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Norm Ryan for Mayor

(April 7, 2002) -- Imagine what LB would be like without Norm Ryan. A whopping 10% utility users tax, maintained by incumbents making endless excuses. A needless fee for a needed 911 center. A Mayoral election in which the leading candidates were all incumbents responsible in varying degrees for keeping LB underpoliced, overtaxed, oversubsidized, poorly developed, polluted by the city's Port and increasingly impoverished by a downtown that consumes more than it produces.

Fortunately, Norm Ryan is first on the Mayoral ballot on April 9.

Mr. Ryan defied City Hall's machinery and led LB's grassroots utility tax cutting Prop J to a near 70% landslide victory. On Tuesday, our votes can make history again by putting Mr. Ryan in the runoff where he stands a very good chance of defeating whatever incumbent has the misfortune to face him.

That means in less than 90 days, LB could have a City Hall run on Ryan's credo of respect, reform and renewal.

With a powerful intellect and knowledge of civic finances, Mr. Ryan brushed off brickbats thrown at him by City Hall and prevailed over conduct that seemed like "Chicago by the Sea."

First, incumbent Councilmembers backed "compromises" that would stop the petition gathering. When that collapsed, Councilmembers requested city management reports during Mr. Ryan's signature gathering efforts, warning of dire fiscal consequences if he succeeded.

When Mr. Ryan completed gathering signatures, City Hall claimed -- erroneously -- that he didn't have enough signatures. When City Hall eventually realized the law said otherwise and a public vote on the measure was inescapable, Council incumbents again tried to offer taxpayers less or slower relief.

Like something out of "Weekend at Bernie's," Councilman Grabinski tried to dress up the corpse of a slower "compromise." This failed.

Six weeks later, Council incumbents Colonna, Carroll and Vice Mayor Baker agendized a 3% cut, which mutated into a 2.5% cut at the Council meeting and (without Grabinski's support) put it on the ballot.

To further handicap Mr. Ryan, City Hall put its measure on the ballot ahead of Mr. Ryan's, and for good measure, added official ballot language portraying Mr. Ryan's measure in dire terms ("50%" reduction).

Reinforcing the fear campaign, someone at City Hall thought it was OK to stuff pro-utility tax material in the public's utility bills, claiming it was merely informational. Mr. Ryan was forced to bring suit in Superior Court to stop this outrage.

The PT and Gazettes didn't support Prop J. LB voters passed it by a near 70% citywide margin. And they did so in what conventional wisdom assumed would be an unfriendly November 2000 general election.

Prop J wasn't about budgets and pie charts (the City Auditor looked especially foolish making these arguments). Prop J was about reform and change. The utility tax was an engine fueling many of City Hall's misguided policies and Mr. Ryan had the guts to say so. His reform minded message resonated with influential LB figures including Diana Mann and Ann Cantrell. Their support, plus businesses fed up with being gouged and homeowners alerted by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association produced a political critical mass unequaled in recent LB history.

And (big surprise) the dire consequences forecast by City Hall were wrong and Mr. Ryan was right...and it wasn't the first time history proved him right.

While serving on LB's Public Safety Advisory Commission, Mr. Ryan warned that LB's thin blue line was too thin. He was a voice in the wilderness.

The incumbent Mayor and incumbent Council continued shortchanging LB taxpayers with fewer than 2.0 officers per thousand residents while Signal Hill delivers closer to 3.0 officers per thousand and L.A. has over 2.0. The incumbents' legacy: LB's total 2001 reported crime increased in every City Council district.

And incredibly, last fall -- even after Sept. 11 -- the incumbent Mayor and Councilmembers kept sworn police officers at the level assumed sufficient before Sept. 11...and handed an additional $1 million to the "Public Corporation for the Arts" beyond the level advised by city management.

This conduct was not responsible. We believe the city will be safer with Mr. Ryan in the Mayor's office, solving problems instead of expecting city management to camouflage them.

Mr. Ryan has shown he can produce solutions that LB officialdom can't envision on their own. When LB needed a new 911 Emergency Center and City Hall tried to gouge taxpayers, Mr. Ryan (with former LB CPA William Molnar) devised a way to do the job without raising taxes.

