News in Depth
Significant 8th District Council Candidate Forum, Extended Excerpts
(March 12, 2004) -- In the public interest, LBReport.com posts below extended excerpts of an 8th district Council candidate forum held on March 7, sponsored by the North Long Beach Community Action Group.
To the credit of organizers and moderator Linda Ivers, this was a substantive encounter with pointed questions. The candidates gave thoughtful answers and we have taken the time (extremely time consuming) to prepare an extended transcript and post salient portions below.
We urge readers to remember this is extemporaneous speech; ellipses indicate deletions.
Councilman Webb: ...I've had the honor of serving as your Councilman in the 8th district for the last four years...We have had some significant challenges in bringing back North Long Beach and our community. I think we got a lot good things done for the district in the last four years. We have had something like twenty new facades from the North Long Beach Redevelopment Project Area Committee...[W]e've got good things happening on Atlantic Ave. and Long Beach Blvd.
In the Bixby Knolls side, we've got a lot of new businesses. I got to be part of recruiting Trader Joes to our community. E.J. Malloys to our community. We have new a Shakespeare Theater on Atlantic Ave. We have Four Olives that's moved in...Thanks also to the Project Area Committee we have new medians that are moving up Atlantic Ave. that will go from Roosevelt to the Bixby Knolls shopping center...We have a new police station. We have three new parks in the district, one that's complete on Orange, one that's under construction at Market and Dairy...
Rae Gabelich: ...[T]hrough my life challenges and my experiences I have found myself committed to volunteering and advocating for my community for the past twenty years. From uncovered coal trains to Airport growth to special education programs and advocacy for people with special needs, I was involved with the Foundation for Childrens Healthcare, the fundraising arm for the childrens' clinic in the basement of Long Beach Memorial [Hospital]. I have been chair of my Sleepy Hollow neighborhood association for almost two decades. I have served on the Board of Health and Human Services...and then I served eight years on the Recreation Commission, and I was appointed to that position by [now retired] Councilman Edd Tuttle.
I then was instrumental in forming a group called Parents for Change, which addressed the needs for children with learning disabilities and advocating on their behalf...
And most of you know me as the founder of LBHUSH2, which is to fight expansion at the Long Beach Airport.
Each has been a stepping stone that has brought me to this position today...
Mr. Jensen: ...I've lived in this city since I was four years old, in the 7th district and in the 8th district. I married my High School sweetheart from Long Beach Poly in 1967 and we've lived in our house in the 8th district for 34 years...
I've been in Long Beach and shopped in Long Beach literally my entire life. I started a business with my wife when I was 26 years old...We sold that business after several years of successful operation. I was a Vice President of a real estate company and investment company in Los Angeles. I left that after several years and started my own consulting practice doing business-related consulting work.
I'm very strong in budgets, very strong in planning. I do business plans. I do work outs. I fix broken properties. I fix broken investments. I've put people back on track after they're on the wrong track with their investments.
And frankly, that's why I'm running for City Council. The city is broken. We have a $110 million budget [deficit] that was zero when the incumbent was elected four years ago. We have a Redevelopment Agency that's trying to hijack our North funds, they're trying to consolidate so they can control our money.
We have an Airport that the downtown interests and special interests are trying to expand. And anybody who doesn't think the expansion of the facilities will be encourage the potential for expanded growth has their head in the sand.
The Chamber of Commerce and a lot of these special interest groups are advocating that all the incumbents be reelected. And I'm telling you today, we are at a crossroads in this city, and if we don't change the way our city is managed and the way it's administered, we're in big, big trouble. And on April 13, whether you vote for me or Rae, you must make a change if you're going to protect your city.
Audience questions written on cards, read by Linda Ivers
Q: Are you a regular voter and what is the importance of voting mean to you?
