|(Dec. 30, 2018) -- LBREPORT.com presents below our choice for Long Beach's 2018 "Outrage of the Year." There were a number of worthy runners-up, but in terms of its impacts on 2019 and beyond, the top spot wasn't a close call.
In our opinion, LB's 2018 election cycle was LB's Outrage of the Year. In our view, it was a travesty comprised of actions by Mayor Garcia, City Auditor Doud, a compliant City Council, an enabling City Attorney, propelled by vomitous "follow the money" contributions from corporate, development and organized labor interests.
The election cycle had one major benefit. It revealed those in Long Beach capable of rationalizing -- even portraying as "good government" -- actions that we and others view as repellent. They won what we consider Pyrric victories in 2018, because what they did is now their indelible record for 2019 and beyond.
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Following the regular April/June election cycle, LB's safely-reelected incumbents voted without dissent to use a special six figure costly November 2018 citywide election to advance changes to LB's City Charter. These included a transparently self-serving measure that made it easier for incumbents to seek third terms against challengers seeking to replace them. The latter move sparked creation of a citywide grassroots Reform Coalition PAC that fell short of stopping Measure BBB, but now has the organization and arguably greater motivation to deal individually with the incumbents who did what they did with possible impacts in 2019 and beyond.
The April/June regular election cycle ended with the re-election of all LB incumbent officeholders facing re-election. Some used funds contributed to re-elect them to instead assist the re-election of their incumbent colleagues. Once safely-reelected, all the incumbents voted to use a special/not normally scheduled six figure costly November 2018 citywide election to advance changes to LB's City Charter that included a measure making it easier for the incumbents to prevail against challengers if the incumbents seek third terms (see below.)
In the April 2018 election cycle, LB's City Auditor, City Attorney, City Prosecutor and 1st dist. Councilmember faced no ballot opponents. Councilwoman Gonzalez avoided a re-election challenge despite the fact that her district endures the highest levels of shootings and homicides in the city.
In August 2016, Councilwoman Gonzalez famously tried to cover our camera lens when we asked her if she'd support restoring more than the eight police officers Mayor Garcia proposed to restore in FY17 (out of 208 erased since 2009.) Councilwoman Gonzalez is now seeking election to a vacated LB-Huntington Park state Senate seat in 2019 with the support of the exited state Senator and Mayor Garcia. Roughly half of Long Beach will now have an opportunity to vote on Councilwoman Gonzalez's record in the 2019 special election.
In the 3rd district, veteran LB environmental/coastal protection advocate Gordana Kajer challenged Councilwoman Suzie Price, offering a (campaign theme) "new vision and a new voice" for the district. Kajer hammered Price for (among other things) supporting a $100+ million Belmont Plaza Beach "Aquatic Center" proposed on sand subject to sea level rise. Councilwoman Price ran on her record, citing (Price campaign theme) "progress in the 3rd" on multiple district matters including public safety, economic development and quality of life. She had the endorsement of (among others) Mayor Garcia and the LB police officers and firefighters union PACs and the LB Area Chamber of Commerce PAC. Proponents of an online petition that received over a thousand signatures demanding action to abate vagrant/transient related crimes chose not to put a candidate in the race. Ms. Kajer and challenger Robert Savin together drew about 22% of the April vote, and Councilwoman Price was re-elected without a runoff.
In the 5th district, grassroots neighborhood advocate Corliss Lee and former LB Harbor Commissioner Rich Dines sought to unseat incumbent Stacy Mungo, who'd initially offered inaccurate information and disparaged constituents who spotted proposed height increases in a then-advancing city-staff sought revision to the city's Land Use Element (LUE). After bright orange lawn signs ("Say NO to the LUE") distributed by LB's grassroots Council of Neighborhood Organizations (CONO) began sprouting throughout the 5th district, Councilwoman Mungo pivoted and began echoing anti-density verbiage. By early March 2018, incumbent Mungo had neutered the issue by voting to remove 5th district density and building height increases from the LUE. Ms. Lee finished third in April. Mungo entered the runoff endorsed by LB Area Republicans while she simultaneously touted the support of Democrat Mayor Robert Garcia, other LB Dems, the LB police and firefighters union PACs along with the LB Area Chamber of Commerce PAC.
Mungo was also aided when a 2016 letter materialized, signed by Mayor Garcia, that referenced allegations of "inappropriate statements and conduct" by Dines as a Harbor Commissioner and noted that Dines had agreed to mandatory "training and counseling" to retain his Harbor Commission seat. Some person(s) with knowledge of the Garcia letter tipped third parties to it; the City released the letter as a public record; and Mungo supporters weaponized it against Dines.
