HomeCity NewsBurbank Turns the Page After Turbulent 2023

Burbank Turns the Page After Turbulent 2023

Big things happened in 2023: the good, the bad and the ugly.

The year was no doubt one marked by conflict. War raged on abroad, while ideological debates captured and divided attention at home. But for those in Burbank who hoped to see positive change after a perilous start to the ’20s, 2023 was a fresh start.

Recent years in Burbank were defined by unprecedented collective struggles. The COVID-19 pandemic left residents fighting for their health, some facing great loss, others financial ruin, while spiraling political and racial tensions divided the world.

In his recent inaugural speech, Mayor Nick Schultz proclaimed that Burbank is back on its feet after those challenging years and is now back at square one.

“We may have built back from the pandemic, but we are simply right back where we were before the pandemic started,” he said. “That’s not good enough for the people of this region.”

Burbank made that clear in 2023. It was a year of strikes, protests, legal battles and impassioned debates. Nurses, writers, actors, students, teachers, tenants, business owners and cultural and religious groups all fought for their spot in the collective spotlight. It was a year where many long-sidelined issues were finally placed back on the burner, and hopes for change mounted momentum in this new beginning.


Burbank workers picketed the streets for much of the year, protesting for higher wages, better benefits and working conditions. Local writers, actors, nurses and frontline health care workers, teachers and grocery store workers all fought and won better contracts in 2023.

Perhaps the two most widely followed strikes nationally this year — the Writers Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild strikes — took place right here in Burbank, outside Walt Disney Studios and Warner Bros. headquarters.

Writers and actors protested for five long months, illustrating the deep divide that fueled the labor dispute and ground Hollywood production to a halt.

Burbank is home to hundreds of media professionals who deliberately waived their paychecks as striking continued. Mayor Konstantine Anthony — a member of SAG-AFTRA himself since 2007 — told the Leader that the local economy deeply felt the economic ripples of the feud.

“When I talk to people who run restaurants, people who own dry cleaners, people who are working in automobile shops — all of the secondary economies — they’re losing customers. Their regulars, who are the employees of the big media companies, aren’t coming to work, so they’re not spending any money,” Anthony said.

Finally, the two strikes ended when each union came to successive agreements with their studio employers.

The resolution was a sigh of relief for many local businesses who saw declining sales as the months dragged along. Karen Ross, owner of the 60-year Burbank diner Tallyrand, told the Leader that she and her fellow business owners were relieved to hear the strike would be concluding.

“We’re glad to hear the strike is over as many businesses are. We often see lots of studio drivers in the early morning for breakfast, and throughout the day we see production staff,” Ross said, noting a decline in volume since the strike’s onset.

“It’s been a tough climate for businesses for the past three years. We’re very happy it’s over.”

The striking Writers Guild of America pickets outside the Walt Disney Studios headquarters in Burbank in May. — Photo by Gavin J. Quinton / Burbank Leader


After a flood of mass evictions ousted dozens of Burbank tenants following the end of a pandemic-era eviction moratorium in March, tenants organized to fight for renter protections in the city. Ultimately, they secured a victory in the form of the Burbank Tenant Protection Urgency Ordinance, which was approved by the City Council in September.

Following the first round of evictions, months of heated debate between tenants and landlords dominated the Council’s attention. Tenants, with the aid of the Burbank Tenants Union, spoke out at almost every City Council meeting and held a rally ahead of a study session.

Many residents shared stories of nightmare evictions, most of which were levied through what the Council called a loophole in state rent control law, which made it possible for landlords to cite “intent to renovate” on eviction notices without having legitimate plans to renovate the property.

In one case, a studio apartment at a 40-unit building that justified sweeping evictions was relisted for $1,995 online. The apartment had rented at $1,000 just the previous year.

A Burbank Leader investigation revealed that at least three landlords implicated by tenants in the mass evictions had not applied for any necessary permits to conduct renovations as of May 1, 2023.

One tenant, 80-year-old Barbara Beckley — a founding member of the Colony Theatre — was served an eviction notice after 23 years in her one-bedroom apartment.

Shortly after receiving the notice, Beckley suffered a serious fall, and was in recovery when the landlord demanded she move out. Still, Beckley arranged to leave Burbank for good, and now shares her living space with another renter. Her rent increased significantly, a challenge for someone on a fixed income, she said.

“I’m draining my savings to zero just to pay for in-home care,” she told the Leader. “I’m really attached to Burbank, and I don’t want to leave, but it’s just too expensive.”

The Council received criticism from tenants and landlords alike and vowed to find a solution.

In September, the Council approved the ordinance, which required landlords to obtain permits for demolition or substantial remodels and provide three months of relocation assistance to tenants impacted by a no-fault, just cause eviction on grounds of substantial remodels.