Mr. Jensen: I've missed a few votes in my day. I'm not proud of it, but what does voting mean to me and why is it important? If you don't vote, even if you're registered, you're not counted...I'm not proud of some of the times when I didn't vote. My business has taken me out of the country and out of the state, but it's no excuse. It's critically important that we vote. But the most important thing I think is trying to get fiscal responsibility in this city and if we don't do that, it doesn't matter who votes.
Ms. Gabelich: I have a very strong voting record. I believe that since I first came to the city of Long Beach, I have voted in every election that has come around. I believe that having the opportunity to vote helps us to take a leadership role in how we want to see our community develop by putting into office that best represent our views. And I think that to not take advantage of that is disrespectful of the system.
Councilman Webb: I too I think I've voted in every election that I've been in Long Beach since I was 18 years old. And I've also been involved in this community for the last 24 years...
Q: What steps would you recommend to address the city's ongoing budget deficit? Are there any city programs or services you think could be eliminated?
Councilman Webb: Let me first state that one of my opponents here had mentioned that there's a deficit that was not there when I was elected. This city has had a growing structural deficit for the last 13 years and it has continued to grow.
I have been an advocate on the City Council for contracting out services that make sense...Government in Long Beach can no longer be all things for all people. I'll give you an example. The city spends $4 million a year for homeless services, and we've not yet served the homeless problem in Long Beach. We need to start picking and choosing our priorities and decide what we do best...
Mr. Jensen: I don't think anybody could logically pick any programs right now in the city that absolutely must be cut. I think you have to go to a complete evaluation of every single bureau and department in this entire city, determine if the level of service that we wish, the standard of service that we want in this city is being met. If it is being met, are we operating at 100% efficiency. Only after you do that and evaluate every single program, and make sure that there's no overlap, there's no duplication of services and no unnecessary programs before you can even talk about getting rid [inaudible], or outsourcing any of your services.
But I have to respond. We have had a structural deficit for four years. We had a budget that was submitted, this last budget was submitted, the Council added $15 million to that budget. That's not responsible spending.
In every year for the last four years, they've added to the budget that was submitted by the City Manager. That's not responsible spending.
And if you read, just read, I have a copy of it and I'll be happy to give it to you, Len Woods' budget report which indicates that nothing is being done to solve the problem.
Ms. Gabelich: I actually have said this before that I believe that what we have to do is start from square one. We have to clear the deck, look at the budget overall, department by department...I think we have to look at what liberties we give our city manager in approving contracts that are now at $100,000 versus the $50,000 that it used to be...
Q: What is your solution to the 710 freeway expansion dilemma?
Mr. Jensen: ...If I went on the Council and I had that magical power, I wouldn't let the Port expand the way it did without resolving the issues of how people are going to get out of that expanding Port. I wouldn't let the Alameda Corridor Authority take out the truck lane that was supposed to be in that new Alameda Corridor that everyone thought was going to be there.
There are a lot of decisions that were made over the years that really caused us a problem. We are reactionary. We don't solve problems. There are all these short term, knee jerk reactions to everything that comes down the Pike, and that's not responsible leadership.
Councilman Webb: I think Val Lerch and I can both tell you that there are no magical powers that come with this job...One of the things we need to do immediately is move forward to connect the SR 47 Terminal Island freeway up to the 405 freeway...The plan that you see now for the I710 is a lot more thoughtful than what was originally put forward...
Ms. Gabelich: ...I believe what we have to do is call a moratorium. We need to include the Ports, they have to take a serious responsibility in how we're going to address this problem because right now it's a parking lot for trucks...Why should we have to carry that? Does that serve our residential communities? Does that serve the 500,000 people that live in this city and they call this place home? We're not the City of Commerce, we're the City of Long Beach.
I believe that our first focus needs to be on what is going to best serve the residents of this community, whether they live by the 710 freeway, or whether they live by and are impacted by the Airport or Port growth, it should be looked at citywide...
Q: On the issue of the Fire Dept., will you consider three-man engine crews on the LB Fire Dept. as part of the effort to balance the budget?
