|(October 24, 2017) -- As Vin Scully put it approaching another World Series, "In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened." At the recent Land Use Element meetings, we saw and heard discontent beyond density voiced by residents who feel overtaxed, underserved and disserved by the way LB City Hall is currently run. For every person attending those meetings, we expect there were at least ten others who didn't attend but share the views of their neighbors.
So...will this translate into grassroots election candidates advocating meaningful changes and reforms?
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Roughly twenty years ago, former Councilman Les Robbins astutely remarked: "There are very few serious problems in the City of Long Beach that aren't in some way related to public safety." Consider these issues in just one Council district (we could cite different examples in other districts.)
On Thursday Oct. 18, City Hall conducted a "bike count." A WLB resident of LB's 1st Council district volunteered. She was told to go to 20th/Delta and count passing bike riders from 7-9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m. She completed her morning count but changed her afternoon plans after hearing gunfire in broad daylight about a block or so from where she would be standing. The gunfire came from a suspect riding a bicycle (wearing a hoodie on a warm afternoon to conceal himself) who opened fire on a man seated in a car in the 1900 block of Caspian Ave., firing multiple rounds that missed the intended victim but damaged the car. This happened in LB's 1st Council district, where a day earlier a man was shot across the river in LB's historic Willmore District.
LB's 1st Council district has been represented since mid-July 2014 by Lena Gonzalez, a former Council office aide to former Councilman/now Mayor, Robert Garcia. Garcia, a 3rd dist. resident/Council office aide and former LB Young Republican leader, spotted a likely 1st Council district vacancy, moved into the 1st district, changed his party registration and ran, telling voters his top priority would be clean and safe streets. Once in office, Councilman Garcia voted for the largest reductions in police officers for taxpayers in LB's more than 100 year history, erasing roughly 20% of LB's citywide deployable police level (including LBPD's field anti-gang unit), budget actions most other cities didn't take despite the "great recession."
Today, 191 police officers haven't been restored for LB taxpayers by his successor, Councilwoman Gonzalez, while LB consumers pay the highest sales tax rate among CA cities (shared by only a few other cities) after LB voters approved a June 2016 "blank check" sales tax increase bringing City Hall tens of millions of additional dollars annually. At an August 2016 community budget meeting, LBREPORT.com asked Councilwoman Gonzalez if she favored restoring more than 8 officers in FY17 that Garcia had proposed; Gonzalez responded by attempting to cover our camera lens (photo right.)
A few months later, the Council voted to restore 9 additional officers for a total of 17 officers restored in FY17, but in September 2017, Mayor Garcia recommended and the Council approved a FY18 budget that restores no further officers for taxpayers. LB's current Mayor and Council have given LB taxpayers no commitment to restore any more of the nearly 200 police officers that LB taxpayers had and no longer have.
And no, the leadership of LB's police officers' union PAC didn't testify at recent budget hearings urging Councilmembers they helped elect to restore any more of the nearly 200 police officers for taxpayers.
The Council-enabled status quo has helped maintain LB's ugliest and most unjust inequity: a "tale of two cities" subjecting good and decent residents in parts of LB (including the 1st district) to neighborhood shootings and violent crimes at levels unimaginable in other parts of the city. Gonzalez's equity response has been to seek summer band concerts and park programs. At the same time, she's joined her Council colleagues in approving pay raises for multiple city employee groups, including city management (some now in the "$200,000 Club.")
Mayor Garcia and Councilwoman Gonzalez have also failed to restore the second fire engine that LB taxpayers had but no longer have at Fire Station 1 on Magnolia Ave. between Broadway and Ocean Blvd. in the 1st district. That second fire engine was a safety measure to deal with downtown density. In January 2012, then-Councilman Garcia made the motion to approve a developer-friendly "downtown plan" that invites even more downtown density and higher building heights than previously allowed, and Councilwoman Gonzalez has since voted to approve such high density projects.
Other neighborhood-impacts of the "downtown plan" will surface later today (Oct. 24, when the Council confronts an appeal by LB Citizens for Fair Development and multiple parking-impacted Alamitos Beach residents opposed to a developer-sought seven story residential building offering fewer parking spaces than the city previously required. (LBREPORT.com coverage here.)
Station 1's downtown density fire engine won't be restored (under LBFD's stated order of restorations) until the Council restores Engine 17 to Station 17 in ELB's Stearns Park. It hasn't been restored despite the fact that in January 2014, fire destroyed several residential units on a lot across the street from Station 17 because it no longer has Engine 17 that could have quickly doused the flames. Meanwhile, city staff has proposed Land Use Element revisions that include significantly increasing density in nearby areas no longer protected by erased-Engine 17.
And no, the leadership of LB's firefighters union PAC didn't testify in recent budget hearings urging Councilmembers they helped elect to restore Engine 17 or Engine 101 (density engine at Station 1) for taxpayers.
Councilwoman Gonzalez has had other priorities. Soon after she took Garcia's Council seat, Garcia chose Gonzalez to chair a Council committee that proposed to triple amounts that the Mayor and Council can collect in their "officeholder accounts" from friendly contributors. Two years later, Gonzalez voted to let incumbent Council members and the Mayor use their tripled "officeholder accounts" to help elect/re-elect candidates to other political offices.
And last week Oct. 17. Councilwoman Gonzalez co-authored a Council item that would require LB restaurants to offer water or milk as the default (first) choice in bundled kids meals, framing the issue as a matter children's health. A day later on Oct 18, a man was shot in the 1st district's Willmore City neighborhood. One day after that on Oct. 18, the "ride-by" shooting occurred in the WLB portion of the 1st district.
Councilwoman Gonzalez was one of two Council incumbents who failed to attend recent Land Use Element meetings. She didn't bother to hear what the public said and how they said it.
This is the type of combustible mixture that can change the outcome of seemingly pre-decided elections. LB will hold elections in April 2018 in which five Council incumbents (districts 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9) and Mayor Garcia seek second terms.
Whether grassroots candidates will emerge in the coming weeks willing to criticize the records of the incumbents and advocate meaningful change remains to be seen.
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