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    In Depth

    Council Votes 6-3 To Delay Vote On Redevelopment Takeover Until Dec. 21, w/ Two Study Sessions First

    (November 16, 2004) -- Capping a tense two and a half hour hearing in which advocates for and against having the City Council name itself LB's Redevelopment Agency board engaged in a high stakes debate, the LB City Council voted 6-3 (Colonna, Gabelich, Lerch dissenting) to delay a showdown vote (continue the hearing) until Dec. 21...and hold two study sessions on the subject of Redevelopment governance within the next thirty days before the vote.

    The substitute motion by 4th district Councilman Patrick O'Donnell shot past a motion (initially offered early in the hearing) by 3d district Councilman Frank Colonna who sought to postpone the hearing and hold study sessions commencing in sixty days or less to gather additional information. (The motion was later amended to specify completion of the study sessions within 75 days).

    The 6-3 vote on O'Donnell's faster-track motion mirrored earlier Council votes in which Councilmembers Colonna, Gabelich and Lerch opposed proceeding with the Council takeover.

    The hearing took an unusual turn when City Auditor Gary Burroughs and retired City Auditor Bob Fronke weighed in on the issue, opposed to having the Council become LB's Redevelopment Agency board. Messrs. Burroughs and Fronke argued that having a non-elected RDA board provided a "check and balance" mechanism that would be lacking in a Council-run RDA board.

    Following divided public and Council comments, it became apparent that there weren't five supportive Council votes to move forward at the November 16 meeting, prompting Councilwoman Reyes Uranga to opine that to her the issue showed LB is a divided city. Councilwoman Reyes Uranga said that speakers supporting the Council takeover were Latino or Black, and those opposed were not...and her comments triggered audible audience displeasure, prompting the Mayor to restore order. Councilwoman Reyes Uranga continued that she was just stating a fact...and went on to call for a full forensic audit of Redevelopment monies...and noted that City Auditor Burroughs had not done so.

    At the opening of the hearing, City Manager Jerry Miller delivered a statement concerning his August 25 memo on the subject of redevelopment and to underscore and clarify his concerns related to the Council's role in the redevelopment process:

    City Manager Miller: As I have mentioned to you previously, there has been no other issue that has elicited more of your concerns, over the past two plus years that I have served as City Manager, than redevelopment.

    And those concerns generally related to the slow pace of redevelopment, the lack of progress in the redevelopment project areas, and the limited ability Council has in influencing the process.

    What I conclude in the August memo is that I believe we have a structural problem from the standpoint that we have two policy boards that have interest and varying degrees of responsibility for redevelopment but the two boards are not necessarily on the same page. I think this creates confusion, dysfunction, added cost and duplication.

    In my opinion, this "two masters" situation creates barriers to our efficiency and effectiveness, and the result is we are missing a great opportunity -- perhaps a unique opportunity -- to better address blight, neighborhood deterioration and disinvestment.

    Much discussion as of late relates to the Independent Study of Redevelopment which has already been initiated by the Redevelopment Agency Board. Virtually everyone now think the Independent Study is a good thing. I think it is important to be reminded that the governance question was not originally included in the Independent Study and would not have been addressed were it not for the August memorandum...

    ...I doubt many Council people knew -- nor did many of the public -- how unusual our situation is, compared to all other California cities with redevelopment agencies, from a governance perspective.

    ...I am pleased that I have played a part in better informing the Council. I think that is part of the role of a public sector manager and certainly the Code of Ethics which governs my profession supports such disclosure in the interest of more informed public debates.

    ...I have a couple more things that I think need to be said.

    1. I think redevelopment is everyone's business and I think it would be a good thing were more Long Beach residents involved in the redevelopment process. (After all, over half of the City's land area is within redevelopment and that represents a big proportion of the city's total residents.)

    2. I think that the entire City Council has a stake in redevelopment form the perspective that 8 of 9 Council districts have at least some part of an existing redevelopment project area. (The Central Project Area encompasses five Council districts. The North project area encompasses six.) So there is a lot of overlap between the work of the Redevelopment Agency and the various Council offices.

    3. Moreover, given that the financial loss to the General Fund due to redevelopment is reported to be about $10 million each year, coupled with the fact that there is a large Agency debt owed to the General Fund and Community Block Grant program, I think this makes redevelopment every Councilperson's business.

    ...I must disagree with the implications that this City Council is not capable enough or ethical enough to serve as the redevelopment agency board. Having worked for twenty years with the City and five years in the City Manager's office, I think I speak with some experience in saying that current Council would be more than up to the challenge were it to decide to make that decision...

    ...[N]o matter what you decide today, management will do everything within our power to implement your policy direction to the fullest extent possible.

