(October 21, 2004) -- LongBeachReport.com urges a "NO" vote on Measure A, which would increase L.A. County's sales tax to the highest anywhere in California, a whopping 8.75%. It is a cynical attempt to gouge taxpayers, sold as a way to increase police levels and fund anti-terrorism measures.
The truth is, Measure A doesn't require the hiring of even one additional police officer. Not even one...although it probably will produce a few, if it suits City Halls and the County counterparts.
Measure A was written behind closed doors, in part with input from LB City Hall management. The result (big surprise) doesn't guarantee more police; the money can be spent on vaguely described public safety services including pensions; it disrespects taxpayers (holding public safety hostage to current wasteful spending on other things) and includes loopholes (if fed'l or state money falls, the increased sales tax can be used to maintain current public safety spending with no real world increase.)
Long Beach City Hall is an expert at all of these. Here are some examples of how L.A. County's second largest city has treated its taxpayers on public safety while simultaneously exposing the public, in LB and beyond, to security risks from its own Port.
In the 1980s, LB City Hall ignored public objections and increased density, letting developers build "crackerbox" apartments that ballooned LB's population while City Hall didn't provide more police to keep pace. That simultaneously blighted neighborhoods and destroyed LB's once-healthy ratio of police to people.
To this day, despite taking millions of taxpayer dollars in "more police" grants, LB has a thinner blue line -- fewer police per thousand residents -- than underpoliced Los Angeles. How this happened is worth reviewing.
In the late 80s and early 90s, LB's police to resident ratio became so thin that City Hall farmed out parts of the city to L.A. County Sheriffs before LB police service was restored. Still, by 1993, the result with slightly over 700 budgeted sworn officers was still barely 1.6 officers per thousands residents.
In 1993, the LB City Council considered three motions: Add 100 more officers (failed 4-4; Yes: Drummond, Robbins, Kellogg, Harwood; No: Braude, A. Lowenthal, Clark, Topsy-Elvord; Grabinski absent); Add 50 more officers (failed 4-4: Yes: Braude, A. Lowenthal, Clark, Topsy-Elvord; No: Drummond, Robbins, Kellogg, Harwood, Grabinski absent); Add 50 more officers immediately, ask City Manager in six months about adding 50 more (passed 5-3: Yes, Braude, A. Lowenthal, Drummond, Clark, Topsy-Elvord; No: Robbins, Kellogg, Harwood, Grabinski absent)
(Grabinski later walked in, chided his colleagues for not dealing with what he called crime prevention...until Councilman Braude challenged him to reopen the police issue, which Grabinski declined.)
This circus-style behavior prompted LB homeowner (now LBReport.com publisher and writing this) Bill Pearl to write a Charter Amendment that, if passed by LB voters, would require City Hall to provide taxpayers with minimum levels of police, fire and paramedic service based on city population (while simultaneously curtailing reckless growth).
The measure was endorsed by Councilmembers Drummond, Robbins, Kellogg and Harwood and by nearly every neighborhood organization that took a position on it. City Hall first tried to derail it by citing a "Strategic Plan" for the LB Police Dept. then being devised by City Management and City Auditor Gary Burroughs, implying a Charter Amendment might conflict with City Hall's own "Plan." As a practical matter, this gave Council opponents political cover for not voting to put the Charter amendment on the ballot. The Press-Telegram also editorialized against the Charter Amendment.
When City Hall unveiled its "Strategic Plan" in early 1994, Pearl revised his measure to roughly incorporate (in police to population ratios) the Plan's "Preliminary Staffing Strategy" that specified reaching 1,023 sworn officers by FY 99-00. When the revised version reached the Council in February 1994, opponents then claimed it might tie the Council's hands on new taxes. In a savvy response, Councilman Doug Drummond amended the proposal to delete references they complained about and forced a vote on a simple issue: Would LB Councilmembers let LB residents vote to provide minimum levels of police and firefighter service tied to growth...using police numbers that City Hall management said it planned to produce?
The vote to put the measure on the ballot failed 4-4 (Yes: Drummond, Robbins, Kellogg, Harwood; No: Braude, Lowenthal, Clark, Topsy-Elvord. Grabinski, present earlier, was absent on the vote; within months, he lost a Mayoral bid to newcomer Beverly O'Neill.)
City Hall kept its word in the first year of its Police Strategic Plan, even budgeting ten more officers than specified in the Plan's staffing strategy (839 instead of 829). It was the first and last time that happened.
For each and every year of the O'Neill administration, LB City Hall failed to provide budgets that gave taxpayers police officers as indicated in its own Police "Strategic Plan" staffing strategy.
