Norm Ryan Announces He's Running For 3d District Council; Says LB Taxpayers Overtaxed & Underserved, If Elected Will Seek "No Sacred Cows" Audit Of City Hall Finances By Outside Firm, Not City Hall's Auditor
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(November 17, 2005) -- Saying LB residents and businesses are overtaxed and underserved by City Hall, Norm Ryan, instrumental in the campaign for the petition-initiated ballot measure that cut LB's then-10% utility tax in half over five years, garnering a nearly 70% citywide voter margin despite fierce (and at one point illegal) City Hall efforts to derail it, has announced he is running for LB's 3d district City Council seat.
Wearing a lapel pin declaring, "I Love Long Beach," Mr. Ryan said the City of LB spends more per person than neighboring Lakewood and LB has more advantages and assets...but LB residents have streets and sidewalks in worse condition and feel less safe.
"[I]f Lakewood can do so much with less, then it is proof that with all of Long Beach’s advantages; a world-class port, a great little airport, beach frontage, several vibrant business corridors like Second Street & Naples and all of our distinct and wonderful neighborhoods, it is not unreasonable to ask -- no demand -- that our City Government do better. We should have better streets and sidewalks, we should feel safer, and we shouldn’t be cooling our heels or having near-death experiences in traffic...You've heard the Expression Love it or Leave it, well I love Long Beach! And since I'm staying I want you to join me to make it better!"
After filing papers this summer indicating he was considering a 3d district Council run, Mr. Ryan made his announcement official on Nov. 15 at Belmont Shore's La Creperie cafe. LBReport.com posts salient excerpts below, with some follow-up sidewalk Q & A.
[podium announcement] Mr. Ryan: My history and experience in Public Finance have convinced me that we are being overtaxed and underserved. The middle-class city of Lakewood has a $53 million budget. This equates to $680 per person...
The City of Long Beach has a Budget of $1.8 Billion. That’s $3,827 per person, over five times what Lakewood spends. City Hall insiders will protest and say that many of those funds are not available for services because they go to support the airport, the harbor and or the Gas and Water Departments, etc. The only problem I have with that argument is that when it fits the needs of the Downtown crowd some of those funds magically show up to subsidize the latest greatest downtown development project rather than fund neighborhood improvements.
But OK if we just looked at the $355 million general fund that still leaves us at $721 per person, that's 6% more than Lakewood's per capita. The real number is somewhere between 6% and 500% more than what Lakewood spends on it citizens.
Unfortunately, when you are driving across town you know when you are in Lakewood and when you are in Long Beach by the condition of the streets and sidewalks. This includes the most affluent neighborhoods in the City, here, in the Third District. Do you think our streets and sidewalks are in 6% better shape than Lakewood -- or worse?
...In a recent drive down Clark, while in the City of Lakewood, I passed four patrol vehicles. Three of them had an extra officer riding shotgun and handling the radio. When is the last time you saw more than one officer in a Long Beach PD squad car? Do you think we are 6% safer than Lakewood -- or worse?
If you work outside of Long Beach and have to come down 7th Street or if you work across town and take 2d St. to get home, can you believe the traffic congestion? There have been studies after studies on how to mitigate it, yet nothing happens. Money is always cited as a factor, yet the City never seems to apply for those State moneys (also our taxes) that would improve the infrastructure of our roads and intersections. I can almost guarantee that if nothing changes in our City Leadership, Long Beach will see precious little of that $50 Billion Bond that Governor Schwarzeneggar has been talking about. So, do we have 6% better traffic than Lakewood - or worse?
Don't get me wrong, I don't want to live in Lakewood. I was raised in Long Beach. All of my Family lives here. I went to Long Beach schools. Cheri and I chose to raise our four boys here. I represent Long Beach as an elected Director on the Water Replenishment District. I serve as PTA president here at Lowell Bayside Academy. I fought against Measure Z that would have levied Mello-Roos Taxes on all our homes and businesses. I fought for Measure J which cut in half the City Tax on our phone, water, gas and electricity bills.
My family is invested in the future of Long Beach. This is our home. I just think that if Lakewood can do so much with less, than it is proof that with all of Long Beach’s advantages; a world-class port, a great little airport, beach frontage, several vibrant business corridors like 2d Street & Naples and all of our distinct and wonderful neighborhoods, it is not unreasonable to ask, no demand, that our City Government do better. We should have better streets and sidewalks, we should feel safer, and we shouldn’t be cooling our heels or having near-death experiences in traffic.
