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Council Asked to OK $6.67 Million Contract For New NLB Police Facility In Scherer Park; Stop Taking Our Parks Leader Blasts Move

$461,000 will come from "Traffic Mitigation" funds, remainder from future bond

Scherer Park(April 27, 2002) -- Three weeks after a city election that narrowed the Mayor's race and decided the 3d, 5th and 9th Council district races, the City Council is being asked to OK a $6.67 million construction contract to build a controversial new North division police facility in Scherer Park.

Scherer trees 2"City Council action on this matter is time critical. [Construction company] KPRS’ bid expires on April 30, 2002. Based on approval tonight, staff will prepare and execute the contract documents and will commence pre-construction activities," wrote Community Development Director Melanie Fallon and Financial Management Director Robert Torrez, in a memo for the Council's April 30 meeting approved by City Manager Henry Taboada.

"It is anticipated that a formal groundbreaking will occur in late July or August...Construction is expected to take approximately 14 months," the memo said.

Gigi Fast Elk Bannister, president of Stop Taking Our Parks (S.T.O.P.), blasted agendizing the item for the April 30 Council meeting. She urged the Council to table the item and request an extension of the bid deadline until the matter is resolved in court or a settlement is reached. (A CA trial court upheld City Hall's plans on every state law ground challenged by S.T.O.P.; the case is now pending in a CA Court of Appeal.)

Scherer trees 1Ms. Bannister said S.T.O.P. favors a stay (halt) to all preparatory activities (including but not limited to tree removal, ground breaking, street construction, etc.) until this matter is resolved in court or settlement is reached. "Once the damage is done, no amount of court judgments can reverse the killing of forty-five 50+ year old trees," she said.

Scherer trees 3Ms. Bannister led the fight against the Scherer Park site from the Planning Commission, through the Council, into Superior Court and now before a CA Court of Appeal. She also opened a second front, simultaneously urging the federal National Park Service (from which City Hall previously accepted federal money for Scherer Park improvements) to withhold approval of the project.

Ms. Bannister scored an initial victory on the federal front when the Nat'l Park Service told City Hall to provide a formal appraisal (not the informal one it had offered) conducted to federal standards that compares the value of roughly two acres of Scherer Park land to be lost with City Hall's proffered replacement park property, currently polluted land and requiring clean up, on 55th Way in NLB.

Scherer trees 3Although there is consensus that a new north division police facility is needed, park protection advocates have urged alternative sites to avoid taking Scherer Park land. City officials have called the alternatives infeasible.

Meanwhile, a number of neighborhood and business leaders from Los Cerritos to NLB have repeatedly testified in favor of the Scherer Park site. City Hall's plan was supported by 8th and 9th district Council incumbents Rob Webb and Jerry Shultz but opposed by then-Mayoral candidate (and now O'Neill Mayoral endorser) Ray Grabinski.

During this period, Grabinski stopped short of supporting a Charter Amendment favored by park protection advocates that (had it been enacted by the public) could have prevented the loss of Scherer Park land or other park land. Grabinski urged a less binding measure that would have required more public hearings but still left City Hall with the power to do as it pleased. As the Mayoral election neared, Grabinski indicated at a public meeting that he favored a Charter Amendment but never agendized it and to date still hasn't.

The Fallon-Torrez-Taboada memo indicates City Hall plans to float a $6.189 million bond to pay for North division police facility's construction cost (the bond will be dealt with in future Council proceedings), with the remaining $482,000 coming from City Hall's so-called "Traffic Mitigation Program." How the "Traffic Mitigation Program" money came to be available is a story in itself.

As first detailed last year by, the "Traffic Mitigation Program" was part of a 1991 vote by the City Council to impose a 16% increase in business license fees and new fees on new development, ostensibly to pay for traffic improvements. The "Traffic Mitigation Program" capped a lengthy, largely City Hall driven process, replete with "blue ribbon" style committees, community meetings and news articles claiming future traffic needs justified the tax to provide improvements for the public.

In 1992, the Council incorporated many of the "Traffic Mitigation" projects into the City's General Plan Transportation Element, a legal document. Those projects included running one street under another (called "grade separation") at the Traffic Circle, the "Iron Triangle" (Bellflower/7th/PCH) and Lakewood and Spring, measures that would reduce congestion and lessen the risk of intersection traffic accidents.