Mr. Jensen: I would have everything on the table. When it comes to operating at 100% efficiency, I would make sure that they were operating at 100% efficiency. If it was three-man crews or two-man crews, I would leave it to the experts in the Fire Dept. to tell me that.
But once we set the standard of service that we expect from the Fire Dept., I would want them to be able to prove to me that they're operating as efficiently as they possibly can. It's really quite simple, and if they can do that with three-man crews, wonderful. If in fact they say they could do without four-man crews in some stations, that would also be quite wonderful.
But I'm not a fire expert. The one thing I've learned as a consultant is I trust the people that are the experts, and I have a huge Rolodex so I know what I don't know. That's why I call the people in my Rolodex when I reach the end of my knowledge curve. It's up to the experts. My mandate would be to operate at 100% efficiency with the standard of service that we would establish.
Councilman Webb: Well, let me first say that when it comes to the four-man crews, Long Beach did not lose the contract to Signal Hill because we had four-man crews. And I also will say that I voted against the consultant agreement that's going to come back and tell us the same thing we all know: we can cut expenses in fire service by making three man crews, you can close fire stations, we know the tough decisions that need to be made. We don't need to hire a consultant to tell us these tough decisions. If our back's against the wall, that's something that we may end up having to go to.
Quite frankly, I think we still have an opportunity in Long Beach to contract out fire services to Signal Hill, Seal Beach...The reason that we weren't competitive in Signal Hill and we lost that contract to the County was not because of the four-man crew; it was the...cost allocation system that the city uses...In Signal Hill right now, they do have a four-man crew, the County has their only four-man crew in there...
Rae Gabelich: I am adamantly opposed and against to going to a three-man crew and here's the reason why...The [fire] regulation is that...before firemen are allowed to enter a fire, there must be two behind [on] the outside, so that means if you have a three-man truck going in, they have to wait until another truck shows up. So, are you going to stand there and watch a building burn? I don't think so. If that was my home or your home, you wouldn't want that to be the case. So no, I strongly am against reducing to a three-person truck and strongly stand for a four-person level.
Q: LNG has become an issue in Long Beach, so the bullet points here would be: what would you do to arrive at a solution on LNG? What is your opinion of siting this facility inside of the Port? And will the Council sponsor public hearings on this?
Ms. Gabelich: LNG to me is equivalent to what we have to deal with Airport growth, it deals with safety, the possibility of safety being diminished. And I believe that our Council has given the authorization to move forward on contracting with Mitsubishi. They are further down that road than they should be without having community input, and there are some very strong community activists that are [inaudible] come to the table. And so I am against the LNG facility being constructed in the Port area. I would consider looking at offshore LNG location, but even that I'm not, from what I've studied so far, I'm not sure that that's the best opportunity as well...
Mr. Jensen: I can't agree more. You know, this goes down to a quality of life issue in the city of Long Beach, and we can either decide that we're going to try and make this city the biggest economic engine in southern California, or we can say we're going to try and make this city the best place in southern California in which to live.
I think we need to tattoo on the back of the hand of every city employee, including City Council members before they sign anything, that says "Does this improve the quality of life in this city?" And if we did that, we wouldn't be having the problems that we have now...
...We're so far down the road now, I'm just wondering why right now we're just getting to the point of saying 'what do you guys in the city say about it or how does the neighborhood feel about it?' So, I stand with Rae, I don't like it, don't like it at all.
Councilman Webb: Well let me first say that we're far from having an entitled LNG terminal in the Port of Long Beach. I am supportive of having discussions that talk about alternative fuel for vehicles in the Port, because we have a pollution problem that needs to be addressed and I think we need to not shut down the discussions of what potentials are out there.
