Fakin' It: Four Councilmembers Agendize As "Transparency" Council Item Without Public Transparency, Would Let City Hall Continue Hiding What It Promises In Applications Seeking Taxpayer-Paid "Grants"
|(May 8, 2012) -- Later today (May 8), the City Council will encounter an item agendized by Councilman Dee Andrews, joined by Councilmembers Robert Garcia, Suja Lowenthal and James Johnson, that pretends to offer transparency while letting LB City Hall continue to hide what it tells state and federal entities when seeking taxpayer money dispensed by other layers of government (euphemized as "grants" as if they were gifts, which they aren't).
Prove it yourself. Read what it says, click here.
Sheesh. We've reached a sad point when four Councilmembers agendize an item that claims to offer transparency but isn't transparent about itself.
This comes in the face of Long Beach City Hall obtaining CA taxpayers' money by telling two separate state agencies different versions of what the City plans to do at 7th St./MLK/Alamitos Ave. That's the location of what Councilman Garcia calls "Armory Park," a patch of greenspace that in our opinion is far less than sizable parkland that nearby neighborhoods deserve (which could have been included in the Council's recently adopted "downtown plan" but wasn't)
As LBReport.com reported last month, Long Beach City Hall recently boasted about receiving $2.8 million state taxpayer dollars from one state agency for "Armory Park"...but to get that $2.8 million in park funds, city staff told CA's Dept. of Parks & Recreation something different than what it told Caltrans to get nearly $1 million in related traffic fixing funds.
What LBReport.com learned -- after we obtained a copy of the City's grant application for the traffic work -- is that the City told Caltrans that it specifically considered and ruled out for now blocking off all of northbound MLK Ave. between 6th and 7th Streets. The City told Caltrans that one lane of MLK would remain open. (Unstated: blocking off MLK entirely for neighborhoods south of 7th and west MLK will have negative neighborhood traffic impacts.)
When City Hall issued its release last month (April 2012) about getting $2.8 million from CA's Dept. of Parks & Rec -- based on plans to close of MLK entirely between 6th and 7th Sts. -- we made a public records act request to obtain what the City told that state agency.
Among the documents we uncovered was an email exchange between that state agency and LB's Dept. of Parks, Rec & Marine. CA's Dept. of Parks & Rec. asked city staff two questions (below in black)...and LB's Parks, Rec & Marine staff replied (below in blue):
1. Is the City still planning on converting all of the lanes as shown in the Prop 84 [park grant] application?Yes, the city is still planning on converting all of the lanes as shown in the Prop 84 application.
2. If so, will there be any issues between the park plan and the CALTrans grant? In other words, is the CALTrans grant for the street-work in harmony with the park plan (closing off the lanes) or is there a conflict? Please explain.There are no issues between the Caltrans grant and the Prop 84 grant. The Caltrans grant, independent of the Prop 84 grant, eliminates 2 of the 4 lanes of MLK at the location of the park. The grant leaves open space in approx. half of the space "to be constructed separately from the grant." The Prop 84 grant builds on the Caltrans grant and eliminates the additional two lanes of traffic on MLK and develops the resulting open space into park space.
LBReport.com provides below the salient portion of the City of LB's City grant application to Caltrans, below. Read it yourself, then decide whether what city staff told CA's Dept. of Parks & Rec is consistent with what City Hall told Caltrans to get money from that agency. And decide whether what City Hall said to get Caltrans-distributed taxpayer money is consistent with what Councilman Garcia showed and told the public and the press in May 2011 (photos below)?
May 9, 2011 press event by Councilman Garcia, flanked by DLBA Exec. Dir. Kraig Kojian (left) and architect Brian Ulaszewski (right)
Graphic displayed as "proposed" at May 9, 2011 Garcia press event
The city of LB's grant application to Caltrans sought nearly a million dollars in Highway Safety Improvement (HSIP) Funds by stating (Dec. 2010) in pertinent part:
"To reduce injury collisions the project proposes to eliminate through traffic on MLK Avenue between Seventh and Sixth Streets by converting the roadway from a two-way to a one-way. South of Seventh Street MLK Avenue will be reduced from five lanes in two directions to only two northbound lanes. The northbound traffic will be channelized into two right-turn lanes at Seventh Street."
The City's grant application further stated: "An alternative plan evaluated by the City was to remove both northbound and southbound lanes on MLK Avenue between Sixth and Seventh Streets" and "in order to retain right-turn capacity, at this time, the City proposes only removing the southbound lanes."
The application acknowledged that the City of Long Beach "will leverage the safety improvement funds to create new open space in a park poor high-density area of downtown Long Beach," but wasn't more specific.
Enough. All of this shows transparency here is long overdue...but as agendized, the Andrews-garcia-Lowenthal-Johnson item doesn't fix this and arguably invites similar actions to recur.
What to do? In our opinion, the Council can and should fix the Andrews-Garcia-Lowenthal-Johnson agendized item with a substitute motion that adds a provision requiring real transparency. City grant applications SHOULD be transparent -- so taxpayers can see what City Hall promised to get the money. Those city grant applications should be routinely released after the application-filing period closes (after the deadline for submitting competing applications has closed but before the matter is decided). That would provide real public transparency and invite accountability lacking now.
Tonight is an opportunity for the City Council to do the right thing on future grant applications and to come clean about what happened regarding Garcia's pet project at 7th St./MLK/Alamitos Ave. We'll be watching this closely...and our readers can too...as LBReport.com carries LIVE video of Council meetings (via the City Clerk's video feed) on our front page: www.LBReport.com. It starts at 5:00 p.m. today.
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Contact us: mail@LBReport.com