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    Developers First, Public Safety Second

    (April 11, 2007) -- When Long Beach elected officials, who don't flinch at raising fees on LB residents, let developers (many based out of town) avoid paying what believe is roughly $4 million for their developments' share of police and fire department impacts, that's a big deal to us.

    $4 million is a sum rivaling the amount involved (under other circumstances) at the Queen Mary. We think LB voters and taxpayers are fed up with elected officials who think they can shrug off that amount of public money...especially for public safety.

    On September 12, 2006, city management cited a professionally prepared report (taxpayer cost: $50,000+) which provided the necessary findings to apply police and fire impact fees to new developments. The Council voted 8-0 to direct the City Attorney to prepare ordinances (covering police and fire) to do this.

    On March 20, 2007, the City Attorney's office delivered for Council approval ordinances to do this, applicable to new developments that hadn't yet received a City Hall-awarded building permit. City staff said the revenue that would be generated from future police/fire infrastructure/hardware would be roughly $2.75 million. [Our unofficial calculation estimates it's closer to $4 million.]

    Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal, who acknowledged she represents the downtown area that includes many of the new developments, first claimed there hadn't been sufficient "outreach" to developers. So a public meeting was held.

    When the fee issue returned to the Council on April 3, Councilwoman Lowenthal was joined by Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal and Mayor Bob Foster in voicing a different rationale: applying the fee to developers with projects in the pipeline would be "unfair, "inequitable," "retroactive."

    But if that were true, the Lowenthals and the Mayor could have said this March 20, 2007...and they didn't. For that matter, they (and the rest of the Council) could have said this on September 12, 2006 and they didn't.

    Councilman Patrick O'Donnell, who'd said on March 20, 2007 that said he was prepared to vote for the fees immediately, did a massive "180." On April 3, he made a motion -- which appeared to be prewritten for him by someone -- to exempt developers with projects "in the pipeline" from the fees.

    [Councilman O'Donnell recently dropped out of the Democrats' 54th district Assembly race, leaving Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal to drop in; O'Donnell insists his Assembly decision stemmed from family reasons.]

    Of course, those supporting the gutted, developer-friendly version of the public safety fees claimed the issue isn't public safety; they said they were voting to implement the public safety impact fee on new developments on a "go forward" basis.

    Conspicuous by their absence on April 3 and April 10 were representatives of the LB Police Officers Ass'n and the LB Firefighters Ass'n. On March 20, both groups publicly urged the Council to enact the fees in an ordinance that would apply new developments, which as written included pending developments. In 2004, the LBPOA played a major role in helping elect O'Donnell to the Council.

    That left only Councilwoman Rae Gabelich to stick up for LB taxpayers. In detailed terms, she made the case for applying the fees to all developments not yet given city building permits for their future police and fire impacts. She received no audible Council support...and after stating her displeasure joined her colleagues in voting 8-0 for the developer-friendly exemption.

    On April 10 (with Councilman DeLong absent), the Council gave a second, final reading to approve the gutted public safety impact fee. Again, Councilwoman Gabelich objected...and this time she was the only LB lawmaker to say anything. She told the public:

    Councilwoman Gabelich: I just want to make a comment because I made a lot of passionate comments about this last week and I was trying to find a way to find a compromise so that everyone could take a deep breath and agree on some common ground.

    But what I discovered while trying to put this together that our process was flawed. Appropriate notice was not given to any of the programs that were in the works and we lost an opportunity, because of that, to provide greater balance of public safety services for our thousands of new residents.

    Of that, I'm quite disturbed by that, but we move forward from this point. And so I appreciate everybody being patient with me last week. I still believe that this is a good program and everyone will benefit, and I'm just sorry that it wasn't in effect when we thought it was going to be.

    And with that I vote yes.

    We don't get it. LB taxpayers didn't hear this from city management...or from the City Attorney's office which drafted ordinances to apply the fees to pending developments.

    We did hear something like this via email from 5th district Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske (who's a lawyer and Gen'l Counsel to the Teachers Ass'n of LB). She provided us with a legalistic treatise from one of the policy-wonky civic conferences she actually enjoys attending...and it apparently gave her pause to applying the fee to pending developments.

    So what really happened here? We intend to find out.

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