When this first came up, I did hold a community meeting, invited neighborhood leaders from all over the 8th district, it was held at the Petroleum Club, some of you were there at that meeting, where we discussed some of the issues. I think we had the support of most of the environmental community for the LNG terminal. There are issues that came out with Algeria [explosion] that some people have said that couldn't happen there, that could happen here, I don't know the answers to that. And that's what we need to find out . We need to find out what the answers are and that's a safety question. If somebody should, God forbid, fly a Lear jet into an LNG terminal.
I can tell you that I don't think every decision that we make in the city needs to be based [as if] we're living in fear of Al Queda and whatever decisions, whatever we think they may come to.
Q: How do you think high population density adversely affects the quality of life for residents, and if your answer includes trying to increase density or reduce density, how would you implement that?
Councilman Webb: Well let me first state that one of the biggest zoning mistakes our city of Long Beach ever allowed was when we tore down single family homes and put in "crackerbox" apartments. [applause] We have taken and ruined the quality of life in the city of Long Beach, I know there are some serious planning issues, in a lot of communities and neighborhoods.
I will tell you North Long Beach is a wonderful place to live and raise your kids in this community. We have some issues in North Long Beach with density and that's probably the biggest single factor, that and our business corridors on Long Beach Blvd., Atlantic, and Market and South...Rather than trying to look for, when we need to spend money for affordable housing programs in the city, we need to look to taking and modifying and changing the crackerbox apartments in this city, very similar to what we've done in the Grisham housing project...and we've downsized in that area, we're making it into a quality neighborhood to raise families.
Ms. Gabelich: Well I believe that density is an issue throughout this city...In my opinion, I think that there needs to be a moratorium on growth and in building. I think that we do an assessment of the needs of the community and the city overall. Let's fix the city for the 8th district. I think we need an assessment and then we look at a Master Plan or an Area Local Plan, and then after we look at that then we go back and we reassess before we do any building whatsoever.
Mr. Jensen: I am absolutely opposed to increasing the density in the city of Long Beach and we're facing that issue right now. We have the Housing Authority in the City of Long Beach that's taking 16 unit buildings and converting them into 8 unit building because they say density is bad. And on the other side, you have the ConvertaBelle program that they're trying to submit to the Planning Commission to put projects in North Long Beach and increase the density to try and create affordable housing.
I mean, either density is bad or it's not bad. High density overtaxes city services. High density requires more police. We already know we're probably 200 police officers short in the city of Long Beach. We want to put in more high density? I don't think so...No. Don't like density, wouldn't approve it.
Q: The Airport noise ordinance allows for 25 regional jet slots. It is the stated goal of the airport management to actively market those slots. Do you support that position?
Councilman Webb: ...The Strategic Plan says that they market the airport within the ordinance. I do not want to see them marketing the slots. Residents have got enough impact already. I can tell you that once if, they're successful in making enhancements to the airport or expansion of the airport, they will start marketing those slots. They're not doing so yet.
We have an ordinance [Airport noise/flight slots ordinance] that we're very proud of in Long Beach though, and our number one effort is to maintain that effort. We don't want to do anything to put that in jeopardy...What we've got to do is make sure we don't accommodate more flights than what that ordinance allows without at the same time to try [audibility difficult, refers to federal government] and say we're not going to accommodate more than the ordinance allows.
Ms. Gabelich: What I just heard you say was you just did a big circle. The ordinance says 41 commercial and 25 commuter slots. We have two areas of protection. We have the protection of the size of the facility, and we have the protection of our noise ordinance...Our noise ordinance...as protective as it appears to be or as the Council believes it to be, can be challenged and will be challenged if they cannot find a way to move passengers, and they projected 30 million passengers to be moved to the Palmdale area by high speed rail. But the SCAG Executive Director said to our City Council that if that did not happen, all existing airports would be required to take their fair share [ed. note: SCAG Exec. Dir. said developed airports would face pressure from the region for add'l flights] and not one member on that Council said one word to this man...It's all about quality of life...
