Terry Jensen
Common Sense / Opinion
A continuing series

Ruling By Obfuscation, Enabled By Mayor & Council

[Editor's note: delayed publication of this opinion piece, submitted to us last month by Mr. Jensen, until we completed the laborious process of producing a written transcript (unofficial, compiled by us) of salient portions of what took place at the Jan. 17 City Council meeting. It can now be viewed here. It speaks for itself.]

(Feb. 6, 2012) -- The Jan. 18 media headlines should have read "Long Beach Mayor and Council Trample Open and Transparent Governance." The Jan. 17 Council agenda item seemed innocuous enough; should the Council vote to have the City become the Successor Agency to its Redevelopment Agency (RDA) as a result of the state's action to eliminate redevelopment?

Something was amiss! I read two headline stories in the LA Times on Jan. 11 and 12) that indicated the Los Angeles Council had voted to opt-out and not become the Successor Agency of the RDA due to the substantial negative impact on their general fund and potential liabilities. The articles also indicated that the deadline for opting out was January 13.

Given the fact the Successor Agency isn't authorized to enter into or amend contracts or provide financial assistance and is only responsible for the administrative close-out functions of the agency and the disposal of all assets and properties at the direction of the Oversight Board and the State Department of Finance (DOF), why would the City opt in?

What happened here in Long Beach? Did Long Beach blow the Jan. 13 deadline or did "someone" decide in secret that it was more convenient to ignore the deadline and have the City automatically become the Successor Agency?

With my interest piqued, I read the full staff report attached to the Jan. 17 agenda item. The staff report doesn't mention the January 13 opt-out deadline nor did it mention the January 31 deadline for the takeover of Housing functions. The report did not contain a fiscal impact analysis, nor did it contain an analysis of the potential liabilities that the City would own if it didn't opt out. Nor did the staff report include a best case/worst case analysis of costs and benefits.

So I wondered why Los Angeles Councilmembers got a comprehensive 38 page analysis of the pros and cons of opting-out (attached for your review) while our Council got a scant four pages of creative writing with a Fiscal Impact section that essentially said staff doesn't know how much this decision will cost the General Fund.

The report indicates the staff doesn't know what the potential liabilities for becoming the Successor Agency will be. And staff didn't know when or how many of the 59 employees would be let go. And who will decide who stays and who goes.

With this woefully inadequate information, the Council "voted" 7-1 (Lowenthal absent, Schipske dissenting) to approve. Great work, team!

In my view, there are two key questions that need to be answered:

  • Who actually decided the City would not opt out and when was that decision made?

  • What information did they review that led them to believe opting out was the correct decision?

We do not have a single public admission from the Mayor, Mr. West or the Council that indicates the Council was asked to decide on the merits of opting out or in. But everyone at City Hall seems to have known what the Council was going to do. How could this be? Who made the decision?

Perhaps we should follow the information time lines and public statements of our elected officials and staff and see if we can determine who made the decision.

Mayor Foster on the morning of January 10th said "it doesnít make sense for us not to become the successor agency" and "thatís what we are going to propose." So did Mayor Foster, who has no Council vote, make that decision?

Just a few hours later on Jan. 10, the Mayor and Councilmembers attended a closed Council session that all, with the exception of Schipske, attended. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss "litigation" that may have morphed into something more.

It seems that more than a court ruling was discussed at this meeting as when on January 17 in open session Schipske admonished staff about the poor report and Mr. West said "Had we were to recommend to the City Council that we would opt out, you certainly would receive from us a 26 report or a 50 page report..." So was it Mr. West that made the decision?

Probably not as Mr. West went on to indicate that in the same closed session Council members were asked if they were interested in opting out to speak up and it would have to be agenized. Now weíre getting somewhere. Sounds like it may have been the Council that made the decision in private.

But wait a minute: This is a policy matter to be made by the city's policy setting City Council in open session. This important policy question should have been agendized for public discussion in open session. Surely the Mayor and City Council would not have violated proper procedures or the Brown Act, or did they?

Clearly, the Mayor, Council and Staff knew or should have known the deadline for Opting Out was looming. Good Grief, I knew it and the deadline was published in the LA Times (although not in the Press Telegram) and Mr. West said he knew of the deadline on January 4th.

Given not a single City Management report mentioned the January 13 deadline and to my knowledge did not contain a detailed analysis of the fiscal impact of the decision I am at a loss to understand who made the decision and when was it made?

It is clear to me that this was not a city screw up. I believe the Mayor and city staff knew what they were doing.

I believe they were willing to stomp all over transparent and open governance to try and "save" $119 million in "loans" (that I consider dubious and staff acknowledges may be questioned during oversight). The City contends it's owed repayment by LB's (now former) Redevelopment Agency, and opting out would not prohibit the city from advocating for the loan repayment.

City Hall created those "loans" in the 1980s by shifting federal grant money given by HUD to the City of Long Beach to LB's Redevelopment Agency, a paper-obligation that LB's RDA was supposed to eventually repay City Hall for a federal grant.

Apart from this transaction, what took place is additionally troubling because, in my view, it continues a disturbing trend in which the Mayor uses management-agendized reports that obfuscate facts rather than illuminate the public. This practice has enabled favored items to slide through the Council, which we saw with the Mayor-backed (and voter stopped) attempted property tax levy Measure I, Wetlands Swap I, Wetlands Swap II, a Terminal Island lease to Tom Dean and other examples. Some inside LB City Hall seem to think the end justifies the means. I donít.

It is time for voters, in the words of Mayor Foster in his 2012 State of the City Address, to "hold our elected officials accountable for their actions."

If we allow the continuation of the type of behavior we just saw on Redevelopment from this Mayor, city management and some Council members, they will be emboldened to act in similar fashion on future items...and taxpayers and voters will become mere speed bumps.

Previously on Common Sense by Terry Jensen (continuing series):

  • No. 11: Public Officials Shrugging Public Costs Of Project Labor Agreements

  • No. 10: Outsourcing City Hall

  • No. 9: Lack of City Hall Credibility, Not Residents' Complaints, Deters Quality LB Developments; Restoring Trust Requires Accurate Information & Respectful Partnership b/w Residents & Officials

  • No. 8: Council Grants Permit With Conditions Requiring What City Hall Already Basically Requires & Residents Deserve

  • No. 7: Facing A De Facto Precedent Proposed at 2nd/PCH

  • No. 6: Put Redevelopment In Council's Hands, Make LB Elected Officials Accountable (For A Change)

  • No. 5: Suppose Our City Officials Had Applied These Efforts To Assure World Class Kroc Center Instead Of For This, This & This

  • No. 4: Council Majority Either Didn't Know, Or Knew But Didn't Disclose, Amount Of Taxpayer Dollars Potentially Up In Smoke On Med MJ Vote

  • No. 3: City Hall & Its Boosters Created Budget Mess (Quit Blaming Recession); Proposed Proportional Cuts Don't Prioritize; Council Needs To Define Core Items & Cut Others

  • No. 2: Costs vs. Benefits: Council's Costlier-Than-Necessary Seawall Fix = Decaying Belmont Pier & Other Shoreline Assets

  • No. 1: Santa, Call LB City Hall: Taxpayer Leased Vacant Bldg. (New Home To Daisy Lane Xmas Displays) Invites Annual Public Review of All City Owned/Leased Properties And Zero-Based Budget

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