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Perspective / Opinion

Nine Bad Things That Happened Here in 2012 That Could Bring Bad Fallout -- Or Be Fixed -- in 2013


VIDEO TELLS AMECO SOLAR'S STORY. AND CLICK HERE TO HEAR AMECO PRESIDENT PATRICK REDGATE EXPLAIN WHY SOLAR MAKES SUCH GOOD SENSE.

(Dec. 26, 2012) -- Below is our opinionated list of nine bad things that happened in Long Beach in 2012 that can bring bad fallout -- or be repaired to some extent -- in 2013. Our list is in no particular order. Of course we invite your comments and additions below.
Letting Council incumbent Dee Andrews skate to reelection without a ballot challenger. As a song from the 1960's began, "What does it take?" The incumbent fumbled the multi-million-dollar amenity filled Kroc Center (likely the biggest project in the history of Central LB) and has annually rubberstamped budgets that shrank LB police levels while residents of his district are disproportionately crime impacted.

People citywide are still shaking their heads in disbelief that not one South Wrigley or Central LB resident gave this incumbent a run for his money. This can be imperfectly remedied by having residents speak up, no flinching, as many did in opposing a proposed title loan firm at the South Wrigley Gateway that Councilman Andrews (to his credit) voted against. Democracy -- real people power -- can work.


A fishy 4th district Council election Incumbent Patrick O'Donnell announced he was running for state Assembly, then dropped out of that race to seek a third Council term via write-in (after Assembly incumbent Bonnie Lowenthal decided to seek another Assembly term). Organized labor (including LB's police and fire PACs) spent big bucks to reelect O'Donnell; the LB Jobs PAC (shares political DNA with LB Area Chamber of Commerce leadership) spent big bucks to elect retired LBPD Sgt. John Watkins.

Amid a blizzard of dueling negative mailers, Daryl Supernaw, a Los Altos area neighborhood advocate ran a grassroots low budget campaign and finished first in April with O'Donnell second. The City Clerk ordered a hand count of ballots; LBREPORT.com was the only media outlet to attend; we observed as an attorney for the LB Jobs PAC and a Watkins campaign rep lodged verbal challenges to allegedly similar handwriting on more than a few write-in ballots. The City Clerk dutifully recorded the challenges but (citing state law on the City Attorney's advice) counted the challenged ballots for O'Donnell and those ballots issues were never explored in court.

The June O'Donnell-vs-Supernaw runoff included a Council-directed "ballot rotation" system, implemented by the City Clerk in a way that listed O'Donnell's name first on ballots in most of the high propensity voter Los Altos precincts. Watkins also endorsed O'Donnell. Supernaw still carried Los Altos precincts...but O'Donnell prevailed with roughly 70% to 80% of ballots cast in usually low propensity voter areas in the western end of the district.

In 2013: watch to see if Councilman O'Donnell announces that he plans to give up his Council seat to run for the state Assembly in 2014...and vote accordingly.


The rigged downtown "PBID" election: The fundamentally anti-democratic "Property Based Improvement District" (PBID) tax-levying election was legally rigged on May 1 when the City Council voted 6-0 (Garcia, Schipske req'd to recuse themselves, Gabelich absent) to have City Hall submit petitions supporting the tax instead of remaining neutral -- as it was free to do -- and letting residents decide. The motion to approve was made by then-Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal, who claimed weeks earlier during her reelection campaign that she was weighing public opinions pro and con. Once safely reelected, Lowenthal voted to let City Hall's land-holdings, not the public, effectively determine the outcome.

Downtown Homeowners Unite and its leaders were heroes in the PBID fight, and downtown homeowner Janet Ballantyne was an intelligent, thoughtful voice battling the usual suspects. Ms. Ballantyne courageously stepped forward but started too late to generate the resources needed to velcro Lowenthal to votes that banned plastic bags, begat barely used bike lanes and decimated LB police levels. Watch for more from her and others likeminded.


Pretending to be "business friendly" by proposing to add an "Economic & Business Development" bureaucrat.: In another substantively empty but headline-grabbing action advanced by Vice Mayor Robert Garcia, the Council directed the City Manager to report on creating a bureaucratic position that we presume will drain taxpayer dollars for a staffer who'll dispense so-called "economic incentives" [read: taxpayer subsidies or corporate welfare]. This is an inadequate response to armed robberies and shootings -- that we believe are genuinely unfriendly to business -- invited by voted budget actions by Garcia and the Mayor's Council majority.
Mayor Foster's reckless budget and the Council majority's inadequate response on police levels. On August 1, Mayor Foster proposed a numerically balanced but substantively unbalanced budget by underfunding what LBPD requires for unscheduled responses (overtime) by about three million dollars.

