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    "Independent Study" Of LB Redevelopment Is Up...and Redevelopment's Time Is Up

    (June 1, 2005) -- We predicted an "Independent Study" of Redevelopment in LB -- which lacks a forensic audit because the Redevelopment Agency board didn't want one -- would end up basically an overgrown term paper defending the status quo.

    So it is. We post a link to the document below.

    The report continues to invite misframing the issue. In our view, the proper question isn't "Should the City Council become the Redevelopment Agency's governing board?"

    The real issue is: "On balance, has Redevelopment helped or hurt LB...and should Redevelopment in LB be perpetuated or ended, regardless of who runs it?

    But because it didn't include a legitimate audit, the "Independent Study" doesn't enlighten; instead, it spreads goo. Some examples:

    In general, the Independent Study Team concluded that the LBRA is performing its basic functions fairly well. Its projects reflect a track record of financial success, and the completed projects are generally popular with the citizens of Long Beach.

    "Financial success?" The study itself admits:

    While the LBRA has kept voluminous records, those records were not always complete or easy to access. Among the problems encountered were:

    • The recordkeeping system is designed to support and produce documents mandated by law for project approval and implementation -- rather than evaluation of project results.
    • The Agency’s accounting and personnel systems track project revenues and expenditures (including LBRA administrative expenses) by project area -- rather than by specific project -- making project-level evaluations impossible in most cases.
    • Moreover, there is no parallel tracking system that permits more policyoriented reviews of individual projects. For example, there is no system that permits analysts to compare actual to predicted project expenses, or to assess project feasibility by comparing project revenues with expenses.
    • The Agency uses different revenue and expenditure categories in different documents, and over time, which makes it difficult to reconcile financial information to create a complete picture of project economics.
    • The City’s outstanding GIS system, which contains a wealth of information, cannot aggregate data corresponding to either LBRA project areas or individual project boundaries.

    As a result, our case study efforts to measure costs and benefits have been more topical than comprehensive and systematic. We have undertaken financial and benefit analyses where data was available, but more often than not were frustrated by the inability to gather data that would permit meaningful analysis.

    Undeterred, the "study" then defines "success" as it pleases: "In order to establish a benchmark for LBRA performance, the Independent Study Team developed draft Definitions of Success and then refined those definitions in response to comments received."

    As for dissatisfaction with the LBRA, "we believe that much of that dissatisfaction is based on misunderstanding of the respective roles of the LBRA board, the City Council, the City Manager, staff, the PACs, and the public in the redevelopment process. Improved definition of these roles and education of the public about these roles would go far to reduce this tension..."

    The study tells LB taxpayers -- who have paid and continue to pay dearly for Redevelopment -- that "the results stated in this report do not constitute the 'report card' of the LBRA [LB Redevelopment Agency] -- they reflect areas for further study..."

    Ah, more study.

    Enough. The time for term papers and endless study has passed. When LB Redevelopment's costly "successes" can't be demonstrated in legitimate financial terms, and RDA's governing board resists a serious audit of its projects, we believe LB Redevelopment no longer merits taxpayer support. We favor unwinding its activities to the extent possible...and urge that its current project areas not be merged or expanded (which will invite further expansion).

    Finally, we credit the agency's web site as being extraordinarily well done. Kudos, Johnny Vallejo, for your skills in showing how a government body can communicate effectively with the public via the internet.

    To view the Independent Study Consolidated Final Report, click here

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