, the Burbank Leader published my guest column about airport developments wherein I predicted, “Roughly 14 months from now I expect a howl of outrage will roll across Burbank, one angry enough to ignite politics, enrage residents, terrify many who’ve bought homes, and create a tsunami of activists with furious charges of corruption, double-dealing and government secrecy.”

“People will demand to know why everything was kept secret and they weren’t told. But it wasn’t, and they were.”

“People will demand to know why everything was kept secret and they weren’t told. But it wasn’t, and they were.”

That column also ran on MyBurbank.com, and elsewhere. I wrote it after attending a well-publicized meeting about the airport attended by just 2 other citizens. Beneath that op-ed, I provided links to the city proposals which later saw cuts and tweaks, becoming what today is called the city’s “Conceptual Term Sheet.”  (The Leader chose not to publish the links I provided.)

I also sent all that via email directly to the pair identifying themselves as SBN members, and asked them to forward it to others. They promised to do so.

Throughout early 2014 I continued updating SBN. I repeatedly asked to attend an SBN meeting to discuss airport proposals. One of those messages was sent April 16, 2014. But in June, 2014, one member finally wrote back that SBN was taking the summer off. They’d return once school reopened, I was told, and invite me then.

On August 24, 2014, I kicked off a campaign for city council. On that same day my campaign web site appeared, including a “white paper” on airport issues. It offered all the documents described above, and a rundown of changes over the previous year, and to that date.

I sent that, the documents and the links to the same SBN members on August 29, 2014. The web page detailing my positions, and those of then-current council members, remained on-line until October, 2015.

Now fast-forward – though the invitation to bring my maps and other airport information to a SBN meeting never did arrive. I was elected to the council and took office in May, 2015. During a meeting in July I heard one too many public references by council members and staff to an airport agreement endorsed by all five council members, including David Gordon. I reminded everyone that one of those five members left weeks earlier, and that I had NOT endorsed the proposed agreement.

Thus, at my request, the council placed on the agenda a public discussion of the council’s airport positions for July 14, 2015. On July 11 I sent emails to multiple members of SBN and asked what questions they wanted answered on the 14th. Again, I provided links to all the then-available documents. Ironically, I note now that I couldn’t find, and asked SBN to give me, an email address for the woman today apparently speaking for SBN. They answered that they’d forward my email to her.

In addition to discussion of the negotiations on July 14, a public, joint meeting of the City Council and the Airport Authority was called for July 15, 2015. This time I used the bully-pulpit of a seat on the council to urge citizens to attend. I also sent another series of letters to various print and on-line editors urging public attendance.

For this session, however, there were no new documents, as the city was informed the Airport Authority had yet another proposal to make. But I was the first to propose, and who pushed publicly and privately, for that session to be video-taped, later accessible on the city’s cable channel and web site.

That meeting was well attended, including everyone I know as a member of SBN. As we ultimately saw, the airport’s new proposal was a shorter version of that seen previously, and copies of all the documents went to everyone who attended. I asked questions and addressed issues SBN had asked about in the previous days.

That which today is called the “Conceptual Term Sheet,” is an even shorter version of what was proposed July 15th. Wannabe candidates and the reflexively belligerent have made much of council’s “closed sessions,” routinely charging that major changes and dire promises were made through the secretive process. But as most current council members have said repeatedly, and the record proves, most of those sessions actually went to clarifying definitions, efforts to delete unnecessary legalese, and crafting language to accomplish city goals without triggering FAA objections.

Go ahead and read the first iteration, then the latest version side by side. Save for the surprise proposal about who will inspect terminal construction, you’ll see changes made after closed sessions were either innocuous, or were more and deeper cuts to the Airport Authority’s demands.

Greatly simplifying the terms was the airport’s decision to sell about 60 acres of land next to the proposed site for a new terminal. While there are several negatives for the city in that decision, it’s irrefutable it eliminated the need for many negotiations with the Airport, and even more pages of the proposal went into the shredder.

Virtually everything found in today’s version of the “Conceptual Term Sheet” has been in the public’s hands at least since July, 2015.

Virtually everything found in today’s version of the “Conceptual Term Sheet” has been in the public’s hands at least since July, 2015. And in a great many cases, I personally put those in the hands of activists and concerned citizens, including SBN’s members.

Yet an SBN member is now “gravely disappointed” that SBN was not given still more copies of documents for the Nov. 16 meeting – you know, other than the paperwork available to everyone before any meeting – agendas, reports and memos released where every agenda is found, including the City Clerk’s office, all of the city’s libraries, and on-line.

When that November discussion of the “Term Sheet” was scheduled, and if SBN had been watching, members would have seen me specifically ask City staff to beat the legal time limits for releasing that material for the Nov. 16 meeting. I was assured that, as quickly as they could type a clean version of the final document, and subtract everything rendered moot by the property sale, it would be released.

Not everyone, of course, has received the documents and information unsolicited over a two year period, delivered personally via email to their homes, or those of their neighbors, along with personal invitations to PLEASE attend meetings. To be honest, that special treatment was extended by me only to some longtime activists, and SBNers.

So, again, the author of the letter is wrong, as is any other citizen claiming or implying information was withheld. Not everyone, of course, has received the documents and information unsolicited over a two year period, delivered personally via email to their homes, or those of their neighbors, along with personal invitations to PLEASE attend meetings. To be honest, that special treatment was extended by me only to some longtime activists, and SBNers. And yet the letter’s author complains she is “gravely disappointed,” once again demonstrating the council member’s paraphrase, “No well-documented, years-long pattern of repeated attempts at outreach shall go unpunished.”

I’ve been warned refuting SBN instantly kills any chance at reelection, like pruning a favored developer’s project, or failing to leap as high as an employee association might demand. (I hadn’t even realized SBN made endorsements until, while researching this response, I found endorsements made in 2013.) I’ve been given the same warning about daring to call out the trash spewed by some of Burbank’s most infamous and least credible camera-hogs at public comment periods, our local versions of Donald Trump – cantankerous bullies, but lacking the record of business acumen.

But I believe I’m giving people exactly what they elected me to provide. There cannot be one definition of “the truth” for developers and business people, and a more convenient, forgiving definition for citizens, gadflies and activists. We can’t stomp and fume when a controversial project’s supporter twists the truth to serve their purpose, yet coyly avert our eyes and pretend not to notice when a project opponent lets rip with useful falsehoods. Everyone has to be held to the same standard.

On the last day of my term I’ll worry about reelection exactly as much as I did on the first day; Not at all. I believe our city, its residents and every last business will be better off if we’re all accountable to the same standards of truth. With the facts established, then it’s up to every opponent and proponent, developers, council members, neighbors, business people, staff and every other sub-group to settle on reasonable compromises among ourselves and one another to move forward.

We’ll never accomplish complete agreement. But we can’t even move on to work for compromise and consensus unless and until we all first agree to stick to the truth.

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