(February 16, 2004) -- Traci Wilson-Kleekamp is leaving Long Beach.
She's moving two time zones east to a place with tornado watches, heat indexes and wind chills.
She says the reasons are economic, not political. She says her family will be better off.
We take a moment here to appreciate the changes Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp brought to CA's fifth largest city -- tirelessly, selflessly and with a fraction of City Hall's resources.
She and husband Steve bought a home in what they thought was a bucolic 4th district neighborhood across from the greenery of Stearns Park.
No sooner had they moved in than Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp woke to find city workers fencing off part of the park. When she called City Hall to find out what was going on, she was told the deal was done. There'd be some kind of police dispatch center; it's all planned, all decided, go away.
She didn't go away. Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp used the CA Public Records Act (a state freedom of information law) to find out exactly what City Hall planned: a massive Emergency Communications and Operations Center (ECOC), a compound complete with a 100+ ft. radio tower that would consume part of Stearns Park and straddle part of the adjacent LBFD fire training center.
Some at City Hall thought this was smart...since the city-owned park land was "free." Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp did not consider park land "free." She considered park land priceless.
In trying to spread the word, she tried to contact a neighborhood group. There wasn't one...so she started one herself. Her Stearns Park Neighborhood Association continues to this day.
Her work drew the attention of El Dorado Park savior Ann Cantrell and Los Altos south neighborhood leader Joe Sopo. Together, they fought and won a major battle that has had citywide results. They did it virtually entirely uphill.
City management dug in its heels, insisting there was no alternative site as good and the project had to be done at Stearns Park immediately or else. Undeterred, Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp pressed then-4th district Councilman Del Roosevelt, who was unpersuaded at first but eventually backed Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp.
In a dramatic Council showdown in late 1999, city management conceded that its best case scenario for finishing its supposedly urgent ECOC in Stearns Park was actually mid-2002. The Council told management to find another site...and of course they did.
Today, LB taxpayers have a more modern ECOC on city-owned Water Dept. land at Spring St. and Redondo Ave. (Once City Hall got that project rolling, it was finished on schedule.)
To her credit, 5th district Councilwoman Jackie Kell has graciously credited opponents of the Stearns Park site with helping produce an even better, more technologically advanced ECOC.
If Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp had not done what she did, part of Stearns Park would have been lost permanently. Worse still, City Hall would have continued viewing LB park land as "free" and ripe for the taking everywhere.
Councilmembers have since voted to send to a Committee a proposal for a Charter Amendment that would prevent future takings of park land for non-park purposes. It's fermenting there now, unfinished business that others have not forgotten and should resolve to finish in Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp's absence. (If City Hall expects voters to approve other Charter Amendment changes this fall, it had better follow through on the park measure.)
In contrast, NLB residents acquiesced in plans to take part of Scherer Park to expand a police facility...and were handed the bill when City Hall took their redevelopment money (after they politely agreed). But that was the last straw. Formerly quiescent NLB voices now echo Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp's opposition to merger and expansion of redevelopment areas, a battle that will also continue along lines Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp helped draw.
The citywide nature of the Stearns Park debate and other issues prompted Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp to create LB's "ThisLand" listserv, a group of people who sign up to receive emailed comments from others, automatically forwarded from one to all on the list. The pithy remarks on LB matters, often in a "take no prisoners" style, initially disoriented City Hall...although many LB officials have now adapted to the daily blasts, grit their teeth and read them.
The communication link was cited last year by no less than the Los Angeles Times in its coverage of the 710 freeway expansion brouhaha. It has helped build alliances across traditional city boundaries.
For reasons that baffle us and amuse others, Councilman Dennis Carroll has chosen to pursue what we would characterize as a civil but hardball jihad against Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp and others like-minded.
When Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp invited LB's leading activist on airport issues, 8th district homeowner Rae Gabelich, to address the Stearns Park Neighborhood Association, Councilman Carroll (whose 4th district is among the most airport impacted) didn't exactly roll out the Welcome Wagon.
He and one of his Council office aides showed up at the Stearns Park group's meeting (which was open and public) carrying a video camera and openly proceeded to tape the event. After the event, Mesdames Kleekamp and Gabelich responded in kind, requesting a copy of the tape as a public record...which Carroll's office then said hadn't recorded.
