The Problem Isn't Fixed, Because...

by Gordana Kajer *
* Ms. Kajer is a candidate for City Council in the 3rd Council district is reader and advertiser supported. Support independent news in LB similar to the way people support NPR and PBS stations. We're not non-profit so it's not tax deductible but $49.95 (less than an annual dollar a week) helps keep us online.
(Jan. 13, 2018, 12:20 p.m.) -- I read with great interest news of Robert Fox entering and suddenly dropping out of the Mayoral race after a meeting with Mayor Garcia. [ coverage here.]

The public deserves credit for opposing the flawed draft Land Use Element, and what takes place now reminds me of the old analogy of doctors treating the symptom while ignoring the disease.

City staff answer to the City Manager who answers to the City Council. After the public rose up, Mayor Garcia sought more community input but left it to the public to demand Town Hall style sessions that staff didn't audio or video record and Mayor Garcia didn't attend.

What assurances do we have that this flawed process won't continue in this issue and other issues that comes up? And why is it that City Council members didn't push back and demand a more inclusive process until their re-elections were also at risk?

The flawed public process for the Land Use Element is not unique. It is merely the symptom of the larger problem -- a "top down" philosophy of governing.

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I can't count the number of people I've spoken with who have attended some so-called "public outreach" meeting and walked away feeling that the presentation was just pushing an outcome that was predetermined. It's not just that City government wasn't listening to public concerns -- they weren't really even asking. Their canned presentations were actually just a preview of a decision that was already made. And their answers to concerns raised by the public were carefully crafted before the meeting to simply steer the public to support the predetermined outcome. But City staff may not be to blame. Public service workers are supposed to follow direction from elected representatives.

Some folks I've met went the extra mile and complained about the treatment from City staff to their elected representative. But they were often met with a Councilperson who'd also predetermined the outcome of the given issue -- and the Councilperson had no interest in reforming the public process (so long as it fit their own position).

And when these issues are finally heard at a City Council meeting, the public is dismayed and discouraged from participating in their own government because it is clear to everyone in the room that the decision had already been made. They don't ask questions of staff that reflect the public concerns -- they "pitch them beach balls" so the staff can dutifully defend the predetermined outcome.

So it's less than inspiring to hear our elected representatives promise to rectify the flawed process of selling the predetermined Land Use Element. Politicians always find religion around election time. But more importantly, these promises only deal with the symptom, not the problem.

The Land Use Element is simply an example of a top-down approach of making decisions in City Hall, and only then going to the public to "sell" the decision. Long Beach residents can continue "buying" these decisions or fix the problem on April 10, 2018 by electing leaders who want to reform the process of governing by truly listening and representing.

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