Burbank will not be considering the feasibility of creating its own public health department anytime soon, City Council members decided this week.
The panel voted Tuesday to push the discussion of the feasibility study back six months, with some members believing that the $25,000 that city officials estimated the study would cost could be better spent elsewhere — particularly since it was highly unlikely Burbank could break away from the county health department before the pandemic ended.
In June, then-Councilman Tim Murphy asked city staff members to bring back a potential feasibility study on creating a public health officer role, citing confusion some residents were having about the hierarchy of health departments.
Since then, some cities in Los Angeles County, including Glendale, Santa Clarita and Beverly Hills, have also expressed interest in creating their own health departments, primarily citing a desire to have more local control after county orders prompted closures of several types of businesses to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
A statewide health order has since superseded those provisions; cities without their own health departments are subject to the orders of their respective counties, which must be no less restrictive than orders from state officials. Municipal health departments must also conform to state requirements.
In L.A. County, only two out of 88 cities — Long Beach and Pasadena — have municipal health departments. Both were formed before the L.A. County Department of Public Health was created. Only one other city in the state, Berkeley, has a standalone public health department.
Burbank’s emergency management coordinator, Eric Baumgardner, warned that creating a municipal health officer position and the corresponding department would likely be costly; the Pasadena Public Health Department has an annual budget of more than $15 million and nearly 100 employees.
“If this was something that was designed as a short-term goal for the COVID pandemic,” he added, “it’s not something that I see happening in that timeframe.”
It is unclear how much Burbank pays the county for health services. Baumgardner explained that the city currently pays the county to oversee certain responsibilities via a memorandum of understanding.
Because of this, a local public health department would also have to oversee issues including disease prevention, flu programs, nutrition, air and water quality, and food facility safety.
Mayor Bob Frutos and Vice Mayor Jess Talamantes expressed interest in approving a feasibility report. Frutos registered discomfort with how much a health department would cost the city, but suggested that Burbank could partner with other cities, the way it does with members of the Hollywood Burbank Airport Authority.
Talamantes added that the information from the study might be useful for a future City Council, motioning to direct staff to pursue it.
“It’s one of those things that you don’t know what you don’t know,” he said. City Manager Justin Hess also explained that the money for the study could be taken from the city’s General Fund.
Councilmen Konstantine Anthony and Nick Schultz were hesitant, however, saying that the $25,000 the study was estimated to cost could be used for other programs during the pandemic.
“I’m really torn on this one,” Schultz said. “I know that $25,000 may not seem like a lot of money in the grand scheme of our budget, but with all the other things we have talked about doing, there are other ways we could spend that money right now.”
After some back-and-forth with Anthony on the issue, Talamantes withdrew his motion, with the other council member moving to bring back the subject in six months.
Anthony also requested that city staff members include any completed studies done by other cities considering creating their own public health departments, a suggestion made by Councilwoman Sharon Springer.
Despite his earlier stance, Talamantes voted in favor of the motion “in the spirit of cooperation,” making its approval unanimous.
NEW AGENDA ITEMS REQUESTED
Anthony and Schultz, who took their seats on the council in December, also requested that several items be added to the agenda.
Most of those requests were from Anthony, who asked for an update on the city’s parking enforcement, information regarding fiber optic services from Burbank Water and Power, and a report on how the utility handles shutoffs.
Schultz also asked city staff members to look into the possibility of an emergency ordinance that would cap third-party delivery services’ fees on local restaurants. Some cities have pursued such a measure to help eateries retain profits when using delivery apps such as Grubhub and Uber Eats.