When City Hall sent consumers oppressive natural gas bills last year and Councilmembers refused (until later) to discuss City Charter section 1502 (requiring rates similar to surrounding areas), Mr. Ryan helped break the code of silence and sided with consumers.

While others maintained a code of silence on Queensway Bay, Mr. Ryan challenged its mythology and went further, explaining in painful detail why so many LB projects seem to perform below rosy expectations.

If Mr. Ryan gets in the runoff, we think there's a very good chance he will win. That means we have a once in a lifetime chance on Tuesday to change this city's future, not just change the incumbent's name on the door.

We urge a vote for Norm Ryan, first on the Mayoral ballot.


Among the incumbents, we think Vice Mayor Baker is clearly the most impressive. He's consistently bright, polished and prepared.

We refuse to join in a jackal style "hate Baker" feeding frenzy because we think it's wrong not to acknowledge important praiseworthy actions he's taken. Among them:

Baker was the sole vote against raising the City Manager's pay to nearly $200,000 (including deferred compensation). In contrast, Mayor O'Neill unwisely carried this royal pay raise to the Council. And Councilman Grabinski disappeared from the Council meeting roughly an hour before the item, then reappeared about sixty seconds after the vote (giving new meaning to the term "sixty minute man.") [Before the hearing, Ryan called the pay raise "unimaginable."]

Baker tackled a major sacred cow, agendizing a proposal to study the breakwater. His advocacy was lawyerlike, logical, focused and pro. Yes, he ran head-on into the Port's machinery, but the unwilling of opponents even to study the issue showed they feared the facts while Baker invited honest inquiry. [Ryan also supports studying the issue.]

When chairing a Council meeting in the absence of Mayor O'Neill, Vice Mayor Baker let members of the public appealing expansion of a NLB police station in Scherer Park use the Council chamber's publicly paid for video equipment. The public's right to do this was previously respected by former Mayor Ernie Kell. It has not been respected by incumbent Mayor O'Neill. Vice Mayor Baker did a real service by showing the public's right to make points doesn't mean disorder; it means a better run meeting. His handling of the meeting was a significant contrast with incumbent Mayor's imperious treatment of dissent.

However, Baker has taken actions with which we've disagreed, although we acknowledge he's moderated them since.

He voted to approve downtown residential density without moving immediately ensure budgeting of more police. Yes, Baker now regularly stresses he favors increasing LB's police ratio to 2.0 per thousand, but we put a premium on what's done, not said. We think the time to have pressed for the cops was when the Council confronted the density.

LB's failure to do this in the past is a continuing sore point for us and we believe sustainable development means stopping bad consequences before they start.

At subsequent Council meetings, Baker has stopped short of forcing an immediate budget confrontation on police. (That fight will be something like going to war with Iraq.) Although there have been dramatic crime decreases citywide and in his 2d district in recent years, parts of Baker's district have remained crime impacted, so the issue should always have been a priority for him. Mr. Ryan has been right on cops for longer.

Baker settled for less than excellence in replacing the LB Plaza. Yes, the new development incorporates some aspects of enlightened alternatives suggested by the Plaza Coalition, but greater pressure from up top might have produced better results on the ground.

Baker supported Queensway Bay when others warned it was careening into a train wreck. To his credit, he has focused on a lack of real openness in the planning process [which we personally consider a hallmark of the O'Neill administration, see below] as a big part of the problem. Baker recently articulated what we consider a balanced, not blowhard, position on the development reflecting real world recognition of the city's contractual obligations while inviting robust debate on alternatives if legal circumstances subsequently permit. But so has Mr. Ryan...and Ryan has gone further to target City Hall financial follies that transcend QW Bay and affect other developments in this city.

Vice Mayor Baker unwisely co-agendized (with Colonna and Carroll) a reactionary Council countermeasure to Mr. Ryan's grassroots Prop J. It offered half the taxpayer relief. Ouch. To his credit however, Mr. Baker has not tried to camouflage his actions. He has not descended to the Grabinski derangement of claiming his support for something other than Prop J amounted to supporting Prop J. We respect the fact Baker is big enough to take his lumps on this, but since we think Ryan was right all along, we think Ryan ultimately deserves the credit.