These large projects were never delivered to the public as City Hall promised (smaller traffic and infrastructure projects were)...and one at Lakewood and Spring was explicitly deleted by the City Council with much of the money diverted to a downtown walkway.

The "Traffic Mitigation Program" was devised (in the words of a 1990 city staff memo) by "a committee of development and business interests which was convened by the City Manager [now retired Manager James Hankla]...The Committee released its recommendations on July 10, 1990 at a community forum sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce." The 12-member "Advisory Committee on Funding Transportation Improvements" included Mike Choppin ("IDM Corporation"), Doug Otto ("Liaison to Citizens Transportation Task Force") and individuals listed as then-connected with the "Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce," "Downtown Long Beach Associates," among others.

The Council approved the business license tax increase and money soon began flowing into City Hall. Few noticed that despite all the public statements about traffic projects, nothing in the tax ordinance actually required City Hall to provide any of the traffic projects. From City Hall's perspective, the money was simply general fund revenue, which could be spent as City Hall desired.

Within a few years, the Council twice voted to approve new developments at Lakewood/Spring likely to increase traffic, despite the supposedly pending traffic project to reduce it. The Council voted to allow a new UPS facility at the southwest corner in December, 1996 and a Marriott Hotel expansion on the southeast corner on April 27, 1999.

At a hearing on the UPS project, then-Councilman Del Roosevelt dismissed public concern that the Lakewood/Spring grade separation would never be done. Nonsense, he called public skepticism at the time. (Three years later, he voted with the City Council to kill the Lakewood/Spring traffic project.)

In early 1999, ELB resident (now publisher) Bill Pearl appealed approval of a Marriott Hotel expansion to the City Council. During the appeal, Pearl brought up the 16% business license tax increase and traffic projects that City Hall had promised the public that never materialized. He said that if a LB business took money for products and didn't deliver them, it would be out of business.

Pearl urged that the Council refund money collected for projects never delivered and rescind the tax. Councilmembers ultimately approved the hotel expansion but also directed City staff to deliver a written report on the business license tax and the money.

On July 13, 1999, staff sent Councilmembers a well done, comprehensive report. It included the revelation that none of the 16% business license tax collected in FY 97-98 had been transferred to the Traffic Mitigation Program. Instead, the money was apparently spent on other capital projects.

Before the report could be publicly discussed by the Council, Mayor O'Neill shuffled it into a Council committee (i.e. outside of most public attention.)

Meanwhile, city staff asked the Council to kill the Lakewood/Spring grade separation entirely, claiming traffic hadn't grown as much "as planned." (This didn't stop City Hall from collecting the tax.) The City Manager told the Council the Lakewood/Spring project never reached its "second phase" and was not a stand-alone project separate from airport area projects.

The Council then voted to remove the Lakewood/Spring project from the City's CIP plans and diverted its funding to a downtown pedestrian walkway and two other projects unlikely to ease street traffic (710 freeway signage and a longer 605 freeway off ramp emptying traffic onto Spring Street).

The downtown walkway between Ocean Blvd. and 3rd street, part of the Promenade, will be near a planned "D'Orsay" luxury hotel within City Hall's downtown redevelopment area. City staff justified shifting the traffic money to the walkway on grounds it would "support transit use through linkages to the Transit Mall" and encourage development and business location "within walking distance of the most heavily served by transit [sic] area of the City."

The Council and Planning Commission both voted to approve this and voted to call the downtown walkway consistent with the General Plan Transportation Element...despite the fact the walkway would be funded by not doing the Lakewood/Spring traffic project that is part of the General Plan Transportation Element.

Meanwhile, the Traffic Mitigation Program report was brought out of Council committee and the Council moved to avoid future embarrassments. The Council explicitly authorized city staff to apply greater "flexibility" in using Traffic Mitigation Program funds for "other" capital projects (besides traffic mitigation projects).

The North Division police facility is, apparently, one of these projects.

Meanwhile, the City Council has reduced home based business license fees by 16% and lowered other business license fees (including use of an early payment incentive).

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