    3d district Councilman Frank Colonna made a motion to postpone or delay the hearing and request a series of Council study sessions to explore what type of more active project decision making role the City Council can have in the redevelopment process, with legal assistance from the City Attorney, to work toward clarifying the Redevelopment Agency Board's responsibilities financially to the General Fund with assistance from the City Auditor, fully review publicly all the projects in the pipeline and update the Council on the progress of the Independent Study of Redevelopment...and commence the study sessions within sixty days or less.

    Mayor O'Neill asked that Councilman Colonna's motion be held until later.

    7th district Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga invited City Auditor Gary Burroughs to speak. City Auditor Burroughs said the Council already has in its hand most of the power that it needs to create influence and oversight over the current Redevelopment Agency Board and staff. He said there was no need for a change. Saying the Council also had "political influence and political clout," Auditor Burroughs urged the Council to work with City Manager and Redevelopment Agency and its staff and let the Council establish the accountability. This would include a brighter line between expenditures that were Redevelopment in nature versus General Fund in nature. City Hall should not be taking Redevelopment money and spending it for what would normally be thought of as General Fund expenditures, Auditor Burroughs said, drawing audience applause.

    Auditor Burroughs then indicated that his predecessor, retired City Auditor Bob Fronke, had requested an opportunity to speak. That prompted 6th district Councilwoman Laura Richardson to say that while she was not opposed to hearing Mr. Fronke, she preferred to hear public comment first out of respect to the public.

    Before that issue was settled, Councilwoman Reyes Uranga took issue with Burroughs "check and balance" assertion. Since Councilmembers were the Redevelopment Agency in many other cities, "does that mean they lack checks and balances?" Councilwoman Reyes Uranga asked rhetorically.

    "We don't want to let good get in the way of best," Auditor Burroughs responded. "It is important that we maintain an adequate system of checks and balances...I believe that the current system that we have is the best system."

    "In your opinion," Councilwoman Reyes Uranga shot back. "In my opinion," Auditor Burroughs acknowledged...adding that the Council has the power to engage the RDA Board and staff in "discussions." Reyes Uranga said this would leave Councilmembers with basically the same ability as the public to speak but to have no vote.

    Auditor Burroughs then noted that he is completing an annual audit of the Redevelopment Agency. "That audit is comprehensive in my judgment. It covers all the project areas. It covers all the loans. It covers all the inter-project loans. It covers all the revenues, all the receipts, in fact it's a publication that's about a half inch thick."

    "So you can tell me with all confidence that as of the last audit you feel that the [Redevelopment] Agency is in good shape and you feel that there are no outstanding issues?"

    "Well I'm not sure what you mean by outstanding issues," Auditor Burroughs replied, adding "I do believe that they are in good shape, that the financial statements presented the results of their operation and all of those loans, and even the results of some of those projects in a way that's compliable with generally accepted requirements."

    Retired City Auditor Fronke then came to the podium and said, "I feel very strongly about this particular issue. In my considered judgment, it's a bad idea to abolish this independent Redevelopment Agency Board." Mr. Fronke said it further blurs the lines between the Redevelopment and General Funds and reduces checks and balances. "Don't throw out the baby with the bath water."

    Mayor O'Neill opened the floor to public comment and a long line of speakers came to the speakers' podium.

    • Resident 500 block Walnut Ave.: Supports Council takeover of RDA board. "I support it...because it is time for the Council to get serious about our neighborhood...RDA does not care about families or they would have helped us long ago. They have not done their job correctly. I think the City Council would do a better job."

    • Member of LULAC (LB area): Supports Council takeover RDA board.

    • Resident 500 block Pine Ave., also LULAC member: Supports Council moving into 21st century to become RDA board. Requests immediate audit of RDA.

    • Chair of West End Community Association (WECA): Opposes Council takeover. Might increase efficiency but would decrease effectiveness and accountability. Added staff cost will come out of Redevelopment money. Wait for study.

    • John Deats, Los Cerritos area resident: Opposed to takeover at this point but in long term thinks it needs to be studied and study should be completed...Timing is a little suspect since Council RDA takeover should have been centerpiece of this year's Council elections, suspicious that it's taking place in safe period after Council elections.

    • Annie Greenfeld Wisner, south Wrigley resident: What we want is not for you to take over tonight. We want the independent study. Why not wait to see what the study says?

    • Central district resident, 2100 block Olive Ave.: Supports Council taking over RDA

    • Chuck Fowler, NLB: Supports postponing decision on RDA Board. Fears Redevelopment dollars could become a trading chip in the political process. Please wait for the independent study

    • Laurie Angel, NLB: Urges waiting for independent study. Redevelopment areas are being threatened with merger every couple of years, disruptive to community, throws people in Redevelopment in tailspin, impacts their ability to invest in their own areas, creates aura of uncertainty...Blurring of lines between Redevelopment and General Fund dollars is a real threat, real concern. Presents roughly 100 signatures on petition to finish independent study first.

