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Now, It's the Voters' Turn (Revisiting Sept. 2011 Editorial)

(April 7, 2012) -- Below is the salient text of an editorial LBReport.com ran seven months ago today on Sept. 7, 2011. It followed what we considered appalling budget actions by the current City Council majority. We opined at that time that the Council majority had its turn, and now it would be LB voters' turn.

And now it surely is. At this moment, LB voters are deciding what happens next as they mark their vote-by-mail ballots at home or prepare to vote at polling places on April 10.

Some parts of what we wrote have been overtaken by events. No candidate surfaced to challenge 6th dist. incumbent Dee Andrews. Reductions from 4 to 3 persons per fire engine were averted (perhaps only delayed) when the LB Firefighters Ass'n agreed to modify its current contract. On the evening of April 10, we will know what LB's voters did.

[LBReport.com archival text] (Sept. 7, 2011) -- They voted, and now it's the voters' turn.

Long Beach taxpayers watched last night as six City Council incumbents -- Garcia, Lowenthal, DeLong, O'Donnell, Andrews and Johnson -- scorned public testimony in first voting down a proposal by Councilmembers Gabelich, Neal and Schipske (amended on the floor to neutralize objections by Mayor Foster) THEN went on to enact City Hall's FY12 spending budget...with no one from the public left in the Council Chamber in the 10 p.m.-11 p.m. hour to speak on it.

By their actions, the Mayor's Machine Six enacted what now amount to the worst cuts to budgeted police and firefighter staffing in the history of the City of Long Beach.

In the past three years, five of the Mayor's six (Johnson joined with them for two of the three years) have accomplished what deserves to be national news: they erased two decades of federal taxpayer grant funded increases to LB's police level (under the O'Neill administration), millions of dollars taken by LB City Hall on the pretense of a commitment to increase its police officers. With the cuts enacted by the Mayor's six on Sept. 6, virtually every one of the budgeted officers added for citywide deployment from 1994 to the present will be gone by one year from today.

Adding insult to injury, the Mayor's Six explicitly voted to cancel another replenishment police academy class...the one that their police chief said in Nov. 2010 that he favored conducting (click here).

They then distinguished themselves by voting -- for the first time in the history of Long Beach -- to cut staffing on LB Fire Engines from four to three, despite being warned that this means responding firefighters will now have to wait until a second unit arrives before they can enter a burning building to put out the fire. (One public speaker said this is like having no firefighters arrive.)

The Council's action was contrary to what their own Fire Chief said he favors (if not for Mayor/management/Council majority dictated "proportional cuts") AND what retired Fire Chief Terry Harbor testified to from the Council speakers' podium. Retired Fire Chief Harbor reminded the Council of a six-figure study, initiated for cost savings, that ended up urging against three person crews for Long Beach...and Chief Harbor noted that was at a time when LBFD had fewer calls than it has now.

The Council's actions were enabled by the Mayor's choice to chair the Council's Public Safety Committee, Robert Garcia, who failed to hold even ONE hearing on the Mayor/Management damaging proposed budget cuts. Now understandably worried that his actions and his votes might make him look bad, Garcia and now-Assembly-candidate O'Donnell tried to spin their actions as inviting future discussion that might [or might not] change parts of what they'd both voted to approve.

[Prediction: Watch for an email from Garcia trying to portray his vote to cut police and fire staffing as part of a future plan to change the budget he just voted to pass. We expect he will continue to advocate a half-million dollar City website upgrade, additional hardware (some of which makes sense) but not the staffing that taxpayers (especially in his crime impacted district) genuinely deserve.]

The Gabelich-Neal-Schipske budget alternative left Mayor Foster sputtering, so bereft of arguments on the merits that he had to resort to name-calling ("irresponsible"), claiming the alternative to his damaging cuts would expose City Hall to deficits. Foster predictably blamed past administrations, neatly omitting that it was HIS administration that throttled LB into a train wreck by urging approval of five year unsustainable city employee agreements.

When confronted with a Neal substitute-substitute motion that offered to reduce the Gabelich-Neal-Schipske budget alternative in half -- collapsing Foster's argument about the risks of "mercurial" oil price changes by sequestering half of the oil revenue to avoid whipsaw price changes -- Foster smeared the proposal as using "one time" money to cover "ongoing" costs. Omitted in that scenario: oil revenue above conservatively budgeted levels has shown itself to be a continuing revenue source, could be prioritized for public safety (which Foster rejects), and only created problems when Foster's administration grossly over-estimated it in FY09.

DeLong called the Neal substitute half as bad. Vice Mayor Lowenthal offered her own naming calling, portraying it as "simplistic" and "political." Johnson offered a selective history that spares criticism of Foster, faithful to the man who brought him to LB City Hall and put him on the 14th floor using money budgeted to the City Clerk's office.

Finally, the Mayor's Six resorted to the self-serving politicians' device of telling taxpayers they support public safety although their actions showed otherwise. All six joined in voting to extend what has become the largest cut in LB police officers -- over 150 officers in the past three budget years -- in the history of the City of Long Beach AND eliminated a replenishment Police Academy class that their Police Chief favored AND cut Firefighter staffing in ways that their current and former Fire Chiefs warned against.

That's the voting record of the Mayor's Six. Now, it's the voters' turn.

In the April 2012 election cycle, we believe at least one and probably two of the Mayor's incumbent Council allies -- Lowenthal and Andrews -- can be defeated. Andrews can be easily pushed over. He squandered the Kroc Center and has made a mockery of his campaign pledge to "stand up" to downtown special interests by failing to stand up for his constituents who have the most to lose from the public safety cuts he voted for.

Vice Mayor Lowenthal is also more vulnerable than her title implies. Her constituents have seen her coldly uncompassionate response to murders, shootings and violent crime, reciting Mahatma Gandhi, fixating on a Taj Mahal Civic Center rebuild, prioritizing plastic bag bans/paper bag charges and applauding traffic slowing bicycle lanes.

Meanwhile, Mayoral robots are being readied for attempted sale and installation in Council districts 4 and 8...Ensuring they are defeated and legitimate grassroots neighborhood activists are elected is the only way to ensure the Mayor's machinery is countered by checks and balances instead of gaining strength and arrogance...

Gabelich, Neal and Schipske won their case on the merits and in the hearts and minds of the public. They were defeated by a machine. Voters have the power to unplug that machine in the coming months.

Candidates who speak clearly on this can be elected. Last night shows why taxpaying residents and businesses citywide have an interest in seeing to it that this takes place.

The darkest hour is just before dawn.

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