(May 30, 2006) -- We suggest that LB voters to apply a guiding principle in making their choices for Mayor and three of nine Councilmembers:
By the totality of the candidate's actions, their words, their endorsers and their contributors, which candidate will correct mistakes of the past and not repeat mistakes of the past in the future?
We apply this principle below to the way LB City Hall has treated taxpayers in the past, and how LB's Mayoral finishers propose to treat taxpayers now, on what we consider a city's first funding priority -- public safety.
Our position for over a decade, regardless of election cycles and candidates, has been that LB taxpayers deserve guarantees on per capita police and firefighter levels in the City Charter. Among other things, this would prevent these budget priorities from becoming political footballs.
That said, our guiding principle tells us Frank Colonna is right on police and Bob Foster has erred in offering what amounts to repeating LB's mistakes of the past.
The Foster campaign calls Councilman Colonna a pandering politician for urging 300 more police officers in four years. Foster actually seeks credit for telling taxpayers City Hall can only afford 100 officers (and perhaps a few more) over four years absent a tax increase. In TV ads and mailers, Foster says police support him.
Mr. Foster has run what amounts to an anti-incumbent campaign. He says Councilman Colonna didn't lead or vote for those 300 cops when he could have. That's accurate...but it doesn't make the case for voting for Foster when he uses the same type of argument City Hall used to shortchange the public on needed police levels for over a decade.
While sending an anti-incumbent message, Mr. Foster's campaign is supported by some of the usual suspects who didn't audibly object to what City Hall did. Their voices echo in Mr. Foster's words on police now. We presume he reached his conclusion independently but we still disagree with it. We say it's based on premises discredited by history here and elsewhere. Regardless of who's elected, we'll continue being a thorn in their side on this issue until it's set right for LB taxpayers once and for all.
LB wouldn't need 300 more officers now if the soon-to-be-former Mayor, enabled by various managers and Councilmembers, hadn't failed to deliver officers recommended in a "Strategic Plan" City Hall released as voters entered the 1994 election cycle that brought Beverly O'Neill to power. City Hall's "Plan" neutered police as an election issue and once O'Neill was safely installed, she and multiple Councils proceeded to flout the Plan's police staffing recommendations. Their actions left LB overall (some neighborhoods better or worse than others) less safe per capita in violent crimes than NYC.
Mayor Rudi Giuliani made public safety his priority. Mayor O'Neill depended on mythology at the Aquarium, the Queen Mary and "Queensway Bay." Mayor Giuliani was a leader. Mayor O'Neill's apologists preferred a cheerleader.
Frank Colonna isn't Rudi Giuliani and doesn't claim to be...but we think he's basically proposing to do what Giuliani did: restore urban order and treat public safety seriously. We regret that Mr. Foster's message to taxpayers for the future mirrors the actions of O'Neill and Councils of the past.
A City Hall that fails to budget sufficient police for taxpayers leaves itself with money to spoon out to its friends, not for libraries and parks but for sweet deals with favored interests. Mr. Foster's position on police perpetuates this status quo even if that's not his intent.
Mr. Foster says current funds plus expected revenue plus efficiencies means City Hall can afford roughly 100 officers (perhaps some more) over four years. That's a measly 25 or so more cops a year. If LB gains 50,000 people by 2010, Mr. Foster's "increase" will evaporate to basically a zero per capita increase based on 2.0 officers per thousand residents (50,000 times 2 cops/thousand = 100).
LB City Hall currently gives taxpayers barely 1.91 to 1.93 budgeted officers per thousand residents while L.A. budgets roughly 2.3-2.4 officers/thousand residents. No serious L.A. Mayoral candidate dared to suggest cutting his city's police level by over a thousand cops...but that's the type of per capita level Mr. Foster considers "affordable" for LB City Hall.
The city's budget isn't an electric bill counting pennies. It's about priorities. The Mayor doesn't add police. The Mayor receives the City Manager's proposed budget, adds suggestions (that he or she can press from a big bully pulpit) and sends it to the City Council which ultimately decides on police levels. A Mayor can challenge...which O'Neill didn't do. Yes, she endorses Colonna...but he's distancing himself from what she didn't do.
Mr. Foster hammers Councilman Colonna for (Foster says) not providing specifics on funding 300 more officers, but that cuts both ways. Why hasn't Mr. Foster offered his own specifics to correct past City Hall injustices on police instead of effectively ratifying them by decreeing alternatives "unaffordable"?
Mr. Foster says he wants a clean-page look at the budget -- after he's elected -- but we think LB voters deserve to hear this before they vote...especially since he expects specifics from his opponent while offering taxpayers less.
A recent mailer from the Foster campaign likened 300 officers to pie in the sky. It was a generally well-executed piece (we could quibble with some of its assertions)...but it included verbiage above Mr. Foster's signature that got our attention:
"The City's Strategic Plan argues that we need 1000 officers to fully implement community-based policing. We can do that, and a little better, by hiring and training 100 more police officers."
That's not true. LB City Hall led taxpayers (and voters in 1994) to believe they could expect 1,023 officers by 2000. Mr. Foster says City Hall can't afford those levels until 2009 or 2010...after a decade in which City Hall invited rampaging growth, density and new developments (with gargantuan proposals pending)...and didn't ask if taxpayers could afford that.
Finally...we're tired of seeing cops used as props:
[Announcer voice over]: Long Beach police officers support Bob Foster. [Unidentified officer]: Long Beach police officers support Bob Foster for Mayor..."
So how many officers really support Mr. Foster? No one knows for sure. The endorsement of LB's Police Officers Ass'n (a public employee union) resulted from a vote of roughly a dozen or so members, we're told. The POA is more democratic than others and its endorsement vote was open to all of the POA's 900 members...but still only a handful of members actually showed up.
For those who think we're too harsh on City Hall, we'll be posting a separate piece showing how LB taxpayers were systematically shortchanged on police levels they deserved.
For those who think we're too harsh on Mr. Foster, we've invited retired eight-year Councilman Doug Drummond (who served 29+ years on LBPD and endorsed Mr. Foster after finishing third behind Colonna in the April Mayor's race) to send us a piece explaining why our reasoning is wrong. Drummond has previously told us he thinks we're wrong (his quote was "very wrong") on our then-mulled reasoning on police levels in the Foster v. Colonna runoff.
We'll be creating a special section of our front page devoted to handle responses on our election-related matters.
Mr. Foster is saying important, significant things about LB's Port and the Airport. We'll get to those separately.
That, and more, coming on LBReport.com.