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City Commits to Protections for the Rancho

The Rancho Neighborhood, where Burbank meets Glendale and Griffith Park, is the center of equestrian activities in the city. It’s where Burbank residents take to the pavement on horseback on their way to facilities at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center or to access trails in the park.
In the past few years, plans for housing developments have cropped up near key equestrian sites, prompting some in Burbank’s horse-loving community to raise alarms over what one equestrian called “an existential threat” to their way of life.
Now the city hopes to make good on promises to protect the equestrian lifestyle. On March 28, the City Council voted to begin the development of a Rancho Specific Plan, a plan which would reassess the area’s zoning, street infrastructure, introduce design standards for the neighborhood and make way for new amenities like a horse trail that would run along Riverside Drive.
Residents hope to receive zoning that would protect the neighborhood from further development, though City Planning Director Patrick Prescott told the Leader that the city cannot do much to combat the limitations placed upon it by Senate Bill 35, which allows developers quick approval from the city so long as their project has affordable housing units.
“The state has taken away local control, both with SB 35, as well as other laws. And if we change something in one neighborhood, whether it’s the rancho or any neighborhood, that has an effect of reducing the capacity for residential. We can have no net loss, so it has to be made up somewhere else,” Prescott told the Leader in a recent interview.
Discourse in the Rancho started when a housing proposal in the neighborhood landed on the Council’s agenda back in 2022. There was a plan to replace the Pickwick Bowl with almost 100 townhomes located right at the entrance of the equestrian center.
The city denied the proposal, which was seeking streamlined ministerial review under SB 35. Burbank was quickly swamped in litigation from the developer and housing advocates, and ultimately settled. As part of the settlement, the Pickwick development got its SB 35 approval. On top of that, the settlement required the city to consider a Rancho Specific Plan and the developer will have to supply an equestrian trail around his property.

Another planned apartment complex will begin construction at the scenic trailhead of Griffith Park — the historic Burbank Equestrian Bridge — which is commonly accessed on horseback from narrow Mariposa Drive. Equestrians say that an uptick in traffic on the street will be too much to safely access the park ingress.
“We could break new ground by advancing this plan to preserve the historic cultural landscape of the Rancho,” said former Burbank Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy in a statement to the Council. “Council is empowered to step in where the developer was not required to,” Gabel-Luddy said, encouraging the Council to initiate traffic studies to address the needs for traffic calming prior to the opening of Pickwick.
Many agreed that Rancho residents should be given a role as consultants to aid planners in understanding the nuances of urban horse-keeping and equestrian resources in the area.
“This country was built on the backs of horses, and here in the Rancho, we remind the world of that every day,” said 27-year Rancho resident and equestrian Jay Geisenheimer during the City Council meeting on March 28.
Geisenheimer is the mind behind a push to build a new trail that would extend it around the Pickwick property from Main Street to Mariposa Street along Riverside Drive, connecting riders to popular horse facilities in Griffith Park.
“This trail elevates the Rancho. … It provides safe passage for the horses to the Mariposa Bridge. It is a gift to the Rancho Equestrians,” said Geisenheimer.
After discussion, City Council moved to begin work on the Rancho Specific Plan and take steps toward the design of a new equestrian path in the area. Preparation of the Rancho Specific Plan is estimated to cost $1,550,000 for the first year with a subsequent recurring annual cost of $150,000 for staffing. Its estimated completion is 24 to 40 months. While there are no formal estimates of the cost of a new equestrian trail, city officials did quote a cost “greater than seven figures,” said City Attorney Joe McDougall.

First published in the April 8 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

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