On top of that, in a city where gangmembers outnumber cops, Mayor Foster proposed to eliminate LBPD's anti-gang unit and cut LBPD's detectives.

In response, Vice Mayor Robert Garcia, chosen by Foster in mid-2010 to chair the Council's "Public Safety Committee," failed to hold a single meeting of his Committee on the public safety implications of what the Mayor proposed. Instead, Garcia dumped the police budget issues in the lap of Councilman Gary DeLong, whose Budget Oversight Committee proposed to add a little over $1 million to what Foster proposed. On the Council floor, Councilman Patrick O'Donnell made a substitute motion to add $1 million to what DeLong's Committee proposed, giving the Chief "discretion" on how to allocate the budgeted sum.

Two months later, Garcia and O'Donnell agendized an item to erase funding for ShotSpotter, a high technology gunfire location system budgeted in Oct. 2011 but never deployed. The action still left LBPD's budget about $1 million short, kicking that figure fiscal can into 2013. (Asked if PD needed $800,000 more in addition to the $350,000 from ShotSpotter, Chief McDonnell said on Nov. 13 that was a "ballpark" figure.)

Long Beach enters 2013 with roughly half the budgeted gang enforcement officers that it had a year ago. LB taxpayers now have fewer budgeted citywide deployable officers than a year ago. A replenishment police academy class won't graduate even a fraction of the officers attritted since 2009 until over half way through 2013.

Long Beach -- L.A. County's second largest city now has its lowest level of police officers for routine citywide deployment since the early 1990s. It is roughly equivalent per capita to Los Angeles cutting over 25% of LAPD's officers.

LBPD Chief Jim McDonnell has publicly used the verb "decimated" to describe what the Long Beach City Council's majority's budget votes have done to the city's police levels.

A Council majority can fix this on any Tuesday. We believe the previous Council-approved budget needs to be revisited as early as possible in 2013 and recorded votes taken to try and repair the damage done.


Mayor Foster's reckless budget and Council majority's inadequate response on Emergency Medical Responses.

In a bombshell inserted into budget verbiage, Mayor Foster and city management proposed to make Long Beach residents L.A. County's first guinea pigs for a new paramedic staffing system...and in a sheeplike response, a Council majority voted to move forward with this in its FY13 budget. The Mayor and management note that all but four CA Counties already use a "1+1" response system (paramedic + a lesser trained tech) and newly named LBFD Chief Mike DuRee insists that Long Beach's proposed model is different -- and better -- than both a 1+1 system and L.A. County's current system used in LB.

Chief DuRee says the pilot project he's proposing isn't the conventional 1+1 system but a newly created rapid response model that will improve patient care, ensuring two paramedics on every response but arriving via separate vehicles. We remain agnostic at this point because management's proposal -- through no fault of Chief DuRee -- has thus far received credulous cheerleading instead of meaningful scrutiny from the decisionmaking Long Beach City Council.

Councilmembers first let the Mayor/Manager manipulate them by treating the potential life-and-death changes as a budget item [subject to County approval]. Predictably, management now says it has no plans to seek further Council voted approval, just "review" of what's being done. No self-respecting Council would swallow this; a Council majority always retains the power not to implement the proposal if it so decides.

Second and much worse, the Council has yet to publicly invite and respectfully hear a detailed presentation from LB Firefighters on the proposal. We presume they know a bit more about emergency medical responses than most Councilmembers. At a County Emergency Medical Services agency meeting [attended by LBREPORT.com], LB Firefighters and County Firefighters called LB management's proposal fiscally driven and potentially life-endangering for patients. Those issues need to be fully aired, debated and decided in Long Beach, not by some County agency.

In our opinion, at minimum one study session is overdue. Instead, Public Safety Committee chair Garcia extracted from Chief DuRee the sound bite that the Chief would support the change regardless of its budget savings. That may be a useful defense when constituents ask about all this, but it doesn't answer questions that ought to be asked and answered on their merits in Long Beach in 2013.


