(February 28, 2007) -- LB taxpayers are still paying for delusions of the former O'Neill administration which left LB taxpayers holding the bag for its "successes."
We are agnostic for now about whether the Amgen Bicycle Tour that recently rolled into Long Beach was a civic success or something less...but we are adamant that LB officialdom approach this in a professional, businesslike manner. In this, and other matters, LB can no longer afford the kind of blind boosterism that marked the previous administration.
A local lawyer chum of ours who's a cycling fan, knows the sport, has all the bicycle paraphernalia and has traveled abroad to ride in some cycling tours, says the Amgen California Tour (now in its second year) was extremely well done. He uses terms like "professionally organized, beautifully executed." We believe him.
Then he paused to chuckle at the giddy quotes attributed to otherwise intelligent LB public figures in the Press Telegam. "They don't get it," he told us.
Right. Which is why we urge LB's new City Auditor, Laura Doud -- who says she's focused on "go forward" actions exceeding past expectations -- to do an independent audit of what LB taxpayers received in real dollars -- not "advertising value" or "economic impacts" or other virtual sums. No boosterism, just the facts.
LBReport.com has already done some of the work by reporting basics that others didn't find newsworthy. First, we reported who paid for the extra police and public services involved and how much. No, it apparently wasn't the race organizers.
It was the Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau (LBCVB), an entity that gets a little over $4 million a year (about 75% of its annual operating budget) in City Council-allocated money from LB's hotel room ("transient occupancy") tax. We are not at war with the LBCVB. Under its skillful current management (which is more open and transparent than some other LB private entities getting public money), LB's hotel room tax has now reached over $16 million annually, a record sum.
A city-issued permit for the bike event indicated that City Hall's price tag for police, other city services and fees for the Saturday pre-race events and Sunday race day events came to a little over $94,000. To us, that doesn't sound as bad as a costly Olympic Swimming Trial fiasco a few years ago (for which CVB wasn't responsible) that the PT portrayed as a "success" despite the fact it included a de facto Council-approved taxpayer bail-out.
Boosters will say LB is "getting in on the ground floor" on the cycling tour, comparable to the Grand Prix, but we see differences. It's relatively easy for a "staged" (multi-day) bike tour to shift its routes, and we're told other tours do. What's to stop this tour from ending in OC and SD next year?
LB's "strategy" seems to be that of a cheerleader who lets the quarterback score a horizontal touchdown with her, hoping that if she does enough special things for him he won't go elsewhere. What kind of an "investment" is that for a major U.S. city?
As LBReport.com reported, LB looked spectacular in televised coverage of the race. It was carried on the "Versus" cable/satellite TV network, which Versus says reaches over 70 million homes nationally. OK, but that doesn't mean 70 million people in those homes were watching that network during the event...or that it automatically means benefits for LB.
What LB taxpayers need now is realism, not vanity. How much additional revenue did LB taxpayers see from Feb. 24-25 pre-race and race-day hotel occupancy? How much additional parking revenue and sales tax did LB taxpayers receive?
We acknowledge that positive exposure for Long Beach is worth something, sometimes quite a lot. The TV cameras atop City Hall are one of the O'Neill administration's major coups, a stroke of brilliance (seriously). Each time they're used in L.A. market TV news and weather shots, they show LB at its gleaming, renaissance best. That's worth something.
But that cuts both ways. In our view, the real test is what would happen if those cameras were rotated 180 degrees to face northward. What's the equivalent "advertising value" when major TV networks, wire services, newspapers and talk shows accurately report that a Marine who survived combat in Iraq was shot and killed at his family's residence just northeast of LB's downtown?
Until LB City Hall turns its attention to making those parts of this city as safe and desirable for residents as the shoreline is for tourists, LB needs to change its priorities and focus on people who actually live here.
Again, we're agnostic on the cycling event for now. We urge an audit by the independent City Auditor's office to disclose to taxpayers what each and every sponsoring City of LB entity spent on this event and what LB taxpayers received in real dollars...the kind that City Hall expects in payment for its gas and water bills.
LBReport.com offered the Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau an opportunity to submit a simultaneous counterpoint to this editorial. Through a spokesman, the organization declined for now.