Like many others this April, Barbara Beckley — an 80-year-old Burbank resident and longtime volunteer with the city’s Cultural Arts Commission — was evicted and had to leave the city. — Photo by Gavin J. Quinton / Burbank Leader


Throughout 2023, Burbank was steeped in debate over election formats after the city received a letter threatening litigation from local voter Nick Gutierrez on the basis that the city maintains at-large elections, which allegedly dilute the Latino vote.

The letter maintained that Burbank is in violation of the California Voting Rights Act and included a demand that the city change its voting system to a by-district approach.

Because the city elects Council members via an at-large method, officials admitted that Burbank is technically in violation of state voting rights law. On recommendation from City Attorney Joe McDougall, the Council thought it had little choice but to jumpstart the districting process to protect the city from litigation.

Council voted unanimously in January to issue a resolution of intent to change to by-district elections, triggering a 90-day “safe harbor” period to forestall litigation.

The city had staved off litigation for a full year as they investigated the districting process, spending more than $100,000 on legal advice and demography services.

That’s why many residents were shocked when, in October, the Council voted to scrap those efforts and instead directed staff to investigate a different voting method — cumulative voting, an electoral system in which voters are given the same number of votes as there are candidates on a ballot, distributing the votes in any combination they please.

The shift to cumulative voting essentially invited Gutierrez to move forward with his lawsuit, as state law explicitly empowers minority voters to sue a city that does not adhere to district-based voting.

Last month, McDougall requested an appropriation of $1 million for legal fees to defend against Burbank’s impending CVRA lawsuit.


Burbank, along with the rest of the region, rang in 2023 with significant relief from extreme drought conditions as the result of what the National Weather Service called a “seemingly never-ending parade” of powerful atmospheric storms.

This year, Los Angeles County reported its 11th wettest year dating back 129 years, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System, with a 9.5-inch increase in rain compared to “normal” years.

As of Dec. 19, 0% of Los Angeles County experienced moderate levels of drought or even abnormal dryness, compared to the end of 2022, when Burbank and neighboring cities were under severe drought conditions.

In 2022, reservoir levels had reached catastrophic lows, but January and February storms more than doubled key water reserves like Lake Oroville, which sat at 27% of its capacity. That same reservoir now sits at almost 91% full.

State groundwater supplies currently sit at 59%, about twice last year’s level, and are benefitting from a replenished snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Slow melting of snowpack creates runoff that feeds the water supply throughout the year. In March, snowpack in the mountain range was measured at 286% of normal levels — smashing all-time records.

Still, experts warn that this relief wouldn’t last and say that conservation efforts will be vital in keeping Burbank’s supply from the Colorado river stable. Failing to do so could mean that supply could reach “dead pool” in the coming years, meaning levels would be too low to feed the flow of the river.


The stage was set at Memorial Field in Burbank on Oct. 27.

A Pacific League title would be decided at the end of the night as the Burroughs High and Burbank High football teams took part in the annual Big Game.

For the Bears, it was an opportunity not only to avenge last season’s close loss, but also for them to win their first outright league crown since 2015.

The Bulldogs, on the other hand, hoped to spoil their rival’s endeavors.

Burroughs jumped on Burbank early, and often, to win 48-13 and be crowned Pacific League champions.

“It means a lot,” third-year Burroughs coach Jesse Craven said of the Bears’ first league title of his tenure. “These guys bought in and they put in the work, especially the senior class.”

It was an undefeated league run for the Bears, their first since 2015.

“I’m grateful and I’m happy,” Burroughs quarterback Chris Kulikov said. “All the work and everything that goes unseen has really come to fruition with this team.”


The Burbank community cried out for increased campus safety following a series of sexual assaults resulting in three student victims at Burbank High School in March.

A suspect was arrested in connection with the assaults, a 22-year-old Glendale man, who police said easily gained access to the school through an unlocked door before assaulting the three students.

During the investigation, detectives determined the suspect gained access to the campus through an unlocked entryway in the student parking lot.

One victim, a 14-year-old girl, told officers she was approached by a man she did not know while in a bathroom on campus.

The man allegedly sexually assaulted the victim, a short struggle ensued, and the suspect fled the bathroom before being apprehended by school employees, the Burbank Police Department said. Investigators spoke with two additional female students, a 14-year-old and a 17-year-old, who said they were also inappropriately touched by the suspect.

During a heated meeting about campus safety, the Burbank Unified School District Board heard moving testimony from about a dozen former and current students and parents who gave testimonials of previous abuse — including sexual assaults — that allegedly took place in BUSD schools, prompting Board President Steve Ferguson to call for an “audit of all sexual assault claims from the past three years.”

At the emotional meeting in March, accusers and their supporters confronted the Board, demanding action and accountability for what they called a lack of action, with one speaker also accusing BUSD of “neglect of Title IX procedure.” The Board faced pressure to take immediate action to address the issue and ensure the safety of students.

During a protest attended by dozens of John Burroughs High School students, one girl told the Leader that a Burroughs assistant principal did not follow administrative policy in responding to her complaint of sexual assault. The story was later corroborated by her mother.