There was only one candidate forum in the 5th district April cycle (in which organizers provided the candidates with questions in advance and didn't allow audience questions) and no debate/forum in the June runoff (the Dines campaign complained that the Mungo campaign rejected offered dates.) Councilwoman Mungo was re-elected with 55% of the vote.
In the 7th district, Jared Milrad, a relative newcomer to LB and the district, finished second with about a third of the vote in April among a multi-candidate field, pushing incumbent Uranga into a June runoff. In the runoff, Milrad waged an aggressive campaign against Councilman Uranga, criticizing his support for a Metro-staff-backed expansion of the I-710 freeway [also supported by Metro boardmember Mayor Garcia] and claimed Uranga had "260 missed votes" [a figure that included Uranga's absences to attend Coastal Commission meetings.] Councilman Uranga methodically swatted back the attacks, used his political experience to challenge Milrad's campaign claims and prevailed with a little over 53% of the vote.
In the 9th district, Mineo Gonzalez challenged incumbent Rex Richardson...and swiftly found himself confronted by a hardball digital trick when someone [never conclusively identified] launched a webpage using the challenger's name that contained content unhelpful to the challenger. The challenger tried to drop out, then sought to return, while incumbent Richardson (citing new NLB commercial developments and the Michelle Obama Neighborhood Library he'd championed) cruised to re-election with nearly 80% of the vote.
Entering the 2018 election cycle, there was no single unifying focus for those wishing to change the status quo until an August 2017 Planning Commission meeting highlighted a city staff sought rewrite of the City's Land Use Element (LUE). City staff's proposed changes included increasing allowable building heights and increasing density in various parts of LB.
Density is a hot button issue in cities statewide, and an especially sore point in Long Beach where actions by previous City Hall actions let developers demolish single family homes in and around downtown and replace them multi-unit "crackerbox" apartments. Among residents who fought the "crackerbox" policy thirty years earlier (which didn't stop the density but did oust a Council incumbent) was Robert Fox, now a successful property owner.
Mr. Fox had recently revitalized LB's moribund "Council of Neighborhood Organizations" (CONO) when he learned of the proposed density-inviting LUE. He sounded the alarm and multiple neighborhood groups responded. In late Sept. 2017, Fox risked arrest to basically take control of a city-staff arranged meeting and offered the public an opportunity to make Town Hall comments (which city staff's format didn't allow.) When Fox warned he'd do it again, city officials reluctantly agreed to CONO's demand to allow Town Hall style meetings on the LUE. These drew several thousand residents (many not typically involved in civic matters and most opposed to density increases.) (LBREPORT.com chronology and coverage here.)
The net result was the largest grassroots citywide uprising against a City Hall sought policy in over twenty years. Mr. Fox was the logical candidate to challenge incumbent Mayor Robert Garcia. Nearing a mid-January 2018 filing deadline, Mr. Fox filed initial paperwork to enter the race for Mayor. That led Mayor Garcia to hurriedly meet with Mr. Fox hours before the final filing deadline. Mr. Fox emerged with an agreement by Garcia to hold privately arranged meetings (assisted by Fox) in each Council district to hear (not necessarily support) residents regarding the proposed Land Use Element (which would be decided by the City Council.) He also received a written statement from Garcia opposing rent control (with a petition-initiative LB rent control measure then advancing). And Mr. Fox didn't file paperwork to enter the Mayor's race.
The Press-Telegram told its readers [its headline]: "It may 'smell bad' but Long Beach mayor's deal-making doesn't break the law, experts say" [then cited two "experts" and none offering contrary views.] One individual, James ("Henk") Conn, declined a third-party suggestion to meet with Garcia, entered the race, received 21% of the vote and now faces a City Hall demand to pay roughly $10,000 for costs the City says he agreed to pay, and he says the City agreed to a waive, for his written candidate statement.
Mr. Fox was under no obligation to enter the Mayor's race, but his choice not to do so made it more difficult for challengers in Council districts 3, 5, 7 and 9. It effectively eliminated a serious citywide campaign that could have focused attention on actions for which the Council incumbents were vulnerable.
