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CVB: Not Minor, Not Easily Correctable

(September 11, 2000) So it turns out some of those glowing reports about LB hotel room bookings have roughly the credibility of crop reports from the former Soviet Union. ("Our five year plan is working, comrades!)

It's not clear whether this was intentional or negligent, or how long it went on, or who knew what and when, but that hasn't stopped LB Convention and Visitors Bureau Board Chair George Medak from rushing to proclaim that "the consequences appear to be relatively minor and correctable." (We've posted Mr. Medak's statement verbatim at Medak statement).

With all due respect, it seems to us the consequences may not be minor or easily corectable. When a surgeon leaves a sponge in a patient, the consequences aren't minor because it's only a $1.00 sponge.

The City Council made crucial land use and fiscal decisions, including allowing the concentration of more and more hotels, overriding public objections based in part on CVB fed perceptions. If in fact demand for hotel rooms was actually lower than CVB claimed, and City Hall has since voted to increase the hotel room supply, you figure out the likely consequences.

Meanwhile, CVB's President and CEO, Linda Howell-DiMario, whose agency gets roughly 75% of its budget from public money (LB's hotel transient occupancy tax) has injected herself into land use and fiscal matters. On June 27, when the Council faced a bond authorization and infrastructure decision on Queensway Bay, she delivered cheerleading testimony that sounds particularly fatuous now:

"As the tourism professionals that you invest your confidence in to create and sustain tourism in the City of Long Beach, we stand before you, once again and reconfirm our support for Queensway Bay. We do so because we've done the homework, we've done the research, we've done the hard work. We believe that the retail, restaurant and entertainment component of Queensway Bay completes that important and vital great vision that this city has been working with for years."

We don't know if Ms. Howell-DiMario's "homework" and "research" are more reliable than her agency's hotel booking numbers, but we believe QW Bay should be decided by the public and its representatives without interference from a publicly funded, predictably friendly, Council supported entity.

What to do?

  • Disinfect with sunshine. CVB should release the Ernst & Young audit (redacting identifying names or titles, if any). Public money (LB hotel transient occupancy tax) covers roughly 75% of CVB's budget. The public has a right to know what the auditors found without substantive filtering.

  • Be businesslike. Elected officials should avoid a "jolly good fellow" response to what's happened. The Council has a duty to proceed in a businesslike manner and consider all its options now under CVB's contract.

  • The CVB Board (and the Council if necessary) should direct Ms. Howell-DiMario to stick to her job, which in our view is to promote conventions and visitors, not to propagandize City Hall policies to LB residents.

  • The Council should use the CVB relevations to reassess honestly previous assumptions about Queensway Bay and the Aquarium.

LB voters may recall that CVB Board chairman George Medak introduced himself at the August 1, 2000 City Council meeting as a co-chair of "People for Long Beach," the entity that popped up, mushroom style, to oppose Norm Ryan's 5% utility tax rate cut. (Full coverage of the Aug. 1 Council meeting is at Aug 1 Council coverage)

They may also recall that Mr. Ryan testified at the June 27 Council meeting on Queensway Bay at which Mr. Medak and Ms. Howell-DiMario also spoke. Mr. Ryan proposed that the Council have the Queensway Bay bonds insured by an independent entity, a protective risk assessment that might (among other things) reduce bond cost and protect the city from exposure.

Ms. Howell-DiMario and Mr. Medak didn't acknowledge Mr. Ryan's suggstion and basically urged the Council simply to proceed. (So did other familiar names; we plan to post transcript excerpts of the QW Bay hearing soon.) Councilmembers brushed off Mr. Ryan's bond insurance proposal.

We think the record is clear on who among these parties has best served the public interest in the past ninety days.

And that's not a minor matter.

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