“I reported my sexual assault with my [police] case number to [an administrator] here … and she ignored Title IX, she didn’t reach out to the police, and she said she forgot it ever happened,” the alleged victim said in a public TikTok in December.

Title IX is a federal law that provides protection against sexual discrimination, including sexual violence and harassment, in education programs that receive federal funding.

Then-Superintendent Matt Hill assured Burbank residents that each complaint is investigated per legal requirements. He added that the justice system can sometimes feel “cold and detached.”

“We have to look at the processes that we have in place to make sure they are trauma informed,” Hill said. “How do we make sure that our process doesn’t feel as cold and doesn’t feel so responsive?”

“It is clear that has to change,” Hill added.


Fentanyl overdose deaths in Burbank are doubling yearly, a Burbank Leader investigation found in July.

Dr. Angelique Campen, an emergency physician and fentanyl expert, said that fentanyl-related overdoses are a daily occurrence in the emergency room at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank.

“In my eight-hour shift yesterday, there were two patients that needed Narcan to reverse the effects of fentanyl. It happens daily,” Campen told the Leader.

Data rates for fentanyl overdose deaths gathered by the CDPH are staggering.

The data was tallied by ZIP code per 100,000 residents in 2021. This means figures are lower than they appear, as most ZIP codes have populations lower than 100,000.

In the 91501 ZIP code of Burbank, there were 5.41 fentanyl overdose deaths per 100,000 residents, while the 91504 ZIP code had a rate of 21.95 deaths per 100,000. In the 91505, the rate was 9.63, and the 91506 ZIP code had a rate of 16.93. The 91502 had no fentanyl related deaths in 2021. See the data map on page 6 for more details.

CDPH did not record fentanyl deaths in 2017 or 2018.

Locally, the growth of fentanyl-related deaths is in line with national trends, showing overdoses doubled every year since 2019. Those are not expected to slow anytime soon, according to the CDPH.

Fentanyl is manufactured in a variety of bright colors, shapes and sizes, and has been made to look like prescription pills, according to police. Even a tiny dose of fentanyl, no larger than a grain of sand, is often lethal. When illicit drug makers who have no pharmaceutical training combine fentanyl with other drugs and fillers, the results can be deadly.


BUSD disclosed in June a serious accounting error to the Board of Education in a closed session meeting ahead of the surprise decision to place Superintendent Hill on administrative leave.

The error: Nearly $11 million in funds — $8.7 million of which was intended for district staff raises and vacation pay — were not counted in 2023’s budget balance. When the additional funds were accounted for, the budget balance increased to $36 million from $25 million.

“Throughout the year, we’ve been misstating our financial position by about $8.7 million for that one issue,” said Andrew Cantwell, assistant superintendent of administrative services.

Additional budgeting errors took place under Hill and Cantwell’s watch, wrongly categorizing more than $1 million in salary expenses.

The net effect is that the district ended the fiscal year with an unrestricted balance of $36 million. This greatly impacted policy decisions and contract negotiations with the Burbank Teachers Association. In April, BTA began picketing ahead of district meetings to advocate for a 9% sweeping raise, which the district claimed they could not afford at the time.

Shortly after the accounting error was discovered, BTA closed a contract which included 7% in raises for teachers. 

Hill was ultimately replaced by Superintendent John Paramo.

An audit by financial watchdog group, the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, recently found that there was no “nefarious intent” to blame for the $11 million budgeting error, said district staff in November.


For all of 2023, Burbank called Konstantine Anthony mayor. Praised for his lighthearted and compassionate approach to the job at the outset, Anthony also faced criticism for his politics and conduct. He faced recall pressure after being spanked in jest by a drag queen at a Santa Clarita political fundraiser in September.

Anthony passed the mayoral gavel to Nick Schultz during last week’s City Council reorganization. The Council also unanimously elected Councilwoman Nikki Perez to serve as vice mayor.

Elected to the Council in 2020, Schultz proudly promotes initiatives to support economic equity, address the lack of sufficient affordable housing and ensure environmental protections.

In his inaugural speech as mayor, Schultz celebrated the city’s victories — building back after the pandemic and balancing the budget — and laid out bold plans for Burbank’s future, with an emphasis on creating a more equitable economy. Schultz also highlighted the city’s ambitious housing inventory goals, tenant protections, homelessness services and environmental stewardship.

Schultz told the Leader that many people who experience economic hardship go unnoticed, and that a significant motivator for his tenure as mayor is shining a light on those issues and seeking solutions.

“This responsibility is not one I take lightly,” said Schultz. “My commitment is to collaborative leadership, engaging with our dedicated city staff, and connecting with the heart of our city — the community. Together, we stand on the cusp of a new era for Burbank, one marked by shared prosperity, innovative progress, and a steadfast dedication to the well-being of every resident.”

He continued: “This is not the time to rest on our laurels. Now is the time to be innovative, to be exciting, to do things that other communities around California have not yet done. Now is the time to be bold.”

First published in the December 30 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

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