The June 2016 Measure A sales tax increase failed passage in the 5th district and nearly failed in the 3rd district. The incumbents had cast votes for budgets that failed to restore more than a handful of citywide deployable police officers for taxpayers, leaving LB without over 180 citywide deployable officers that the city previously (while Prop 47 and Sac'to policies arguably worsened vagrant/transient-related neighborhood-impacting crimes.) All five Council incumbents also voted for the costly Civic Center transaction, unpopular outside of downtown, without seeking bids for a more economical City Hall seismic upgrade before saddling taxpayers with decades of increasing costs without a vote of the people.
The LUE issue disappeared (for now) with March 2018 Council votes to tweak/amend/adjust and advance Council district LUE maps for a future EIR action and future Council votes. The Council votes pleased residents of some (mainly ELB) districts but left others (especially in the 2nd dist.) displeased, which may or may not have political consequences in the 2020 election cycle..
In March 2018, LB's incumbents put forward City Hall written Charter Amendment M for a June 2018 citywide election. City officials portrayed it as restoring (after taxpayer litigation and a city settlement) City Hall's ability to transfer a portion of LB utility revenue for general City Hall budget uses. That was true, but only half-true, because Measure M also removed a previous requirement that (apart from "pipeline fees" eliminated by the litigation settlement) transfers came from "surplus" utility funds. Measure M changed this by enabling the City Hall to receive up to 12% of the utilities' gross (not surplus) revenues and allowed the utilities to backfill transferred sums through rate increases. Critics called this a de facto City Hall revenue siphon, a tax increase by another name; city officials (including the Mayor) denied this despite text in a Council resolution indicating otherwise (LBREPORT.com coverage here.)
The City Attorney's office approved City dissemination of Measure M "informational" material arguably tilted toward passage of the measure (taxpayer cost: nearly $100,000); Mayor Garcia ran a Measure M campaign committee that collected a six figure sum without facing similarly well-funded opposition. Measure M passed. The FPPC failed to specifically address the issues raised by a formal complaint filed by Measure M opponents regarding the City of Long Beach's actions in the election (LBREPORT.com coverage here.) .
After the incumbents were safely re-elected (or in two cases appeared headed to victory), Mayor Garcia and City Auditor Doud unveiled five proposed City Charter Amendments, exploiting an optional special November citywide election (for a ballot vote on a petition-initiated hotel worker measure) to put forward their desired Charter Amendments. Garcia and Doud portrayed one of their measures (which became BBB) as "strengthening" term limits, claiming it plugged a "loophole" by preventing incumbents from using write-in campaigns to seek third and potentially unlimited subsequent terms. But the loophole was a cure for a non-problem since no LB incumbent had sought more than three terms in the roughly quarter century since LB voters (by petition initiative) enacted LB's 1992 hybrid term limits law.
The real-world reason for Measure BBB was to eliminate the write-in requirement for the Mayor and Council incumbents who might seek third terms. In that respect, BBB arguably ran contrary to reform by making it harder for reform-minded challengers to dislodge the incumbents.
And while claiming to plug a loophole preventing incumbents from serving more than three terms, the measure included a special carve out that let 6th district incumbent Dee Andrews seek a fourth term without a write-in requirement (although Andrews was already serving a third term that he won with a write-in requirement.)
The City Attorney also forwarded, and the City Council approved by voted action, tilted ballot label text (the verbiage seen by voters immediately before they mark their ballots "yes" or "no") for Measure BBB that asked if the City Charter should be amended "to limit the Mayor and City Councilmembers to serving three terms and to prohibit individuals who have alrady served three terms from being elected as write-in candidates?"
But that text omitted a key fact. It didn't tell voters that a "yes" vote would repeal LB's existing hybrid term limits law, put on the ballot by petition-signature initiative in 1992 and approved as now amended by voters in 2007, which limited the Mayor and Council members to two terms and didn't allow them third or more terms unless they survived a write-in (to enter a ballot-listed runoff or win outright.) State law allows up to 75 words for the ballot label text. The City Attorney's text (by our unofficial count) contained 41 words, meaning the omitted facts could have been included and omitting those facts was thus arguably intentional.
The ballot label text was publicly visible when agendized on August 7, 2018. Councilmembers could see it before they voted to approve it. Not one Council incumbent objected. The Council voted to approve the text above 9-0. Although some Councilmembers may now claim they simply voted to "put it on the ballot" to "let the public decide," the fact is they all joined in voting to show voters the incomplete and arguably misleading ballot text.
