June 30, 1994 - From the June, 1994 issue

Might the City of Burbank Have the Answers for Planning in the 90’s?

The Planning Report presents an interview with Burbank's Chief Assistant to the Community Development Director, Rick Pruetz. Having recently completed efforts to streamline the city's development processes, Burbank has been touted as a model example of small city planning. As other cities in Southern California, including Los Angeles, struggle with development reform and a lingering recession, the Burbank model provides an excellent review of issues and opportunities confronting planningg and development in Southern California. 

Share with our readers Burbank Planning Division's mission. What's instructing your selection of priorities; what are the goals and objectives that the City Council has set out for your Department? 

Since 1990, the overriding mission has been economic development. We got more of a wake-up call than most communities when we lost 12-15,000 jobs between 1990-l 992 with the departure of Lockheed and related aerospace industries. In a sense, almost everything we do is related to job development and retention. 

And to that end, we really took advantage of the long-range planning efforts that we've been doing throughout the 1980's, including the Media District's Specific Plan which was a long and agonizing process. It took us six years to prepare the Media District Plan. The whole idea was to allow the property owners, particularly the studios, to know that they had an opportunity to grow in the Media District, and also let the surrounding neighborhoods know that the studio growth was not going to overwhelm their neighborhoods. 

The plan was adopted in 1991, and I think the benefits paid off in the long run, because within a year there was a Master Plan for the Disney Studio property of 2 million square feet and a couple of large Warner Bros. buildings that were approved with relatively little opposition. That is just one instance in which the City of Burbank realized that the long range planning can serve a very valid economic development function. 

What are the planning lessons Burbank might share with other cities in the basin, many of which currently are going through an economic and real estate recession? 

I don't think there's any one solution, but probably a combination of a lot of things. I already mentioned that long-range planning can be an untapped asset in terms of providing a good base for economic development, because if you aren't fighting with your neighborhoods, obviously you can have a much more business friendly altitude. 

We have also gone out of our way to show the business community that we really want to retain and expand our job base. We have gone ahead with our own zone text amendments and in-house EIR's to pave the way for development that might occur. 

For example, the city wanted to make a 110-acre parcel vacated by Lockheed more desirable for development by reducing the entitlement processing time. So, the city did not wait for a development application, but rather initiated a general plan/zoning code amendment supported by an EIR prepared by the Planning Division Staff. After the amendments are adopted and the EIR certified, a development proposal for this site which is consistent with these new plans and codes could conceivably be approved in a month or two rather than the nearly year-long process typically associated with projects requiring EIRs. 

Also, a lot of it has to do with attitude on the part of planning staff. There is a very strong message that came down from the City Council and City Manager to the people who work the counter. The message is that we need to find solutions, not just say "no". The staff of a lot of divisions and departments have taken on a new attitude: if something is against the code, well maybe it's time we change the code. 

We’ve gone through a lot of code changes in the last four years to make sure that our planning makes sense, and if it doesn't make sense, we try to change it. 

What are the other traditional planning tools that you utilized in pursuit of jobs and economic development? 

Like a lot of other communities, we have tried to streamline our approval process. We had a pre-plan check development review process which, until two years ago, was discretionary in that anyone could appeal a development review decision based on general compatibility issues. We went through a long process of gearing up to change that law. First, we instituted fees for all of our public services. For example, we now have a transportation fee, a fee for police, fire, libraries and parks. We also changed our codes so that they are as clear as possible, and then made the development review process completely administrative and ministerial. 

The development review process now only checks plans for code compliance, and for that reason it’s not subject to CEQA. We can get people through the development review process in less than 30 days. That's not just good for the city, but good for the developer also. Due to these streamlining changes, developers now know up front how much they are going to pay in fees and how long the approval process will take. 

What are the community planning and related issues that a city and interested stakeholders should anticipate and face when dealing with streamlining recommendations?

You have to assure yourself and assure the community that you're actually reviewing all of the things that used to be done during the discretionary process. In other words, things that were done on a case-by-case basis, you have to anticipate. That's obviously an ideal rather than something you necessarily hit all the time, but that's what we try to do, rather than having to proceed on a case-by­case basis. 

What has been the reaction of the residential community, homeowners, to the City's streamlining reforms? 

I think it's been generally positive. A few things have come up where you realize the code has not covered all the bases, for example, we had an auto repair mini-mall proposal. Frankly, what we had to do in that instance, was simply say “stop”, we have to change the code, which we did, and went on. So I think that some fears about limiting discretion and losing control of the process, are not quite that dire. 

We also took another look at our zoning codes to make sure that we weren't relying on the discretionary process to fill in the gaps. Although we could still do more, we took a lot of the ambiguity out of it. 

