In March 2019, the Burbank City Council voted 4-1 to approve the Avion Project, a business park near the Hollywood Burbank Airport. Only Councilman Tim Murphy voted against it, concerned that the new hotel included in the project would worsen traffic in the area.
“I don’t know about you, but [if] you’re driving in your car, you’re sitting in the intersection for five or six lights, that’s not good,” Murphy said about the vote recently. The council member lost his bid for reelection this year, leaving the panel along with colleague Emily Gabel-Luddy, who decided not to run for reelection.
Thinking back to the same vote, Gabel-Luddy said she was “totally mystified” by Murphy’s standpoint, arguing that hotels don’t generate much travel.
But, as both said while reflecting on their time on the council, disagreements between members were always left behind.
“I didn’t take a sack on my back and fill it with grudges against council members who didn’t vote my way,” Gabel-Luddy added.
DIFFERENT STARTS, SAME COUNCIL
The former council member, who served on the panel from 2011 until this month and twice held the position of Burbank’s mayor, spent about a decade on the city’s Planning Board. After then-Burbank Mayor Anja Reinke announced she was not running for reelection, Gabel-Luddy decided to run, figuring she would continue her civic service in a greater capacity.
After she won the election, she added, she was surprised to see how detailed the city’s systems were. While some cities rely on county law enforcement and fire departments, Burbank is relatively independent.
“Burbank is a very complex small city, and it has responsibility for all these big-city services,” Gabel-Luddy said. The job “became very rich and rewarding and challenging, all at the same time.”
Murphy’s path to joining Gabel-Luddy on the City Council was different. After Mayor Will Rogers’ death due to cancer in 2018, Murphy — who had been Rogers’ campaign manager — was appointed by the other four members to serve the remainder of his term.
Murphy had served a full term on the council once before, from 1989-1993. But he described his experience during those years as “not great,” as the young attorney who ran for the panel out of concern about overdevelopment soon realized that he would be outvoted on nearly every matter having to do with construction.
The situation worsened, according to Murphy, after he and another council member voted to oppose a crucial component of a complicated land purchase deal, feeling that it disadvantaged Burbank. The developer sued, and the city paid $1.5 million in a settlement, leading to a rift between Murphy and his fellow council members.
“It was just awful,” he said. “There were times where I didn’t want to go into a meeting. … [I was] thinking, ‘I don’t need this in my life.’”
So when the city started looking for people to fill the council seat Rogers left behind, Murphy said, he was in little mood to apply. Even after he was persuaded to throw his hat in the ring, he openly admitted his reluctance, saying he had no plans on running for his seat in two years.
But once on the council, he found he enjoyed working with his fellow members. Unanimous votes were much more common, and arguments didn’t turn into personal attacks.
“In retrospect,” he said of the first council he served with, “the group I was working with were well-meaning, good, intelligent people. [But] things happened that could not be walked back after they happened.”
Gabel-Luddy said learning how to work well with a team was one of her proudest personal achievements as a council member, but she also pointed to some of the projects overseen during her terms.
Among them was a 2016 measure, advocated by a majority of the council, that permitted the replacement of a terminal at the airport and gave airport authority commissioners the ability to veto policy changes.
She also said she takes pride in the establishment of the Burbank Police Department’s Mental Health Evaluation Team, a county partnership launched in 2012, explaining that she sees addressing homelessness as one of Burbank’s greatest challenges.
“To this day, I think our officers are skilled … in recognizing the difference between an individual who’s being violent and an individual who’s in a mental health crisis,” Gabel-Luddy said. “And given the contemporary conversations around this, I’m very proud our department has taken an approach that is more human oriented than brute enforcement oriented.”
Murphy said he was particularly pleased with Burbank’s agreement with its workers to split the costs of their pensions. City officials have said the deal will save Burbank millions of dollars in the long run.
The former council members also admitted they wish they had taken slightly different paths on some decisions. Gabel-Luddy noted that she should have been more aggressive on the density and urban design aspects of the large Talaria Project.
Murphy said he was surprised to find himself writing the opposition to Measure RC, a rent regulation initiative placed on the ballot this year. Murphy, who is still working as an attorney, explained he is “neutral or somewhat friendly” toward rent control, but felt the measure was poorly written.
“I don’t know if I would have done it differently, but it probably didn’t help me in the election,” he said. “But … you have to make the right decision and not worry about how it comes out. You gotta do the right thing.”
That was an election in which Gabel-Luddy decided not to take part, a choice she said was prompted by the pandemic. After serving for nearly a decade on the council and another 10 years with the Planning Board, she said COVID-19 caused her and her husband, Bill, to reflect on what they wanted to do in the future.
She decided that remaining on the council would not be a part of that future. Gabel-Luddy will be teaching in the UCLA landscape architecture program, using Burbank’s Johnny Carson Park as a case study.
She and Murphy also encourage the new council members who have succeeded them to listen to their senior peers as well as to the community, saying that local politics function best when they’re nonpartisan. And, they added, disagreements shouldn’t be made personal.
“What I hope … is that everyone who serves today remembers that they’re just here as visitors and that their real task is to make the city great for those who are yet to be born,” Gabel-Luddy said.