Perspective / Opinion

Long Beach Charter Amendment Hearings Shrugged This State Law Enacted After City of Bell Scandal is reader and advertiser supported. Support independent news in LB similar to the way people support NPR and PBS stations. We're not non-profit so it's not tax deductible but $49.95 (less than an annual dollar a week) helps keep us online.
(July 30, 2018) -- The City of Long Beach's Charter Amendment proceedings, orchestrated by Mayor Robert Garcia after he and five Council incumbents were safely re-elected, in our opinion have shrugged a state law enacted in response to the City of Bell scandal.

After Bell city officials used legal proceedings to serve themselves instead of the public, Sacramento lawmakers enacted AB 1344 in 2011 to require city officials to hold at least two public hearings on any proposal to change a city's City Charter. The legislation explicitly required that at least one of the hearings "shall be held outside of normal business hours to facilitate public participation."

The State Senate's legislative analysis on third reading passage of the bill explained:

This bill restores public trust in local government in response to scandals in the City of Bell. Local officials allegedly enriched themselves and committed fraud by using flexibilities in the law regarding the adoption of a city charter, how election materials are drafted, and the lack of limits on compensation policies for senior officials. This bill responds to those deficiencies, addresses the most flagrant violations, and fortifies public disclosure and notice requirements. This bill moves toward restoring public trust in the operations of local agencies.

The bill is now the law, codified at CA Government Code section 34458(b).

In our view, the City of Long Beach didn't hold at least one hearing in a realistic manner outside of normal business hours to facilitate public participation. Instead, it conducted its two hearings to date in a manner precluding meaningful public participation on the five proposed Charter changes.

The record is undeniable. The City has thus far held two hearings on the five proposed Charter Amendments. It scheduled the first hearing on June 12 at 5:00 p.m., timed when many people just get off work, effectively leaving many unable to get from their workplace to be heard at City Hall's "hearing." Scheduling a "hearing" when many people can't be heard scorns the state law's explicit verbiage requiring the hearing at a time "to facilitate public participation."

The City scheduled the second hearing on July 17 at 3:30 p.m. when even fewer people could be heard (a time chosen to accommodate a ceremonial (fake) swearing-in ceremony scheduled later that day for the re-elected incumbents.)

And now someone inside City Hall has scheduled the most important Council hearing on the proposed Charter Amendments at an even less publicly accessible time: 3:00 p.m. on August 7. It's the most important hearing because a Council majority will decide whether to hold a special citywide November 2018 election (City Clerk estimated cost $470,000-$650.000) to put all or some or none of the measures on the ballot. Signaling an expected rubberstamp vote, the entire package of Charter Amendment agenda items is scheduled to take only thirty minutes.

Individuals who attended the previous "hearings" didn't have a meaningful opportunity to be heard on the five Charter Amendments. At the outset of the "hearing," Mayor Garcia announced (without objection from any Councilmembers) that the five separately agendized Charter Amendments would be heard in one item. That manuever effectively left members of the public who wanted to be heard on each measure only 36 seconds for each proposed Charter Amendment. That's not a hearing; it's a non-hearing.

One constituency showed up in force at the June 12 hearing: members of LB's Cambodian community...but that community focused on a single issue -- redistricting -- while other residents concerned about several of the five Charter Amendments found themselves fighting a 180 second clock.

Retired LB Harbor Commissioner Rich Dines, who finished second to the 5th district incumbent in a June 2018 runoff, explicitly stated at the July 17 hearing that he had several issues with the proposed Charter Amendments but would only speak to two of them due to the three minute limit.

What Long Beach officials are doing isn't for City of Bell-type personal financial gain, but for some LB incumbents it may arguably produce personal political gain.

LB voters need to grasp what's taking place here. It isn't by accident. It was and is intentional. Yes, elections matter. Further to follow. .

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