(February 3, 2003, updated text) -- A controversial plan to divert up to $12.5 million in NLB Redevelopment money from NLB projects -- and instead build a North Division police facility in Scherer Park with replacement park land on 55th Way -- will hand NLB Councilman Val Lerch a hot potato at the Feb. 4 City Council meeting.
As one indication of how divisive the issue has become, the board of the grassroots NLB Community Action Group voted unanimously on Jan. 21 to oppose the diversion. On Jan. 27, it prepared a statement blasting the proposal as "misuse" of Redevelopment funds, saying in part:
The directors realize that the station is a necessity, and believe dissent IS NOT disloyalty to the LBPD. For 9 years, the NLBCAG has worked with the LBPD to reduce crime and improve relations between residents and the dedicated officers of the North Division....
...The allocated $12.5 million dollars would go a long way towards making our community more attractive. Redevelopment money is not supposed to be used for infrastructure improvements - the cost of water, trash removal, and public safety should NOT be paid by using redevelopment money. Public safety is not the responsibility of the PAC; it is the responsibility of our elected officials.
Our tax dollars have helped to fill the city's coffers - to help fund capital improvements such as a police station or a communications center...Times are tough. As with the first attempt by City Hall to finance the emergency communications center by taking more money from our pockets, the people of North Long Beach were being asked to use their (redevelopment) money to pay for the station.
We, the NLBCAG, are just not willing to swallow any more! Enough is enough!
NLB CAG's board's statement was now clearly a matter of record...but it wasn't the group's last word. At the NLB Community Action Group's monthly public meeting on Feb. 2 (when virtually anyone attending can vote), a boardmember moved to distribute the board's forceful opposition statement as the group's position. That prompted a heated discussion...and the motion to distribute the board's opposition statement as the group's position failed on an 11-8 vote.
On February 4, the divisive issue will land in the City Council's lap, a course charted in January when (as first reported by LBReport.com) city management sought support from NLB's Redevelopment Project Area Committee (PAC) (an advisory body) for using NLB Redevelopment money to build the facility. City management said City Hall's soaring deficit (Council spending exceeding city revenue) was one reason to tap NLB's Redevelopment funds.
The issue heated up after LBReport.com published parts of a Feb. 2000 City Hall staff report that indicated project funding was already planned or in place. The memo indicated NLB's Redevelopment money would only be needed if Scherer Park were not chosen as the site (as park protection advocates had advocated). LBReport.com also quoted from a 2001 city memo which claimed bond financing was a likely financing mechanism.
But less than two weeks ago, the NLB PAC voted 16-0 (with 2 abstentions) to advise the Redevelopment Agency Board to use NLB Redevelopment money to build the facility...and the Redevelopment Agency Board did so.
A few days later, in response to a query from LBReport.com, former NLB Councilman Jerry Shultz, a supporter of the project, said he favors using Redevelopment funds under the current budget circumstances, citing a public safety need.
That drew a response from former 8th district Councilman Jeff Kellogg (now on the LB Community College Board of Trustees, representing NLB) who told LBReport.com he opposes diverting NLB Redevelopment money...and said that when he was on the Council, his support for the project was conditioned on funding that didn't touch NLB's Redevelopment money.
NLB's 9th district Councilman is now Val Lerch, a long-time NLB activist. In February 2000, Mr. Lerch attended the 9th district Council meeting at Jordan High and spoke in favor of expanding the police facility in Scherer Park.
He heard city staff indicate it had funding in place for the project. He heard city staff indicate that NLB Redevelopment funds might be at risk if the project were not built in Scherer Park. Now, he's NLB's Councilman...and city management wants to take NLB Redevelopment money even though the project is being built in Scherer Park.
One of Lerch's first Council battles was over a (still pending) proposal to combine Redevelopment project areas. He blasted the proposal as a way to grab NLB's development money and said his opposition was a matter of City Hall keeping its word to NLB.
On the coming vote, the rest of Councilman Lerch's colleagues will have an incentive to tap NLB's Redevelopment funds...since it will preserve General Fund revenue for spending on other projects, including those in their own districts.