On a related subject, is it possible, does the City encourage through its codes, mixed-use development in Burbank? 


For many years, we have allowed residential uses above commercial through the CUP process, but very few developers have taken advantage of that. We do have a planned development process which essentially allows for the writing of various zoning requirements and land uses on a case­by-case basis, and that's the vehicle we've used most often for mixed-use development. 

We have a project right in downtown Burbank that has 133 units of senior residential above commercial, that's frankly been so successful, it will probably become the prototype for some of the planning we are now doing in downtown and in other parts of the city. 

You have an Historic Preservation ordinance coming forward to the City Council this month. Can you share with us its goals and what impact it might have? 

This ordinance has been in the works for a couple of years. The main concern on the part of the property owners was: "Is my building going to be listed or nominated without my consent?" We now have an ordinance that all of the various interest groups have bought off on. I think its main feature is that it has many opportunities for owner consent along the way. The ordinance will not subject a property to any historic preservation restrictions unless the property owner agrees to it. 

It's a pretty standard ordinance in that once a property owner has consented to a designation and it has been designated, demolition and major alterations are subject to the landmark commission's review. If the Commission does not approve the demolition or alteration, environmental review is done and the City Council decides whether or not to permit it. 

Will this impact the studio expansion efforts for historic overlay zones? Have you dealt with that or is it a state issue? 

It's not going to affect Disney's Master Plan because they did their own historic designation as part of their Master Plan. Again, if the other studios want to get involved in this process it's available to them. But they would not be subject to any restrictions without their consent. 

There are at least two inter-governmental policy issues that affect planning in Burbank. One relates to decision-making and is raised by SCAG's Regional Comprehensive Plan; the other is more specific, transportation which arises in deliberations by our Air District and SCAG's Regional Transportation Improvement Plan. Could you share with us how Burbank is approaching these regional governance and policy areas? 

We are in the midst of changing our transportation element. We want to take advantage of some of the congestion management deficiency credits that are going to be available for development that occurs within a quarter mile of a rail station. That's going to mean substantial changes to our land use element as well as our transportation element. 

Staff will be proposing to change some of the areas that are currently zoned for industry to allow more mixed-use development. This is keeping with a major goal of the transportation element to reduce vehicle trips while increasing mobility.

Burbank is blessed with an ideal rail system going right through the city: a Valley Line, and Coast Line of the former Southern California Pacific Railroad routes converge in Downtown Burbank. Perhaps that's what makes us the second biggest destination in the whole Metro Link system. Also, we've got another spur that's lesser known, called the Chandler Right-of-Way, which will connect Downtown Burbank with the Red Line terminus in North Hollywood. 

We've received a grant to create a bike path and possibly a transit way on the Chandler Right-of-Way. We're also making a tremendous amount of improvements in our regional inter-model transportation center in the downtown, the whole idea is to connect that transportation center which happens to be just to the west of the freeway from our downtown and improving access to that center for the media district and airport area to the west and downtown Burbank, which is just across the I-5 Freeway to the east. 

And what about Burbank's in­volvement with SCAG's Regional Comprehensive Plan, particularly the Regional Mobility Element? 

We have been heavily involved in the Arroyo-Verdugo subgroup which is a five city coalition including Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena, South Pasadena and La Canada/Flintridge. In terms of the Regional Mobility Element, we're placing greater emphasis on rail, and getting traffic off Burbank's local streets and onto the freeway system, through regional initiatives such as closing the missing gaps in the I-5/134 interchange and creating a new 1-5 interchange to improve access to the airport area. 

Burbank is promoting the light rail line which would extend from downtown Los Angeles to the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport. Burbank is part of a coalition which recently funded studies to change the currently proposed light rail route alignment so that it directly accesses the relocated airport terminal. 

What do people least understand about the planning function in Burbank? Given that your department provides planning services to neighborhoods, commercial and the industrial areas, what are residents and businesses least appreciative of? 

A resident usually only looks at the aspect of a land use problem that happens to be irking him or her at the given moment and doesn't realize that somehow other issues are tied to it. That's why it’s very interesting once we get into citizens advisory committees like the one that were formed for two of the long-range planning projects we are doing now. One is in Magnolia Park which is essentially commercial revitalization project in the midst of a single family neighborhood; another citizens group has been formed to assist with our Burbank Center Plan. 

I believe that these two citizen advisory groups will perform much the same as the citizen groups that assisted us with our Media District and Rancho planning efforts. In other words, these residents and business owners will look at the whole array of issues and through a process of give and take, arrive at a compromise that makes sense.


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