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    For A Better LB Summer, Without Getting Burned

    (April 5, 2005) -- We urge the City Council not to let city management negotiate -- and sign a contract without its prior public disclosure -- for a deal that as we understand it would basically outsource de facto approval ("program and manage," city management says) for major LB summer events to a recently-organized private group for the next five years.

    [We've posted city management's verbatim April 5 memo and supporting attachment below.]

    We think this requires more than "asking questions" about revenue (advised by the Press-Telegram, regurgitating views previously attributed to LB's costly City Auditor Gary Burroughs, the same fellow who signed what may become an expensive representation and failed for years to spot and enforce rent now claimed due re the Queen Mary).

    In our view, Councilmembers are being asked -- after one study session and without serious alternatives -- to commit CA's fifth largest city to a deal that we believe carries serious policy consequences.

    The issue is not revitalizing the "International Sea Festival" (as it's portrayed for public consumption). What city management really proposes is a master agreement to manage and market all kinds of events under the Sea Festival "umbrella" -- including Airport-related events like "Wings Over Long Beach." (Source: city management April 5 memo to Council).

    The issue is not Chris Pook (or anyone else involved with the private group). We happen to admire what Mr. Pook did years ago with the Grand Prix. Our position would be the same with or without Mr. Pook, or others, because for us it's a matter of policy.

    As we see it, city management is basically asking the Council to hand a private entity -- a middleman -- franchise-style rights to dispense valuable uses of public property.

    We think it would be very unhealthy to create a situation in which entities wanting to arrange major LB summer events will be told, in effect, "Go talk to so-and-so over at that private group because they control what you want to do."

    We think it would be very bad policy to institutionalize anything like that in Long Beach.

    And Councilmembers should think long and hard about the position they'd be putting themselves in. They'd effectively be letting some private group run the kitchen...while Councilmembers will inevitably take the heat (and wash the dishes).

    Yes, city management says the private group will need to "Work with the residents of Long Beach to reduce the impacts on their community by managing all aspects of the events with a commitment to being a 'good neighbor' and partner to the community." But that corporate-style verbiage is no substitute for real Council and public control of public property in the public interest.

    City management's April 5 memo tells Councilmembers, "The development of a business plan will also be a requirement of the contract." Pardon us, but we doubt that a serious Board of Directors would even be asked to consider a major deal like this without seeing a professionally produced business plan first. City management has already committed LB taxpayers to pay $40,000 for something. Doesn't that include a professionally produced business plan? In our view, seeing that plan in writing should precede a contract, not follow it.

    And Councilmembers and taxpayers should see that contract before it's signed, not after. We can think of a number of potentially important items:

  • City management's memo indicates shared revenue will go to the "Special Advertising and Promotions Fund" [which we view mainly as a special-interest oriented fund] as part of the Dept. of Parks, Recreation and Marine...with funds beyond the private group's normal operating expenses "reinvested into Long Beach organizations and events." Exactly what LB "organizations and events" will get that money? Who decides this?

  • Will the group's meetings be public? Will the group comply with the Brown (open meetings) Act and the CA Public Records (freedom of information) Act? Will the group's members be required to file Conflict of Interest declarations (as the CVB now does)? (A contract can specify all of these, we believe.).

  • What happens if someone -- an event promoter or a taxpayer -- objects to the group's decisions? Will they have substantive appeal rights to the City Council? Will Councilmembers be able to say "no" if the group says "yes" (or vice versa)? (No, it isn't "micro-management" when public resources are involved that the public elected the Council to oversee and protect.)

    We honestly have serious misgivings about what's being proposed for the next half decade. Other cities are apparently capable of running successful sea festival type events without outsourcing them or giving parts of themselves away.

    To view city management's April 5 descriptive memo to Council, click here. To view its attachment, click here.

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