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    Following the Money & Red Ink: Several Prominent "This Land" Activists Form Committee Independent of City Hall To Study City of LB Budget

    (October 3, 2002) -- In the latest development seeking to elevate grassroots political activism, a number of prominent area activists from LB's "This Land" cyber community -- including a former LB Councilman and a CPA who chaired the environmental portion of City Hall's latest "Strategic Plan" -- have announced plans to create a committee independent of City Hall to study the City of LB budget.

    This marks the first disciplined effort in recent years by grassroots taxpayers to follow the City Hall's money...and City Hall's red ink.

    In a written release, 4th district activist Traci Wilson-Kleekamp, who heads the "This Land" group, said: "The city's 'Resource Allocation Plan' [budget] is not a transparent document. The public can't participate in decision-making until our representatives give us meaningful data, presented according to consistent accounting principles, at useful intervals."

    Former LB City Council member Marc Wilder agreed: "I don't think even Council members who vote on the budget understand these numbers. We spent months working with management and outside experts in the early 80s to create an understandable, zero-based budgeting system. That's gone out the window, and City Hall has lost the institutional memory that can bring it back."

    The development follows last month's announcement (first reported by that several "This Land" activists were forming a political action committee -- which would let them raise money for city causes and candidates. If successful, the "This Land" PAC would operate as do other politically active LB interest groups, business associations and public employee unions.

    And (like the recently reinvigorated LBHUSH2 airport-impacted activist group), This Land's PAC is using the internet, creating a web site with background and contact information. This Land's web site is at:

    Launching a "This Land" budget committee, which challenges City Hall's historic monopoly on substantive budget discussions, parallels Mayor Beverly O'Neill's self-creation of her own "Budget Advisory Committee." The Mayor's group, consisting of her personally named appointees, is not mentioned (or forbidden) by city law. The Mayor recently announced plans to resuscitate the group (adding some new members) after city management proposed a budget balanced with $46 million in one time revenues. The Mayor's self-created "Budget Advisory Committee" has been treated as credible by a majority of Councilmembers...who by law actually do have the power to control the budget.

    David Sundstrom, C.P.A., is coordinating This Land's budget effort and says he hopes to do more than merely re-package the city budget document so that laypeople can understand it:

    "The city budget should be a management tool, but it does not contain historic data or anticipate trends. Consequently, the city has no real planning process to tie development together with service and infrastructure requirements to meet the needs of future population."

    Taxpayer advocate Kathy Ryan added: "The primary component of the city's annual budget is human resources. Taxpayers need to be very clear that when elected officials use the term 'human resources', they mean City Hall payroll, not residents. The city's annual budget process does an excellent job of taking care of employee raises and pensions, but it does a very poor job of meeting even our most immediate needs, let alone planning for our children and grandchildren."

    Mr. Sundstrom, who chaired the environmental component for City Hall's "Strategic Plan" process, says sustainability is not just an ecological goal but a financial one:

    "The Strategic Plan called for full-cost accounting over the life cycle of every decision the city makes. For example, when we plan new development, we need to establish a sinking fund to maintain and replace the associated infrastructure. The reason our neighborhoods are in trouble is because the city hasn't ever done this."

    "That should come as no surprise," adds Ms. Ryan, "when you consider that the city gives money to developers but either ignores residents' needs or turns to taxpayers to finance them through bonds."

    Neighborhood activist Bry Myown agrees: "It's true that most American cities are in the same boat as Long Beach, but some are developing navigation systems, while Long Beach is just bailing water. My biggest disappointment with the Strategic Plan is that it's becoming one more meaningless document. The city hasn't changed its budget in keeping with our Strategic Plan goals."

    Ms. Kleekamp believes residents need to lead the way:

    City Hall never wants the public at the table. But every time we sit down at the table, we end up showing them how they ought to do the job. 'This Land' began as an electronic chat list, and we've been very vocal about a number of issues, starting with firing the City Manager. City Hall is beginning to set policy based on what we say online.

    Now we're branching out. We've formed a political action committee to participate in elections, and this budget group is the first of what we hope will be many efforts. I'm sure we'll have subcommittees to address the redevelopment, harbor, utility, neighborhood and infrastructure budgets, and I imagine those groups will want to address planning and policy issues as well as financial ones.

    The release indicates the group has short-term as well as long-term goals. "For two years, we've been asking the council to reduce the city manager's authority to enter into contracts without council approval," Ms. Myown said, adding "We want the council and the public to know how our money is being spent, and we think we're close to getting an answer on that point."

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