First published in the March 26 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
More than two years after pivoting to virtual meetings in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Burbank City Council appears poised to return to in-person sessions starting in May.
The phased approach, which city administrative analyst Viviana Garzon announced during last week’s council meeting, follows plummeting COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Los Angeles County, where roughly 75% of residents are fully vaccinated against the disease. City officials plan to allow the full City Council to return to City Hall starting April 18 — currently, only the mayor and a handful of staff members are present during meetings — with the public able to attend starting May 3.
City board, commission and committee meetings would also resume in person after May 3, according to a staff report submitted to the council.
“There’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” Mayor Jess Talamantes said last week. “It’s nearby, hopefully.”
Some unknowns remain, including how public comments will be handled upon the council’s return to the chambers. Prior to the pandemic, community members could speak after any agenda item in addition to addressing the council on other subjects. But the move to phoned-in comments put a technical strain on the process, prompting the city to concentrate public comment to the beginning of meetings only. City staff members are expected to make their recommendations regarding the future of public comment at the April 12 City Council meeting, according to the staff report.
Potential COVID-19 surges — and resulting restrictions — could also modify the council’s ability to meet in person. Council members held an in-person meeting in July 2021 as the pandemic appeared to recede, but almost immediately returned to the virtual format after county officials, noticing that yet another wave was starting, tightened the health order.
An average of roughly a dozen Burbank residents test positive for COVID-19 per day according to a Burbank Leader analysis of L.A. County public health department data, not including those who take at-home tests but don’t report the results to the county. Nearly 50 residents have died from the disease since the beginning of the year.
“The three-phase transition will allow a gradual return to public meetings and the opportunity for both council and staff to evaluate each phase,” city officials said in the staff report.“The pandemic had a deep, frightening impact in our everyday lives and, after two years, we are pleased we can transition to a place where we can meet in person once again.”