    • Belmont Shore area resident: Opposes Council taking over Redevelopment Agency

    • Vivian Tobias, Central LB: Not for or against takeover of RDA Board...Supports progress done in certain areas of LB. "We want to see more done in the project areas."

    • John Malveaux, Central Area Association: Thanks City Manager for unflinching actions, supports direct accountability, urges Council taking over RDA.

    • Dan Berns, chair Westside Project Area Committee: You hire, you fire, you have accountability. Please let the Independent Study go forward.

    • Alan Tolkoff, Vice Chair Central Project Area Committee, reads statement on behalf of CPAC chair Pat Paris. Supports Council taking no action until Independent Study has been completed. Three PACs oppose a Council takeover. Mr. Tolkoff then added comments of his own, recommending that Council action await completion of the Independent Study, saying to forward in the face of the community's near unanimous opposition without a compelling reason creates the appearance of Council impropriety. He added that with LB's history of broken Redevelopment promises, the Council would risk losing trust that has only begun to be rebuilt for the Agency.

    • Resident 3800 block E. 10th St.: Urges completing independent study.

    • LB Area Chamber of Commerce: Council should wait until Redevelopment study is completed "and we'll then work with all of you to come to good decision."

    • Joe Weinstein, 8th district resident: Both alternatives are incompatible with a more democratic system of governance in LB.

    • Downtown LB Associates chair: This may turn out to be a good idea, but without all the information you need, may not turn out well. Problem is communication; start talking to RDA board. Supports Colonna's motion. Council takeover would be last resort.

    • Resident 3400 block La Jara: Against Council takeover.

    • President of Coolidge Triangle Ass'n (NLB): Takeover seems like one step closer to a merger, therefore opposes Council takeover tonight. Supports Colonna's suggestion of study sessions.

    • LULAC member, resident 1200 block Loma Vista (1st district): Supports Council taking over RDA because Council will be accountable.

    • RDA board chair John Gooding: Board has approved and initiated Independent Study, includes structural role of what City Council should be. RDA respectfully requests that Council hear results of independent study before making a decision on Council takeover. RDA board welcomes opportunity to engage in joint study session.

    • New 7th district resident: Shares frustration in getting things done. Nothing gets done now. Council does a great job. Urges Council working to get things done.

    • Don Darnauer, past chair Central Project Area Committee: Three members of current RDA Board come from PACs. Council take over does not make things better. Wait for independent study.

    • 200 block Cambridge St. (NLB), 58 year resident: For the most part, changes have downgraded the area. 710 and 91 freeways took properties. After improvements downtown, Top of the Town looked forward to having its needs met but it takes forever to accomplish anything. Asks to delay Council taking over duties of RDA board until after the study is completed, then discuss with constituents if they wish Council to take on another task. Funds in each PAC area should be used in that area only until every project is completed.

      1st district Councilwoman Lowenthal: Found a large majority oppose decision tonight to have Council take over RDA. Will support LB Chamber idea to expedite governance portion of study so Council can look at it and have discussion on it. Does need to be more communication between RDA Board and Council.

      6th district Councilwoman Richardson: 70% of top ten CA cities have Councils serving as RDA board. Re not enough time for added duties, Council already devotes time to review and get briefings on RDA projects. Re Council not understanding blight, every current Councilmember (excluding two newly elected ones) has been in 6th district more than the entire membership of the RDA board put together. Majority of 6th district constituents support her on Redevelopment. Her position is not dissatisfaction with RDA Board. Issue is "Can we do it better, and is there an opportunity to do it better?" and she believes the answer is yes. Supports current Independent Study and scope and pledges she will make no changes in study or its scope and will not participate in efforts to deter it. Looks forward to study's recommendation. If different conclusions come from study, she will reevaluate at that time. She indicates she intends to vote in support of Council taking over RDA Board.

      2d district Councilman Baker: Believes all residents want to see goal of eliminating blight in the district. Believes most of his constituents are unaware of RDA Board role in process...and they assume their Councilmember is accountable for eliminating blight. Council takeover gives every opportunity for residents to be heard. Latest elections show public knows if Council incumbents unresponsive, they can be removed. Re Council self-interest, tripling pay, Councilman Baker says "just ridiculous" because Councilmembers now sit on Housing Authority Board and it's the lowest paid in the city; Baker says he can almost promise that this Council is not going to be raising their pay as the RDA Board and certainly he will not be. Under Redevelopment, it took five years to get a pocket park done, while city staff got a similar park done in six months. Strongly believes Redevelopment needs to be changed. "I can guarantee you that I'm one of the RDA Boardmembers, there won't be unnecessary delays in projects in my district or in North Long Beach or in any other part of the city and I really do believe it's in best interests of my residents and the city of Long Beach to move forward with the proposed action."