We are disturbed by independent expenditures that surfaced on Baker's behalf in the past few weeks, particularly a $15,000 contribution from LB's Police Officers Association PAC. We think the circumstances deserve a serious look, and there are enough people mad about this to ensure that it will not escape scrutiny. However, until all the facts are in, we will not let inference substitute for evidence.

Part of the problem is that Mr. Baker, or those advising him, have previously cut close to the line on their own campaign (not an independent group). Some time ago, Baker returned contributions from entities previously (and no longer) involved in the Queensway Bay development which, when aggregated, exceeded LB's contribution limits.

On balance, we admire Vice Mayor Baker's efforts to find common ground when he can while voting as he feels he must and taking his political lumps accordingly. He has not disappeared on key votes or dissembled about his voting record. We respect him even if he is not our first choice in this election.


We cannot endorse Mayor O'Neill's write-in re-election bid. It's not because she's barred by term limits; she isn't. It's not because we don't like her cheerleading for LB; she is very good at it and it's fine when appropriate.

But we think dispensing mythology and drowning out facts, handing out candies when others warned they were poison, and abusing her powers to favor City Hall approved views while choking off legitimate dissent was bad. It produced the bitter fruit that critics repeatedly warned about.

We do what others haven't. We actually hold incumbent Mayor O'Meill responsible for what she did in discharging her City Charter duty to forward budgets (proposed by the City Manager) to the Council with her recommendations.

O'Neill has repeatedly failed to provide the public with police levels in the preliminary staffing strategy included in City Hall's 1994 Police Dept. Strategic Plan. Seven years of this are hurting LB now.

From her first year in office, Ms. O'Neill relied on local mouthpieces to belittle facts and drown out criticism. If she had made good on what City Hall's Police Strategic Plan invited taxpayers to believe, LB would have had 1,023 officers two years ago.

In July, 1994, incoming Mayor O'Neill inherited a budgeted level of 839.4 sworn officers from outgoing Mayor Ernie Kell's Council. Although the Strategic Plan's preliminary staffing strategy advised 878 officers the next year, O'Neill exploited a special 15 month fiscal year to concoct an evasion, promising 888 officers in month 14...but (big surprise) the officers didn't arrive.

Instead, Mayor O'Neill forwarded a budget for the next year (which should have included 929 officers) that only advised 859.4. Her office then labeled this an "increase" (mindlessly regurgitated by much of LB's local media) as she flew off to Chicago to help renominate Bill Clinton.

Then, for several years running, Mayor O'Neill recommended budgets that basically froze LB's budgeted sworn police level at roughly 860 cops instead of gradually reaching 963, 999 and eventually 1,023.

This is what created the O'Neill police deficit. It's why -- with the Council's complicity -- LB is underpoliced now.

So strong was the Mayor's mythology that even after Sept. 11 Mayor O'Neill continued to recommend that the Council give the public the same thin police level city management proposed before Sept. 11 (913.5 sworn officers). Doing so despite new security tasks has stretched police resources thinner and left LB neighborhoods even less safe than they already were.

City Hall currently gives LB taxpayers fewer than 2.0 sworn officers per thousand residents while Signal Hill delivers roughly 3.0 and L.A. provides over 2.0.

The brightest spot on police budgeting in the past few years didn't come from the Mayor but from City Manager Taboada, who snared a federal grant that's supposed to produce 40 additional officers.

Mayor O'Neill now oversees a city safer than when she took office due to the work of those who preceded her, but where total crime last year has turned upward again in every Council district on her watch.

Rudy Giuliani didn't adjust the goals by moving the goal posts. He increased police, restored safety to areas considered ungovernable and brought prosperity. Mayor O'Neill could have done that. She didn't, and LB's police deficit today is in large part her legacy.