These are the issues that concern me and from talking to my neighbors and friends this is what they would like the City to pay more attention to. You’ve heard the Expression Love it or Leave it, well I love Long Beach! And since I’m staying I want you to join me to make it better! (applause)
...I want what my neighbors and friends want. Yes, I have the ability and the track record to actually make good on my promises. And let me be unequivocal. Yes, I will run -- and with your support -- I will win! (applause)
Mr. Ryan will now face candidates Gary DeLong and Charles Legeman in the race to succeed Councilman (and Mayoral candidate) Frank Colonna. The 3d district Council race is expected to highlight sharply drawn lines over the future direction of LB City Hall.
Mr. Ryan made his announcement to about a dozen people (family and supporters plus media)...and indicated he would be releasing a list of prominent endorsers shortly.
Across town, candidate DeLong, who reported raising over $50,000 by the end of June, was holding a fundraiser at the downtown offices of the Keesal, Young & Logan law firm, an event Mr. DeLong subsequently told LBReport.com drew between 130-150 people and raised over $20,000 [LBReport.com coverage: click here]. Candidate DeLong's campaign website includes a campaign Advisory Council (doesn't call them endorsers) listing prominent LB figures; in 2003, Mayor Beverly O'Neill appointed Mr. DeLong to City Hall's Economic Development Commission and he serves on the boards of the Aquarium of the Pacific, So. Cal Goodwill Industries, the LBCC Foundation, LB Public Library Foundation and ChildNet Youth & Family Services.
In a sidewalk Q & A after his podium remarks, we asked Mr. Ryan for comment on the DeLong candidacy:
"You just can't buy the vote, you actually have to earn it...If you're actually doing things that matter, then you're going to be successful, and no latecomer comes in and writes a check and is going to win the Council seat for the Third District. People want somebody that's proven and tested," Mr. Ryan said, and continued:
Mr. Ryan: I got elected to the Water Replenishment District. Nobody'd ever heard [of it] except when it did bad things...and now we're winning awards for budgeting and finance...[This showed] one person, driven and knowing what they're doing, especially in the murky world of municipal finance, could get things accomplished...I [told the public] that I could...lower the utility tax. I didn't say 'when you elect me, I'll do it.' I simply said, 'I'll do it.'...I waited for the [3d district] Councilperson elected eight years ago [Colonna] to do something about it and he didn't...I went ahead and did it [the petition initiated utility tax cut] because I said I would do it.
I went to the Water Replenishment District. I said I was going to lower water rates, and I did...
LBReport.com: You're continuing to sound an anti-tax, budget theme?
Mr. Ryan: Now more than ever. When you haven't lived under a 10% utility tax for a while, you kind of forget how onerous that can be...Now that the city is trying to feel around for additional revenue, we're hearing about the tax again...
LBReport.com: If you were on the Council, would you vote to increase taxes to pay for police?
Mr. Ryan:: No. I think Lakewood is a reasonably well run city...As we just showed on a per capita basis, they spend less...We don't have better roads than Lakewood...and we have 6% more to play with [City Hall is spending 6% more per capita than Lakewood] if you believe City Hall, and I believe it's much more than that...
LBReport.com: Within 90 days of your being on the Council, what would you do?
Mr. Ryan: Personnel is policy, and we still have [City Hall] personnel that are sitting there griping about what 70% of the people of Long Beach did when they cut the utilities tax...[Their] "dream" of raising that tax did not die, so one thing that me being there will send a signal on is it's time to move on. 70% of the people not only voted for [the utility tax cut] but also Norm Ryan got elected to the 3d [district]. There's no reason to revisit the utility tax...
I would actually like the [City] Auditor to conduct an audit, a full blown 100% audit of everything, no sacred cows...That's what we did when I got to WRD [Water Replenishment District]...a real audit of what's going on with our finances. I want all the funds audited. I want to know what we really have and what we don't really have.
LBReport.com: Would you do a forensic audit?
Mr. Ryan: Well, every audit should be a forensic audit...If you find anomalies, you want to explore them...[M]ost good accountants will tell you that if they find an anomaly they're going to stop and go back and try to find out...
LBReport.com: Do you trust the incumbent Auditor to do that?
Mr. Ryan: No. [City Auditor] Gary [Burroughs] is too involved in playing politics to do his job correctly...
LBReport.com: ...[W]ould you try to get an outside firm to do it?
