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    (Oct. 3, 2006) -- We held off on expressing our views on the Studebaker/Loynes "Home Depot" development until seeing whether others would make the points we make below. They didn't, so we do.

    In the early 1990s, Doug Otto -- a lawyer now honorably representing the development's land owner and predictably tapdancing around significant traffic impacts -- was spouting near endless concerns over traffic congestion and gridlock.

    With City Hall 15 years ago lusting for more tax dollars (some things never change), then-City Manager Jim Hankla oversaw a plan, ultimately approved by the City Council, to impose a whopping 16% surcharge on LB business licenses. City officials said LB faced coming traffic gridlock unless mitigating public works projects were undertaken.

    Mr. Otto served as a de facto salesman/liaison for this, enduring stupefying public testimony, meetings, predictions, reports and studies and ultimately applauding a "Traffic Mitigation Program," a paper list of projects (some small, some large) that would supposedly be funded by the business license surcharge.

    These included grade separations -- one street going under another -- at the Iron Triangle (PCH/7th/Bellflower), the Traffic Circle, Lakewood/Spring and Ocean/Alamitos. The Press-Telegram helped sell the "plan" with maps, articles...and editorials. To silence doubters, City Hall even wrote the projects into the Transportation Element of LB's General Plan.

    Big surprise: City Hall's 16% business license surcharge didn't actually require City Hall to deliver any of the projects. The net effect was a W.C. Fields style shuffle, funneling money to City Hall on one pretext while leaving City Hall free to spend the money as it pleased. As Fields might say, "Never give a sucker an even break."

    The result was predictable. Smaller public works projects were done but not one of the grade separations were ever delivered.

    This is relevant to the Home Depot project...because if City Hall had delivered what it promised at the Iron Triangle (PCH/7th/Bellflower) -- which City Hall admits will be significantly adversely impacted by the Home Depot development -- the results might be different.

    If LB City Hall ever were concerned about traffic and not just milking LB businesses -- who continue paying the 16% business license surcharge to this day -- someone would have pressed to commit the business license surcharge to alleviating a coming traffic trainwreck at PCH/2d. It doesn't take a "study" to know what the Home Depot's effects will be when they collide with a major mixed use at the Seaport Marina Hotel site at 2d/PCH. That intersection is backed up for many hours of the day now

    No one dares mention these very real coming costs, or using the business license surcharge to deal with them. That's because the developer knows it would likely cause Councilmembers to seek more money for mitigation. City Hall is currently spending the business license surcharge for smaller public works traffic related items (including widening 2d/PCH...which isn't nearly enough to deal with the combined effects of a Home Depot + the Seaport Marina developments).

    In this, we are haunted by the Planning Commission testimony of a representative from Seal Beach City Hall. He said [paraphrase] that if the Home Depot project were proposed in his city, their officials would seek much more from the developer to pay for needed mitigation.

    Without saying so, he said LB city officials, and taxpayers, were suckers.

    That's what we believe is really at stake here. When management tells the Council to approve a "statement of overriding considerations" on major impacts, to us that's a de facto admission that LB City Hall is willing to let others take advantage of it, settling for small change (like fixing Loynes Dr., a small remote park near Kettering School) while accepting large taxpayer costs in the future.

    We hope Mayor Foster and Councilman DeLong grasp this...and honestly confront the real long-term costs implicit in the Home Depot development. A W.C. Fields model for public words and public works should be part of LB's past, not its future.

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