For each and every year of her incumbency, LB's Mayor -- whose main City Charter duty is to send the Council a management-prepared budget with her suggestions -- never forwarded a budget or suggestions to Councilmembers that ultimately delivered those Strategic Plan officers.
The Council -- the body that has the real power to decide how many officers LB taxpayers actually receive -- never objected to this...not even in 1996, when the Strategic Plan specified 888 officers and Mayor O'Neill forwarded a budget with 859 while promising 888 in the last month of the 15 month fiscal year. The Mayor issued a press release calling 859 an increase (it was, from 839), which the PT regurgitated as an "increase"...and when the 888 didn't arrive 15 months later, the PT didn't object. The PT went on to support O'Neill's reelection in 1998 and 2002.
Today -- ten years after City Hall's Police "Strategic Plan" specified 1,023 officers by 1999-2000 -- LB has grown to nearly 500,000 residents and LB is short by nearly 100 neighborhood officers from where it was supposed to be five years ago. (LB currently budgets slightly over 960 sworn officers, about two dozen of which are tasked to handle security related matters at LB's Port and Airport.)
On taking office in fall 2002, LBPD Chief Anthony Batts promised he would tell Councilmembers exactly what he needed to do the job and let them make the call. Chief Batts was good to his word. He did exactly what he promised.
In an intellectually honest Sept. 2003 budget presentation that left some Councilmembers speechless, Chief Batts said:
"By our command staff estimates, we're down 90 officers in patrol calls for service, 10 detectives, and we need another thirty officers for new walking and bike beats in our most crime prone neighborhoods and in our growing downtown residential and entertainment center. That's a total of 130 officers, to date, this moment, right now."
Responding to Chief Batts' gutsy presentation, the president of the Long Beach Police Officers Association, Steve James, came to the podium and said, "Plain and simple, you have a Chief that finally came down here and finally told you the truth."
Chief Batts acknowledged that as a member of the "city team" he understood the Council's need to strike a balance on allocating resources, adding "we are fully aware we as a city are not in the position to expand the Department at the needed rate."
However when asked directly by a then-incumbent (now former) Councilman about the 1994 Police Dept. "Strategic Plan," Chief Batts (who called the Plan's Staffing Strategy a "wish list") said its 1,023 officer level specified for FY 2000 "comes very close to where we need to be today."
Councilmembers had scheduled Chief Batts' budget presentation as the next to last -- next to last! -- item just hours before their budget vote. They thanked Chief Batts...and gave him nothing.
A year later in September 2004, LB's City Council made sure Chief Batts wouldn't get a serious hearing. The Council quickly enacted LB's FY 05 budget without even hearing presentations from LBPD or LBFD. (Councilmembers did engage in colloquy with Chief Batts over the DARE and Police Athletic League programs.)
LBPD and LBFD were allowed to preview their budgets in a not-for-prime-time Council committee. LB's garbage collection agency got more Council time than LB's Police and Fire spending. So much for LB City Hall's real priorities.
When it comes to security, the City of Long Beach runs a Port that is one of L.A. County's biggest security risks. sending countless uninspected containers onto L.A. County freeways and trains. Despite this, LB's City Hall and Port have failed to support sensible legislation by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R., HB-LB-PV) to fund Port security with fees on shippers instead of public money.
Measure A's backers are using LBPD Chief Batts, LAPD Chief Bratton and L.A. County Sheriff Baca -- whom we respect -- as celebrity endorsers...but the truth is Batts, Bratton and Baca won't decide how that sales tax increase is spent. The LB and L.A. City Councils and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors will do that...and they can be expected to exploit the loopholes and fuzzy language built into Measure A.
If public safety were really the top priority of the LB & L.A. City Councils and the County Board of Supes, they wouldn't try to hold people's lives hostage to higher taxes with Measure A.
Measure A is opposed by the LB Area Chamber of Commerce, which notes the measure will make L.A. County even less competitive. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association says public safety should be handled with existing revenue (i.e. prioritized properly).
And as a sales tax, it's regressive, felt most by those with least. It will hurt many LB residents, since LB now ranks seventh nationwide in terms of people living in poverty.
LongBeachReport.com urges a "NO" vote on L.A. County Measure A.
We hope it's soundly defeated (it needs a 2/3 vote).
If it is defeated, we'll gladly assist Sheriff Baca, Chief Bratton and Chief Batts in writing a measure that will guarantee more police and curtail unsustainable growth.
And it will pass...in a landslide.