Mayor O'Neill also brought LB the worst embarrassment in the city's history: the destruction of the LB Naval Station's priceless (and costly) historic buildings and recreational facilities. We challenge anyone to cite an official act by this city that has drawn more negative attention to LB across the political spectrum.

At the time, then Councilman Doug Drummond (to his credit) told the media he doubted the Council would have voted as it did had they known the those facilities were there. But few knew, because the O'Neill administration kept pesky details below the radar...until a belated PT article and a follow-up KCET Huell Howser segment blew the whistle.

Thousands of taxpayers descended on LB's Terrace Theater where many blasted the Mayor and LB City Hall's policies. Mr. Howser and others sued and a judge called City Hall's actions "predetermined," but a Court of Appeal reversed, letting City Hall turn multi-million dollar taxpayer facilities into a container yard.

And that backfired when an angry Congress enacted federal legislation forbidding use of the property to accommodate the China Ocean Shipping Company.

The Naval Station fiasco was symptomatic of a deeper problem: Mayor O'Neill's discomfort with viewpoints she can't control. This has deprived her own administration of diverse views that could have helped solve problems before they escalated.

Instead of seeking common ground, the incumbent Mayor surrounded herself, bunker style, with the usual suspects, then sat back and watched politely as they drowned out facts that challenged the Mayor's mythology.

In 1996, Mayor O'Neill attended the Democrats' Chicago convention and urged members of CA's delegation not to listen to "the CAVE people, Citizens Against Virtually Everything." It was a rhetorical flourish, didn't mention anyone in particular, and wasn't said in connection with any particular issue.

But the Mayor's remarks, made when City Hall was then pressing to build a commercial "sports complex" in El Dorado Park, were widely taken as contemptuous of the public generally and of park protection advocate Ann Cantrell in particular who was fighting to save the park from commercial encroachment. Ms. Cantrell eventually sued and City Hall admitted it could use an alternative site.

Mayor O'Neill could have responded in a statesmanlike manner showing inclusiveness, but she didn't. She nominated (and the Council approved) appointing Bea Antenore, a respected and able person but a supporter of the controversial sports complex, to City Hall's Recreation Commission. We took the Mayor's action to be a thumb in the eye to thousands of LB residents.

The Mayor has also packed the Airport Advisory Commission with industry friendly appointees, creating a body now chaired by Kristy Ardizzone, West Coast Opportunities Manager for JetBlue Airways, a firm that holds the largest number of LB Airport's flight slots.

And the Mayor engineered the erasure of a public right respected by former Mayor Ernie Kell and previously included in the City's Municipal Code: the public's right to agendize items for City Council action.

When members of the public [including now publisher Bill Pearl] tried to use this procedure, Mayor O'Neill simply decreed she would not allow it and the City Attorney's office later prepared a Muni Code amendment that (with Council approval) wiped out the procedure altogether.

This behavior has been more corrosive than constructive, as is the more recent maneuver that gave LB new pencil style ballots just in time to coincide with a pencil driven write in campaign for incumbent O'Neill.

That said, we credit Mayor O'Neill for taking the blows on controversial issues when they came. No, she didn't go out of her way to inject herself in every issue, but when she took a public position, she did not equivocate or pretend to hold opinions different than what she said publicly. We respect this, even when we disagreed with her positions.

And we personally viewed her advocacy with federal officialdom during a special meeting of the City Council several years ago. The meeting was attended by few others although it was fully open to the public. The Mayor and several Councilmembers met with FEMA officials over the feds' plan to dragoon much of LB into a flood insurance zone. It's too bad no other LB media bothered to attend because had the public seen how Mayor O'Neill operated, they would have been impressed. She was excellent. It may be one reason (among many) why FEMA is no longer in much of ELB and NLB now.

We're aren't saying LB was worse off under the O'Neill administration, but we do believe LB could have been better served on issues including Queensway Bay if her administration had not tried to control participants and predetermine outcomes.

Paradoxically, the consensus Mayor O'Neill seemed to crave was made less likely by the controlled atmosphere on which she too often insisted.