Terry Jensen: ...It is about quality of life, and I just heard him say something that absolutely makes me want to come out of my shoes. 'If they do they enhancements? "They" do the enhancements, the City Council can vote. They control whether anything is built at that airport, not "they." You do. The City Council can vote to expand, or "enhance" the airport or they cannot. It's not "they."
I would not advocate any expansion of that airport [tape ends, changed to other side as Mr. Jensen doubts City Hall contention that it doesn't have new terminal plans yet]... know what they're going to build and it's not true. Rae and I have sat there at those meetings, and Rae knows far more about what's going on at that airport than I do, but I spent enough time looking at that airport to know that there is absolutely no leadership from the City Council to try and control what's going on there...
Q: ...[Let's assume] that none of you are incumbents...What would you do better or different than the former Councilperson [i.e. current incumbent] and what would you do in the 8th district that hasn't been done?
Mr. Jensen: That's pretty easy, since there hasn't been much done, I wouldn't have to do very much to do better. You know, it's real simple. I would not have voted for four bad budgets and put us $110 million in deficit. I would not have allowed them to rob us of $13 million [from Redevelopment funds] for a police station. I would not...[let them] get away with spending another $12 or $13 million of our Redevelopment dollars on a library in North Long Beach and only providing 3% of the total $22 million budget for facade improvements or building improvements. That I would not do.
I would also provide leadership and I guarantee you I would not be embarrassing the district or embarrassing the city. I wouldn't be paying for $78 car washes. I would not be driving a city car. There are a lot of things I wouldn't do.
I would provide responsible leadership. I would be providing someone with a very strong base in finance and management...
Councilman Webb: Well, I'm going to answer this a little differently because I have been here for four years and I will tell you that I've probably made a few mistakes on the City Council and I've tried to learn from my mistakes...
What I said publicly is if I had it to do over again, I would not have voted for [a pension plan] for 2.7% at [age] 55 for miscellaneous employees...I do not regret 3% at 50 for our public safety employees. That is an issue about competition with other departments in the state. The advice we were given at that time is we had negotiated over and over with our miscellaneous employees. We're superfunded in PERS [Public Employee Retirement System] and it will never cost us a dime.
I will tell you however though I don't regret spending money for our new North police substation. Our police officers deserve it and I'm proud of it.
It's real easy to sit and throw rocks from the outside when you haven't been involved in your community. I've been involved in this community for 20 years. I'll make a few mistakes along the way but I'm going to...try to make this city a better place to live and that's what we've done.
Ms. Gabelich:...Let's start with the police substation. I was with Jeff Kellogg. I agreed to do a television show with him saying that I was in favor of it because I live in that neighborhood based on the fact that it would not be a footprint of the westside station.
As soon as that was done...nobody could believe, not even police officers, who said they would like to have made some changes...
...Of course [another] action of course would be better, stronger more focused leadership on the airport. You have to understand that if that airport gets built out...that issue will impact our community far beyond noise, and far beyond the homes that are directly impacted underneath it on Cherry...As we move down the road, it may not be in the next five years, but I guarantee you that if that is built out, it will be devastating to the 8th district [and] the 4th district, two of the highest areas for our number one, projected number one contribution to the general fund is property taxes, and we have to protect the sources of revenue that we do have.
What is Long Beach's number one problem or issue and what is your solution?
Ms. Gabelich: ...[W]e fail to focus on neighborhoods first. We have dumped billions of dollars into Redevelopment areas, mainly the downtown area, $2 billion dollars since the mid-1960s when we first started Redevelopment and we forgot to take care of the neighborhoods.
It's about the almost 500,000 people that live here...
Councilman Webb: ...Well I'll tell you that in the last four years, I'm proud of the fact that our city has neighborhoods first. We have had downtown development at the expense of neighborhoods and I'm happy in the last four years that's turned around...
