Bravo, Chief Batts...Now, As For The Council On Public Safety...
(March 2, 2005) -- LB Police Chief Anthony Batts has kept his word...again. At the March 1, 2005 City Council meeting, he did what he promised in a meeting with LB community activists two weeks earlier.
As LBReport.com reported at the time, Chief Batts said he would tell LB Councilmembers that LBPD had delivered major crime reductions over the past ten years; LBPD officers deserve better pay to match; and LB needs more cops.
On March 1, Chief Batts delivered an intellectually honest and unflinching report to the Council. As Councilwoman Bonnie Lowenthal put it, Chief Batts' report was the best she could ever recall hearing from a LB Police Chief.
Batts' presentation was also a credit to City Manager Jerry Miller, who selected Batts as Chief in fall 2002...and has allowed him to tell the truth to Councilmembers who decide how many officers LB taxpayers receive and how much they're paid.
In October 2002, newly-appointed Chief Batts told reporters he would tell Councilmembers in September 2003 how many officers he needed while respecting their role in deciding how and when to deliver this. Again, Chief Batts kept his word. In September 2003, he told the Council (in a non-prime time afternoon session scheduled just hours before the budget vote) that he needed 130 more officers at that time.
Councilmembers smiled politely and sent Chief Batts on his way. A year later in Sept. 2004, Councilmembers didn't even bother asking their Police Chief for a public budget presentation.
The fact is, if LB City Hall had done what its own Strategic Plan advised, LB wouldn't have the police officer deficit we have today. LB would have had 1,023 officers five years ago...roughly 130 more than we have now.
And for the record, City Hall created the officer deficit while it was collecting a whopping 10% utility tax. It raised the utility tax in the first place citing public safety. In 2000, LB voters approved Prop J which cut the oppressive 10% tax to 5% over five years; it passed in a landslide, nearly a 70% margin citywide...and higher in some districts. Since LB City Hall didn't provide the cops with a 10% tax, no serious person trusts it to do so with a 6% or 7% tax.
Here's our package of reforms:
A Charter Amendment, legally binding, requiring Councilmembers to fund public safety first to give taxpayers specified service levels tied to city population. This will ensure LB has a healthy ratio of police officers and firefighters, no excuse, no baloney, no rubber "plans."
This measure is also neighborhoods' best defense against current lunatic proposals for increased density. A Charter Amendment that requires City Hall to deliver a certain level of police and firefighters based on population will effectively deter such nonsense by requiring City Hall (or a developer) to pay for what they impose.
Five Councilmembers can put such a measure on the ballot; approval of the measure would require a majority vote of the people.
[Note: In February 1994, there were four Council votes (Councilmembers Drummond, Robbins, Kellogg & Harwood) to put such a measure on the ballot, written by now LBReport.com publisher Bill Pearl. Allowing the public to vote on the measure was opposed by Councilmembers Braude, A. Lowenthal, Clark & Topsy-Elvord; Grabinski walked out prior to the vote.]
A more equitable share of LB's hotel room tax. Currently, half of LB's hotel room tax ("transient occupancy tax") never even reaches the General Fund to deliver police, fire, libraries and parks for LB residents. Incredibly, half of that public money is diverted, much of it to a private entity, the LB Area Convention & Visitors Bureau; another chunk from hotels in the downtown Redevelopment area goes to the Redevelopment Agency.
With all the endless palaver about the asserted benefits of tourism, we think LB's General Fund deserves more than half of LB's hotel room tax. 80% sounds a lot fairer to us.
The CVB, which includes plenty of well-heeled corporate entities, can raise its dues to fund its own operations...or it can hold a bake sale. The Redevelopment agency payments deserve scrutiny.
LB's total hotel bed tax is currently about $14 million annually; conservatively estimated, we'll call it $13 million. 80% would produce at least $10 million for the General Fund instead of the current $6.5 million. That's about 35 additional cops with equipment each year. The Council may be able to do this with a majority vote, perhaps at CVB contract renewal time if not sooner. The City Attorney would know about that, as well as any potential Prop 218 or other pitfalls.
A fee on new development specifically to cover public safety costs (police and fire): Currently, LB has an impact fee for parks...and we believe there ought to be one for public safety too. If this requires a ballot measure, so be it. Developers will hate it; the public will approve it. Without such a fee, LB taxpayers are effectively subsidizing (and thus encouraging) new density and development. That doesn't sound smart to us.
A "green light" measure for new development if it triggers major new traffic impacts or a major EIR: Newport Beach voters have enacted a "green light" measure regarding traffic. Voters must approve -- give a "green light" on -- major projects impacting traffic. Developers hated it, voters approved it. Adding a voter "green light" to major EIRs would do wonders to deter reckless development at the Port and the Airport.
We say LB residents and businesses deserve a legally guaranteed level of sworn police and firefighters to the city's population, funded as the city's first budget priority.