      4th district Councilman Patrick O'Donnell: "When I was elected, it was my mission to instill a sense of accountability, facilitate economic development in this city and shake this place up and change some things around here." Vote to takeover RDA would do that, but continues to have some questions. Asks City Manager how long study is going to take. City Manager says it'll take nine months. Does Manager think it will answer question of whether it should become the RDA? Manager says it will outline advantages and leave it to Council. Would ultimately be in the same place. O'Donnell says he doesn't have the information to make decision tonight...but doesn't want to drag this out tonight. Wants to see a couple of study sessions and make a decision so it doesn't drag out for six months or even three months. Let's make our decision and move forward.

      9th district Councilman Val Lerch: NLB has paid for police station and park on 55th Way. It's NLB's money, especially with the value of properties increasing, and it should be spent on NLB. Councilman Lerch notes he part of North LB Project Area Committee before becoming Councilmember. Council created bad atmosphere for Board because Council didn't provide proper guidance. Council finally urged them to complete an independent study. Believes City Manager memo was prompted by desire to do best for city. Believes Council colleagues want to make LB best place to live. Doesn't question motives of his Council colleagues. Wants staff to start a series of study sessions on restructuring RDA board, sending message that Council is listening and wants to learn more.

      8th district Councilwoman Rae Gabelich: Received over 50 emails from throughout the city, asking to wait for completion of Independent Study. Notes Council action on this is not time critical. Shares frustration of colleagues that too much time passes before seeing results. NLB has been neglected for years while Los Altos, downtown and other areas are progressing while up north, there's police substation and 55th Way park and a proposal for a library. "I drive those streets...and I look at what we have and I think 'my goodness how did we allow this to happen?' I've lived in that community for 27 years, and the blight and the deserted conditions, the slow promises of repair. I'm frustrated and I'm upset but yet I'm determined that we're going to see a difference." Doesn't believe problem is with current Redevelopment board but believes there are some systemic problems. Requests staff to ask consultant to deliver the reports in phases...doesn't want to wait nine months, wants it come in stages and phases.

      7th district Councilwoman Reyes Uranga: "I think this city has a bigger problem than Redevelopment...We are a city divided...we are two Long Beaches, that we have the eastside and the westside...We have...the old Long Beach, the "Iowa by the Sea," and then we have the new Long Beach, and that's where I live, I guess, the new Long Beach, a Long Beach that looks like me, looks like Laura [Councilman Richardson], maybe a little bit different from where you come from.

      "And if you were to look at the vote of the people who came down tonight, and I'm not saying right or wrong, but it is amazing that everyone that spoke against us taking over the Redevelopment Agency was not a person of color and everyone who spoke in favor of us taking over the agency was. [audience displeasure]. You know what? If you don't like it, that's the facts. That's the facts...That is the facts, and I'm telling you that I'm not doing anything but counting, I'm just counting and we have a problem here...

      "...What my community tells me is the redevelopment is not working...

      "We also have a disconnect here when we have PACs and people in the community that have asked for an independent audit. We need a full, forensic, independent audit. We need an audit that's going to tell us what's going on with redevelopment, and we have an Auditor that says no, we don't. If that's not a major disconnect, I don't know what is..."

    Councilman Colonna reiterated his motion to delay the hearing and request a series of study sessions. Councilwoman Gabelich urged that the study sessions be concluded within 75 days and Councilman Colonna agreed. Gabelich seconded Colonna's motion.

    Councilman O'Donnell noted that his substitute motion would continue the hearing for no more than 30 days to study a potential Council takeover of RDA; there'd be two study sessions, then a decision. Councilman Colonna said his concern was transparency, and that while he's willing to attend the meetings, he's concerned it might not be done by the end of December.

    City Manager Miller said staff could survey CA cities re Redevelopment governance within 30 days and bring back a summary on it.

    Councilwoman Gabelich indicated that she did not favor holding a crucial vote four days before Christmas. Saying that it was important to do the right thing by the public, she urged that any vote be held after the Christmas holidays.

    The Council vote was taken on the O'Donnell substitute motion (continue hearing to Dec. 21 and have two study session in the interim on Redevelopment governance): Motion carried 6-3 (Colonna, Gabelich, Lerch dissenting)

    [Total time elapsed: Nearly two and a half hours].

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