The saga continued. A few months later, concerned about plans to expand LB Airport's permanent terminal area facilities (City Hall says to accommodate passengers under the airport's currently allowed flight slot levels), Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp had day-glo orange signs printed, declaring "Say No To Airport Expansion." These now dot parts of the 4th and 8th districts and beyond. Some at City Hall were apoplectic, but the wily Carroll moved to co-opt the message, bringing a year-end non-binding Council resolution reciting a policy of "no airport flight-slot expansion," then regurgitating its heading into his official election candidate statement that by law will be sent to all 4th district voters.
A few months ago, Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp also learned (via a publicly released city document) that some pockets of the 4th district east of Lakewood Blvd. were included among areas that might be considered for future redevelopment. She alerted potentially impacted property owners...and she says they thanked her. Councilman Carroll ingraciously sneered that she'd needlessly alarmed his constituents (then took action to remove the areas from potential consideration in redevelopment.)
Some of the acrimony may stem from Carroll's 2000 run for Council during which he had kind words for Norm Ryan personally. At the time, Mr. Ryan (with Business Journal publisher George Economides and others) favored a ballot measure to cut LB's whopping 10% utility tax in half over five years (one percent reductions per year). Mr. Ryan endorsed Mr. Carroll, and Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp backed Carroll's candidacy and also backed Ryan's ballot measure.
However, to the best of our knowledge, candidate Carroll never specifically endorsed Ryan's ballot measure that called for cutting the utility tax to 5% over five years. In an April 2000 campaign letter, then-candidate Carroll said in part: "My Commitment: ...4. Cut the Utility Users Tax to 5%. Our current rate only sustains continued wasteful spending..." The letter didn't say how soon or over what period of time.
After candidate Carroll became Councilman Carroll, he maintained a lawyerly consistency with his letter but angered Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp and others by backing (and presenting the City Council slide-show for) a City Hall counter-measure that proposed half the annual tax relief: cutting the utility tax to 5% over ten years (half percent reductions per year). Carroll also recorded cable TV commercials backing the City Hall counter-measure that featured himself orating.
Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp was deeply disappointed by this, as were others. Voters enacted the Ryan-backed Prop J by a landslide near 70% margin citywide. (This should have signaled Councilmembers to reduce spending, but they didn't, which helped fuel deficits for which some at City Hall now mistakenly try to blame voters for enacting Prop J.)
A month after Prop J passed, natural gas bills from City Hall's utility soared to oppressive levels...and six months later, Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp joined in a class action suit seeking rebates for consumers citywide. Councilman Carroll blasted the suit, warning that if successful it could possibly bankrupt the city. The lawsuit didn't produce rebates but did show that a City Charter section feeding the General Fund "profit" from the the city-run utility doesn't automatically protect LB consumers when residents of nearby cities pay lower rates. LB rates are now much better, but watch for this issue to continue in upcoming Charter discussions.
In November 2001, Councilman Carroll again got himself on a collision course with Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp by voting to raise then-City Manager Henry Taboada's salary. Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp favored firing Mr. Taboada. Less than a year later, the Council voted to dismiss him.
When numbers from the largely publicly-funded LB Convention and Visitors Bureau didn't make sense to her, Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp said so...and the issue eventually percolated into the mainstream media. No charges were filed, no wrongdoing was ever proven or officially alleged, but the group is now led by new management...which has generally won plaudits.
Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp has been critical of some downtown development policies, including CityPlace (she favored the Plaza Coalition's plan, parts of which the Council adopted) and the Pike @ Rainbow Harbor (although she has confessed to us that she likes -- really likes -- GamesWorks at the Pike.)
To facilitate the Pike development, City Hall took gymnastic steps that included a land swap giving tidelands designation to inland areas including a publicly inaccessible freeway median between the 710's downtown entry and exit roads. Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp was horrified and promptly dubbed the newly designated tidelands property "asthma park." History will judge whether City Hall's downtown developments perform as their cheerleaders have predicted.
Some have chided Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp for being "too negative," but they have it wrong. Just as friends don't let friends drive drunk, those who love a city don't let it throttle into what they see as coming train wrecks. No one who felt negatively about Long Beach would have done as much as she did at her own time and expense to try to make the city better.
Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp won't be leaving town, as others have, with a lucrative public employee pension (the kind fattened by Councilmembers in 2002 at taxpayer expense). She has, however, done much for the public and for CA's fifth largest city.
Parks: better protected. Government: more open. Taxpayers: more alert. Neighborhoods: more savvy. LB media: more active.
Godspeed Traci, and thank you.