We have areas in North Long Beach [in which] density and home ownership, and lack of home ownership, are some of our biggest [issues]. In the Bixby Knolls area, certainly the airport, being able to revitalize our business corridors for some of our key areas. And I'll probably even agree with Terry before he speaks, that one of our biggest challenges, the biggest for the city, and the biggest issue is our budget. And I'm looking forward hopefully in the next term is to having a lot of my colleagues join me in a lot of the proposals that I have moved forward and advocated for contracting out and going through our budget line by line so we can eliminate spending that's not necessarily a priority.
Mr. Jensen: ...It's like if you have a cancer, and you have a bad foot, and you start focusing on the foot and you let the cancer go. Our single biggest issue in the city of Long Beach right now, and has been for at least the last four years, is the leadership and focus on why cities are in place in the first place. Cities are in place to provide services that the public cannot provide for themselves. We can only assume that City Hall is going to provide that good leadership and focus on what is important to us. All the simple things in life: pick up our trash, clean our streets, educate our kids, provide the police and fire protection so that we're safe in our houses. What we don't want them to do is irresponsibly spend our money. It's our money, not their money, and that leadership issue has caused a rift between the neighborhoods and City Hall that is almost at the breaking point.
The airport issues, and I've said Rae wouldn't have had to get involved in the airport if the city had provided good leadership. I wouldn't be sitting here if they'd provided good leadership because of the budget issues. Those are all symptoms of bad leadership and that has to change.
Mr. Jensen: I'm going to read you something. [Reads from sheet of paper] "I'm going to aggressively market Bixby Knolls and North Long Beach to attract desirable retailers. I'm going to accelerate repair of city sidewalks, streets, curbs and gutters. I'm going to continue implementing the Police Department's Strategic Plan. I'm going to streamline local government including business and licensing." That's not my promise. That was the incumbent's promise four years ago.
We're $110 million in deficit. They've hijacked, or robbed as some people have said, almost $30 million of Redevelopment money and put it into services that Public Works should have been paying for. We've had Public Works go from $139 million to $107 million, so they're not fixing our streets, curbs and gutters.
There's a lot busted in this city, and if you don't change the administration, you're not going to have much of [inaudible] to take care of. So I'm running because he hasn't fulfilled any of his promises, not one of them.
There's been no significant improvement in this neighborhood since he moved in here...
Ms. Gabelich: Some people talk the talk, but I don't feel that they walk the walk. I think that my record speaks for itself. I have twenty years of experience in representing my community and my city. And I believe that we've had poor leadership downtown. I respected Rob, I walked with him. I asked for his vote. I asked for my friends and neighbors to vote for him and I'm afraid he just wasn't as effective as I thought he could be.
For Mr. Jensen, you speak great business dialogue, but where have you been? You have not been participating...
Mr. Jensen: I've been here longer than you have.
Ms. Gabelich: I'm not talking about physically here. I'm talking about taking participation in community activities to best support what's needed in your area.
I ask for your support. I believe that I can best represent you. I'm not afraid to ask the questions. I'm not afraid to demand the answers, and I won't wait for the answers.
Councilman Webb: Well let me start by saying I've been honored to work as your Councilman for the last four years. I've been honored to work with Rae Gabelich on many issues in this community, and Rae has been involved for many years and we've worked on a lot of things. I've honored to be involved as a volunteer and activist in this community for about 24 years now.
I will tell you we that we have some challenges in this city and I will tell you that as much as I would like to stand here and say that I've fixed every problem that this city has in the last four years as your Councilman, that isn't the case. And I hope to have another four years and I will tell you that I won't be able to see everything fixed in the next four years. What I can tell you is I have been a Councilman that tries to represent you to City Hall and not the other way around.
I have been responsive to the issues. I feel I've got a good constituent working staff in our field office in Jerry Caligiuri and we've worked hard to support the issues in the community. I'm proud to have the support of many neighborhood leaders in Bixby Knolls and North Long Beach. I feel Bixby Knolls and North Long Beach is better and I'd be honored to have your support so I can continue working for the 8th district.
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[Note: Candidate Kennedy Collins did not appear at the event.]
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