Letting City Manager [read: steered by Mayor and his Council allies] bind City to contracts of up to $200,000 without Council or public disclosure or oversight before deals done. The item as originally proposed would have allowed contracts up to $250,000 but was reduced (motion by Johnson) to $200k, still doubling what was previously allowed and going in the wrong direction. We editorialized at the time that this was a "dereliction by the Council of its oversight duties and simultaneously an attack on transparency that will hinder the public's right to know who's being paid how much to do what for whom (since the contracts won't be routinely publicly agendized). It puts to lie to the pretenses of those who claim to support openness or claim they're prudent in spending public moneys."

When asked by Councilwoman Schipske to name any other area cities in which Councilmembers let non-elected staffers bind taxpayers to agreements of this magnitude, management couldn't cite any.

The Dec. 4 vote to approve this was 7-2 (Schipske and Austin dissenting, Austin absent); the finalizing vote on Dec. 11 was 6-2 (Schipske and Neal dissenting, Austin absent).

City management predictably claimed this action will save money by "streamlining" approval of items that would ultimately have to be publicly agendized. To the contrary, we believe the Council majority's action will ultimately prove costly to taxpayers by, among other things, inviting cronyism, favoritism and insider deals.

The Council's action can be revisited on any Tuesday with an agenda item to roll back the City Manager's contracting authority to a more reasonable $75,000 level.


Allowing City To Become "Successor Agency" To Dissolved Redevelopment Agency Without Public Council Discussion Including Potential Costs. In an action that could now expose Long Beach taxpayers to millions of dollars in costs, City Hall deliberately let a deadline pass without scheduling any public discussion or a public Council vote on whether the Council should become the "successor agency" to LB's former Redevelopment Agency.

The way in which this took place was in our opinion egregious and shows how little respect Long Beach's incumbent Mayor and his Council majority have for transparency, openness and public participation.

On Jan. 10, a "closed session" of the Council -- from which the public and press were excluded -- was scheduled based on what a Council agenda called "existing litigation": the CA Supreme Court case in which some Redevelopment supporters challenged the state legislature's actions that ended Redevelopment. As LBREPORT.com reported, the "existing litigation" cited by City Hall was CA Redevelopment Ass'n v. Matosantos, a case in which the City of Long Beach was never a co-plaintiff, or an intervenor or an amicus and was arguably no longer "existing" because the Court had already issued its opinion (in favor of the state legislature) a month earlier in December.

In other words, the discussion of the CA Supreme Court's opinion was a policy matter that deserved to be discussed publicly, fully disclosing the taxpayer costs and benefits of the opting-out. That's what Los Angeles did...and webcast its Council discussion of the matter LIVE (carried on LBREPORT.com).

On the day of the Long Beach closed session (Jan. 10), LBReport.com emailed the City an objection to holding the Jan. 10 closed session. The Council's closed session was also criticized in an opinion piece on LBREPORT.com authored by former LB Redevelopment Agency Boardmember Terry Jensen.

On Jan 13, the deadline for opting-out of becoming the Successor Agency passed, effectively committing Long Beach taxpayers to whatever cost exposures will now occur. City management has since indicated that those costs could end up in the range of several million dollars from LB's General Fund...money the General Fund won't be able to use for police, fire, parks and libraries.

Four days later on Jan. 17 -- three days after the deadline for opting-out had passed -- City Hall scheduled a legally meaningless vote (7-1, Schipske dissenting, Lowenthal absent) to support having City of Long Beach become the Redevelopment Agency's "successor agency." The action -- AFTER the deadline by which a "no" vote would have had any legal effect -- reminded us of the laughable, meaningless votes of now-former East European stooge "lawmakers."

When Councilwoman Schipske criticized the way in which this matter was handled and urged city staff not to treat the Council as a "rubberstamp," Mayor Bob Foster criticized Schipske for her criticism, calling it "pejorative" toward city staff.

Apart from Councilwoman Schipske, no other Councilmembers publicly objected to letting the Jan. 13 deadline for opting-out pass without agendized Council public discussion, without public input and without a publicly voted action, or spoke up in support of the public's right to know exactly what their elected representatives said and did on an action with long-term consequences that could cost LB taxpayers millions. We'll have more to say separately about a remedy for this.


Council approval (5-4) to pay a consulting firm up to half a million dollars for the first year with an option to renew for a second year ostensibly to save City Hall money.