Mr. Ryan: Yes. The Charter basically gives the authority to do it to the Auditor, but it doesn't give him exclusive authority...
LBReport.com: Would you have voted for the raise [in salary] for [City Manager] Miller?
Mr. Ryan: No...I know what they say, they say you have to increase this pay to attract talent, but it makes no sense if you're increasing pay for the person that's already there. All you're really doing is giving him an incentive to stay because there's no other place that would pay him this much.
LBReport.com: About the [increased] pensions, what would you do now...?
Mr. Ryan: ...I don't think that from what I've seen that police and fire is the obligation that's going to sink us, but giving it to everybody and their brother and then also boosting everybody's pay especially just before they retire...
[I]t's time to look at why we did it, and then roll it back for non-public safety employees...We can always renegotiate [the pensions] when the [city employee] contracts come around, we can always renegotiate the PERS [Public Employee Retirement System] pension program...
The city management team that negotiates it is obviously biased. We saw in San Diego, why would you put the wolves in charge of the hen house? So, do we have a pension obligation that is adequate or fair, or do we have one that was used to feather the nests of the person negotiating on our behalf because he wanted to get a good retirement system?
LBReport.com: Did Gary DeLong support you on Prop J [Nov. 2000 five-year utility tax cut measure]?
Mr. DeLong: No.
Mr. Ryan said he led the campaign for the Prop J utility tax cut but stressed that he was not alone in bringing the measure forward. "I co-authored it with people including [Business Journal publisher] George Economides [who] was a big mover behind it," Mr. Ryan said. [Mr. Economides and Mr. Ryan had a falling out during the campaign.] Mr. Ryan added that retired LB Mayor Eunice Sato was also a big mover behind Prop J...and she has endorsed him in the 3d district Council race.
Also in the Council race is candidate Charles Legeman, active in the LB Yacht Club and the former publisher of the Marina News. He heads the Isthmus Corporation (a real estate related firm) and spoke at a City Council meeting earlier this year in opposition to a proposal (also opposed by incumbent Councilman Colonna, passed 8-1) to determine if there's a federal interest in reconfiguring the LB breakwater to allow for some surf in the area.
The battle over the Prop J included multiple City Hall attempts to derail the grassroots tax cutting effort. City officials first offered utility tax cut supporters an alternative measure offering taxpayers less immediate tax relief. When that failed and the petition drive went forward, City Hall claimed -- inaccurately -- that not enough signatures had been gathered to qualify for the ballot. Only after a phone call from lawyers for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association did City Hall acknowledged the measure had qualified for the Nov. 2000 ballot.
Councilmembers then voted to put an alternative measure on the ballot (positioned ahead of Prop J) offering taxpayers the utility tax reduction spread over 10 years instead of 5. In addition, then-city management used taxpayer resources to create "informational" materials telling residents about the "benefits" of LB's utility tax. Mr. Ryan challenged the latter action in court...and a Superior Court Judge agreed that City Hall's "informational" material amounted to illegal advocacy and enjoined it.
Prop J prevailed over City Hall's alternative...and went on to pass by near 70% margin citywide.
Candidate DeLong acknowledged that he wasn't engaged in the utility tax cut battle at the time...but said he voted for the measure offering the more significant decrease (Prop J)...but added, "What I'm hearing on the campaign trail is many residents wonder whether the small reduction in the utility tax was worthy the large reduction in city services. They're concerned about the reduction and cuts and they're wondering if saving a few dollars annually was worth it," Mr. DeLong said.
So what's candidate DeLong's position now? "I'll continue to do a lot of listening before taking a position," he said.
In 2002, voters propelled Mr. Ryan into a citywide runoff in the Mayor's race...in which he and Vice Mayor Dan Baker were outpolled by incumbent Beverly O'Neill. After seeking a SE LB School Board seat (also sought by Mr. DeLong), Mr. Ryan went on to win election to the Water Replenishment District, a position in which he says he has restored fiscal integrity and cut water rates for consumers.
Earlier this year, LB City Auditor (and DeLong Advisory Committee member) Gary Burroughs began an audit of public money given by City Hall to candidates requesting it under LB's campaign reform law (Prop M). Mr. Ryan, who was among such candidates, said the City Auditor lacked legal authority to conduct such an audit and refused to cooperate with him. Burroughs responded by agendizing a City Council report which negatively portrayed Mr. Ryan's non-cooperation. LB's City Attorney's Office has since brought a civil action against Mr. Ryan related to the public funding matter, which Ryan is contesting in court.
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