Burton touts experience, resident advocacy
by Mark McDermott
Mark Burton has an analogy he likes to use when attempting to convey why Manhattan Beach voters should elect him to City Council. Let’s say you’ve got to fly to New York, Burton says, and you know that between here and there are several severe weather storm systems troubling the skies, as well as reports of birds striking airplanes coast-to-coast. You get to elect who your pilot will be.
“So there is this fellow who has been a brain surgeon for 30 years, but he wants to be a pilot now. The other guy, 35 years, he’s been a pilot. He’s had successful landings in some of the worst of storms. In fact, it’s Sully,” Burton said in an interview, referencing the famously experienced pilot who calmly landed a disabled jet on the Hudson River and saved 155 lives. “Who are you going to elect as your pilot? Sully? I am Sully.”
“I love the candidates,” he said of the field of six others running for two spots on the council in the March 5 municipal election. “But you’ve got to be trained as a public servant…I don’t care how smart you are: experience is the best teacher.”
Burton isn’t just referencing the fact that he previously served on the City Council, but that he spent 32 years working on municipal issues of all sorts as an attorney for the City of Los Angeles. He began his career as a prosecutor, with a special focus on quality of life crimes and spousal battery cases. Subsequently, he worked as a trial lawyer for the city, defending police officers and firefighters, primarily, eventually becoming lead general counsel for the fire department and later the police department, roles which included providing policy-level advice. He served as general counsel for LAPD during a transformational time, just after the Ramparts scandal in the late 1990s.
“I was the lead negotiator for the consent decree that reformed LAPD,” Burton said. “That was three months of negotiation, 14 hours a day, with me, the chief of staff of the mayor’s office, the chief of police, council president, and several lawyers from the Department of Justice, sitting across the table. That was a very good learning experience.”
He capped off his career working six years at LAX on counterterrorism and security issues.
“What was great is when you are a prosecutor, it’s a righteous position in that you are supposed to make your decisions on the basis of justice,” Burton said. “What’s very similar is when you become a civil attorney, working for any city, you are supposed to make your decisions based on the best interests of the city and its residents. Not any particular individual in the city, not the mayor, not the chief of police, but in the best interest of the city. So it’s the same mindset. I was lucky. I’d go work somewhere four or five years…I was like a kid in a candy store.”
After retiring, he read in a local paper that a City Council position was opening. He ran for office and won, serving from 2013 to 2017.
“I’ve been a public servant doing all kinds of different jobs,” Burton said. “The very best job I ever had was being on the council serving residents. And that’s why I’m coming back and seeking a second term. I loved it. You put your whole heart and soul into it. Or at least I did.”
Burton particularly loved the less public side of serving on council, tending to smaller, less public, constituent issues — small things like responding to a resident complaint of excessive traffic in a cul de sac, discovering a sign that indicated it was a through street, and resolving the issue with a new sign.
“You can’t just turn to staff,” he said. “You have to follow through.”
Unsurprisingly, given his background, public safety was Burton’s priority as a councilperson and would be his top priority if elected again.
“Public safety is the cornerstone that makes this a great community — because we are safe,” Burton said. “From our quality of life to our schools, if we weren’t a safe community, people would not want to live here.”
His platform includes five public safety initiatives: hiring five more police officers for neighborhood patrol, making sure those officers get out of the car and do foot patrol, expanding the city’s license plate reader security camera program (which he initiated during his previous term), expanding its residential security camera registration program (which he also initiated), and assigning officers full time to the Manhattan Beach Middle School and Mira Costa High School, making sure patrol units regularly stop at every school.
“The new officers, he said, would be part of a Special Problems Unit.
“So you deploy them at night in the neighborhoods where crime has gone up, where you want to make sure you suppress crime,” he said. “You want to make sure the community gets some benefit…Another component is getting those police officers out of their cars and onto foot beats. The greatest deterrent is the black and white of a police officer walking around.”
Burton also prioritizes fiscal prudence, supporting the proposed Measure A hotel bed tax but earmarking the roughly $2 million in new revenue it would generate for the new police positions, fully funding the building of the new Scout House and senior community center (currently slated as a private-public partnership), and specifying that none of the new revenue be used for management staff salary or pension costs. He also proposes to pare back overall city staffing from its current 305 employs to 285 over a two year period, and mandating that City Hall is open five days a week.
Regarding the controversial issue of short-term rentals, Burton supports the same outright ban that he pushed to enact when he served previously. In fact, he believes his stance on that issue contributed to his election loss in 2017 — when an anonymously funded flyer attacked him and fellow incumbent Tony D’Errico. He said the $4 billion short-term rental industry involves itself in just such local election “smear campaigns.”
“What they do in each city is go after council members who are against short-term rentals,” he said. “I was targeted.”
His overall theme is that city government should first and foremost serve residents. Burton, who was born in Montreal, immigrated to Venice as a child, and then discovered Manhattan Beach while in law school at Loyola Marymount, said that the city’s calling card is that it is a place to raise children as well as to age.
“It’s a very different community than it was in the 60s and 70s,” he said. “It was very single, kind of a party community. Now it’s all about families. It’s gotten better and better, in my mind. Manhattan Beach is one of the best cities in the United States to live and raise your family, and then to successfully age. If you are going to retire, this is a great community to do it, because it’s walkable, it’s small, it’s got all kinds of program for seniors…It really is one of the best cities in the United States.”
His supporters praise his residents-first approach. Carol Perrin was president of the Downtown Residents Association when she worked with Burton on the development of the Downtown Specific Plan.
“He was always an advocate for residents, and he fought for his positions,” she said. “He was not susceptible to special interest groups, but instead always stood for the larger community.”
Julie Profet, the founder of Friends of Polliwog Park, said what impressed her most about Burton was that he truly listened to residents.
“He was approachable and just easy to engage and went out of his way to meet with all the neighbors, and he went out of his way to fight to preserve green space,” she said. “And I’ve seen him fight for residents not just near Polliwog but in other neighborhoods…Other council people, after residents speak, sometimes just seem to go right ahead and do what they want to do instead of recognizing what the residents are saying. Mark doesn’t do that. He says, ‘Wait. I am interested. The residents should decide this.’”