History will judge what we believe will be recorded as an infamous Council action -- on December 4, 2012 by a 5-4 vote -- approving the item below supported by Mayor Bob Foster and agendized by City Manager Pat West:

[City Manager West agendizing memorandum, bracketed material by us] As Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 was underway, City staff initiated an agreement through a purchase order [without voted Council approval] for $79,950 with Management Partners, Inc. (Management Partners). In preparation of the budget review process for FY 2013, Management Partners provided an objective review process that identified potential revenue and cost-saving opportunities while comparing City operations to a number of other California municipalities where they have conducted budget related studies. Management Partners has a significant amount of expertise in improving government organizations and their operations. They have been under contract to a number of cities, such as, but not limited to Berkeley, Costa Mesa, Oakland, San Bernardino, San Jose, Santa Ana, Stockton, and Tracy.

The Management Partners study performed in FY 2012 [we never saw a "study" just two Council Power Point presentations by firm reps; we criticize a key portion of what we saw below], became a point of reference as the City Council discussed and adopted the FY 2013 budget. The study pointed out possible savings from compensation reviews, outsourcing recommendations and other general observations. Based on these recommendations, in FY 2013, City Council approved the funding of various fiscal sustainability initiatives and appropriated $200,000 in one-time oil revenue funding. This funding is intended to support professional services to achieve these operational reviews and assessments.

The City Manager is recommending that two specific initiatives be undertaken. The first initiative is to identify and assist with implementation of compensation changes. This includes confirming those that may be implemented at the discretion of the City and associated cost savings, developing a prioritized list of compensation changes, and supporting implementation. The second initiative is to evaluate the potential for providing selected City services through an alternative delivery model. Additional initiatives may be undertaken as funding is identified.

FISCAL IMPACT

The FY 2013 Adopted Budget earmarks $200,000 in one-time oil revenue funding for the implementation of fiscal sustainability initiatives. However, contractual authority in the amount of $500,000 is requested to allow for the implementation of additional initiatives related to efficiencies in Fleet, Refuse, Technology Services, and other enterprise-funded operations. Funding for these initiatives will come from enterprise funds as appropriate.

Five Councilmembers voted "yes" to proceed with this: Garcia, Lowenthal, DeLong, Andrews, Johnson.

Four Councilmembers voted "no" in dissent: O'Donnell, Schipske, Austin, Neal.

Mayor Foster publicly supported the deal.

In Long Beach's routinely non-transparent contractual fashion (which not all cities follow), city management didn't let the Council or the public see the contract before the Council approved it...and the Council resolution is even more opaque and remarkable [actual resolution text]:

The City Manager of the City is hereby authorized to enter an agreement with Management Partners, Inc. for professional management consulting and project management services, on substantially the same terms as the City of Santa Ana except as modified by mutual agreement of the City and Management Partners, Inc., and the purchase by the City shall be on the same terms and conditions afforded to the City of Santa Ana in a total amount not to exceed $500,000, for a period of one year with an option to extend the contract for one additional year.

By our reckoning [without having the contract text in hand], we believe the Council's vote may end up costing nearly a million dollars in Long Beach public money over two years. Nearly half the money for the first year ($200,000) will be paid from oil revenue; the additional $300,00 will be raided from manager-run "enterprise funds" (like the Gas Dept.)

In what we fear will become a haunting colloquy, Councilman Gary DeLong (who in his recent Congressional campaign stressed his frugality) asked city management how much the potential savings could be from future efficiencies. $28 million City Manager Pat West replied. "Well, that sounds like a heck of a return on investment to me," DeLong replied...and made the motion to approve the deal, which was swiftly seconded by Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal. To hear this exchange, click here.

After learning what the Council majority did on its 5-4 vote, an astute City Hall observer wisecracked to us that consultants in a deal like this ought to paid from money actually saved, not forecast future savings.

We add that saving city management money may or may not be in taxpayers' interests. It won't be in taxpayers' interests if management saves money by shortchanging taxpayers on levels for services that other cities provide and Long Beach residents and businesses deserve.

For example, we noticed that a Power Point slide on police staffing included LBPD officers who aren't paid for by the Council-budgeted General Fund (paid instead and contracted to duties at the Port, Airport, LBCC, LBUSD and LBTransit) and thus included officers who aren't available to respond to routine citywide or neighborhood calls for service. To someone unaware of the distinction, LBPD's staffing level may appear stronger than it actually is.

And the Power Point slide didn't compare Long Beach's police level (L.A. County's second largest city) to L.A.; it compared Long Beach to towns including agricultural Fresno. You decide which is more similar to urbanized Long Beach.

In our opinion, this type of conduct may very well serve management's interests while disserving the public's interests. We'll do our best to report items like this when we see them.


And Happy New Year.


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