And the City Attorney's "impartial analysis" included verbiage, spotted by non-lawyer Ann Cantrell and attorney (and former Councilmember) Gerrie Schipske, that raised the question of whether BBB might allow incumbents to seek three MORE terms (not one more term.) The City Attorney's office tried to swat down the issue (LBREPORT.com coverage here) but it didn't go away. BBB opponents hired a lawyer experienced in election law matters who he provided a letter stating that in his professional opinion, state law combined with BBB's text as written could indeed require the City to allow incumbents three MORE terms instead of preventing one more term. (LBREPORT.com reported the letter here.)
LBREPORT.com found the City Attorney timeline on this issue very troubling (Perspective piece here.)
Compared to all this, the other Garcia-Doud measures were (with one exception) side-shows. Measure AAA proposed to give the Auditor explicit authority to conduct "performance audits" that she already conducts. Measure CCC proposed to create a toothless "ethics commission" whose majority would be chosen by the Mayor and City Auditor. And a Garcia-Doud advanced redistricting commission (DDD) text so visibly invited continued political gerrymanering that representatives of LB's historically gerrymandered Cambodian-American community opposed it and demanded changes. Garcia's office assented to the changes, which were significant and could have a meaningful impact...but only AFTER 2020 elections. Meanwhile, the Garcia-Doud committee used Camodian-American community supporters of DDD to try to generate support for unrelated measures AAA, BBB and CCC. (LBREPORT.com coverage here)
Auditor Doud's role in the process seemed to us to be mainly as a political prop. She was a Republican (providing bipartisan "balance" to Dem Garcia), touted her Auditor office independence and (until the Charter Amendment campaigns) was perceived as above politics. But in reality, her City Auditor salary (which had steaily risen to now reach $219,000 in FY19) isn't independent; it's included in budgets recommended by the Mayor and subject to approval by the City Council...whose terms limits she was proposing to change in a way making the incumbents' third term re-elections easier. Her City Charter duties have nothing to do with term limits, or ethics commissions or redistricting. The sole measure involving the Auditor's duties sought explicit authority to conduct performance audits that her office already conducts.
The attempt to portray what became Measure BBB as "strengthening" term limits when it actually let the incumbents avoid a write-in requirement if they seek third terms sparked creation of a grassroots Reform Coalition PAC. In early September, veteran civic activists spanning LB's politcal spectrum held a well-attended fundraiser (LBREPORT.com coverage here) and raised over $40,000+ to wage a campaign against BBB.
The Charter Amendment campaign took a divisive turn when Councilman Rex Richardson, joined by former Councilwoman Doris Topsy-Elvord, supported an effort by a separately formed political committee to tie the incumbent-benefiting term limit change (BBB) to the anti-gerrymandering redistricting measure (DDD) by portraying both as efforts to assert voting rights for historically disadvantaged groups (LBREPORT.com coverage here.)
And as with Measure M, city management produced a round of "informational materials" on Measures AAA-DDD costing taxpayers nearly $100,000.
Against all of this, Measure BBB received largest number of "no" votes (44.66%) of the Garcia-Doud measures but carried citywide by 55.34%. Initial tallies showed BBB failed passage in the 5th Council district, may have only narrowly passed in the 3rd and eastern parts of the 4th districts but passed with attention-getting 60%+ margins in some Central LB areas. This paralleled results in two previous elections for City Hall desired ballot measures: Measure A (2016), Measure M (June 2018).
The Garcia-run political committee has shown its capacity -- three times -- to pass ballot measures desired by (and amplified by City Hall) basically without majority voter support from ELB's 5th district and relatively thin support in parts of ELB's 3rd and 4th districts. It has done so by producing large voter margins in LB areas previously assumed to be numerically less significant. What this may portend for whatever ballot measure(s) LB city management or electeds may desire in 2019 and beyond is like an Irish wake: "remains to be seen."
Immediately following the November election, the Reform Coalition issued a statement indicating its future plans here. It has no large campaign debts.
Based on large contributions disclosed after the election to date (with full disclosure awaiting a filing on or before Jan. 31, 2019), the Garcia-Doud ballot measure committee (which Garcia operates) appeared to have six-figure debts. Nearing the end of 2018, Garcia's 2018 re-election committee loaned his ballot measure committee $100,000 to cover some of those debts. In December 2018, Garcia held a fundraiser seeking four and five figure contributions to his ballot measure committee and the maximum amount to his "officeholder" account (LBREPORT.com coverage here.).
It will be interesting to see in what ways, if at all, the public's perception of Auditor Doud as an "independent" voice has been changed by her actions in connection with the Mayor/Council sought measures.
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