In one of the Marx Brothers' movies, Groucho dines with a guest in an elegant restaurant. The waiter hands Groucho the bill. "This is outrageous," Groucho says as he hands the bill to his guest, adding, "I wouldn't pay it if I were you."

This is similar to the way Councilman Grabinski handled last year's oppressive City Hall natural gas bills. He waved the bill in the air, fumed about it and when all was said and done, eventually dribbled out minor relief for some consumers.

But when taxpayers repeatedly came to the podium and asked Grabinski (and the other Council incumbents) to agendize discussion of City Charter section 1502 requiring rates based on other southland areas, he didn't help them.

Like O.J Simpson's defenders, Mr. Grabinski's supporters have become increasingly isolated and desperate in trying to blink away what their candidate did and didn't do on several fronts.

  • Appointed to protect LB's interests on the Southern CA Association Governments, Grabinski quietly voted for a planning scenario that assumes LB Airport can handle 3 million passengers per year even if remains limited to 41 flights. This isn't binding, but it's as reckless as leaving Los Altos and Bixby Knolls homes unlocked with keys in the door waiting to be ransacked. No amount of "slow down" signs make up for this, and we think ELB and Bixby Knolls residents need their head examined if they vote for Grabinski after Mr. "Day of Listening" didn't even bother to tell them much less listen to their opinions by bringing the issue to the Council for public discussion.

  • Grabinski publicly lectured Ann Cantrell on why a park protective Charter Amendment wasn't going to happen, then ensured it wouldn't happen by not agendizing it, then proposed a lesser measure that would let the Council, not the public, control parks, which he called "parks in perpetuity" but legally couldn't guarantee protecting parks or anything else in perpetuity. Now, closer to the Mayor's race, Grabinski says he favors a park protective Charter Amendment.

  • In 1993, when the Council debated whether to add 50 cops or 100 cops, Grabinski wasn't there. He walked in after the vote, lambasted the Council for only adding cops and not doing more, and when one of his compatriots asked if he favored reopening the issue, Grabinski said no but promised to return in a week with his own plan. It's been a long week.

    Nearly a year later, when publisher Bill Pearl agendized (since the public still had that right) a Charter Amendment measure to legally guarantee minimal levels of police, fire and paramedic service tied to increases in city population (and thus future development), four Councilmembers voted to put it on the ballot, four voted against...and Councilman Grabinski walked out of the Council meeting before the vote.

    Four years later, after a failed Mayoral bid and a failed attempt to regain power in the 8th Council district, Grabinski returned as a 7th district Councilman and routinely rubberstamped city management proposed police levels advanced by incumbent Mayor O'Neill, none of which delivered officers in the Police Dept. Strategic Plan's preliminary staffing strategy issued when Grabinski himself was on the Council.

    Even after September 11, when it was obvious crime was increasing and police resources were being further strained, Grabinski persisted in requesting one report after another, and still hasn't moved to add one more officer than city management and incumbent Mayor O'Neill recommended last September.

  • When the Council voted on a proposal advanced by Mayor O'Neill to raise the City Manager's salary to nearly $200,000 per year (with deferred compensation, more than the Governor makes), Grabinski left the Council meeting roughly an hour before the item came up, then returned virtually sixty seconds after the Council voted to approve the raise. He later said he left the meeting because he felt sick. (We marvel at his miraculous recovery.)

    And then there's his conduct on LB's utility tax. In 1991, Grabinski voted to increase it in one fell swoop from 7% to 10%. Not all Councilmembers voted for this but many who did pointed to a supposed "sunset clause" (proposed by another former Councilman) that didn't actually sunset anything but recited the Council would reexamine the increase in its budget deliberations in two years.

    That was the 1993 Council meeting when (big surprise) Grabinski walked in late (on police issues) and (big surprise) didn't mention rolling back the utility tax.

    We have separately noted salient parts of Councilman Grabinski's utility tax record (click here) and commented on it editorially (click here). .


    We want better things for LB than what Mr. Grabinski and the incumbents have delivered. We believe Norm Ryan has already delivered that and can deliver even more.

    We recommend a vote for Mr. Ryan for Mayor on April 9.

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