(August 30, 2006) -- The LB Area Chamber of Commerce advocacy website (www.longbeachadvocacy.biz) has posted a commentary by its 2006-2007 Board Chair, Byron Schweigert. Mr. Schweigert is Chairman of the Board/Chief Education & Gov't Affairs Officer for MemorialCare Medical Centers. LBReport.com posts the text of Mr. Schweigert's article as a guest commentary below.
The relationship between the Chamber and the members of the Long Beach City Council has been strained at times. The strong legislative advocacy efforts on the part of the Chamber have made the Chamber a significant presence in city politics but at the same time have created conflict with city council members who disagree with our opinion or do not like to have the Chamber involved in politics in the first place. During July and August, the Chamber has made significant strides in its outreach efforts to the members of City Council.
I have personally met with each member of City Council for about an hour. In many cases their respective chiefs of staff were also present for these one-on-one meetings. In addition, Brandon Kline, The Chamber Vice President for Public Policy, has visited with the chief of staff for each council member. The goal of these visits has been to open communication with our council members.
We want open dialogue on all issues of interest to the Chamber. Having this communication in a private meeting where differences of opinion can be more easily expressed allows for better understanding of different points of view. We know that the Chamber views will not always coincide with the views of city council members. However, these private conversations are more effective in promoting understanding than using the open forum of the city council meeting to express disagreement.
So, what did we learn from these meetings? The following are a few selected highlights from these meetings.
All of the city council members seem to be in support of modernizing the Long Beach Airport to make the facilities more comfortable and convenient for passengers. Everyone seems to recognize that there is a need for better services and amenities. There is disagreement about the size of the airport ranging from 79,000 to 103,000 sq ft. The biggest concern about the airport is the financing model. The airport modernization would be built with 30 year bonds but there are no lease holders available to make such a long term commitment. Therefore, the ultimate guarantor (deep pockets) will likely be the city
Housing Trust Fund
The concept of the "Housing Trust Fund" was to impose a fee on condominium conversions. This revenue would then be used to create "low income housing" to meet the needs of the lower income group within the city. Some members of city council are strong advocates for this effort. Others are equally adamant in opposition to the "Housing Trust Fund" and feel that this approach will only create more poverty within the city and would rather have the city work with citizens to upgrade existing low income housing to make it more livable and, hopefully, create pride in ownership.
Master Plan for Business within the City
All of the city council members have identified specific business needs within their district. Tonia Reyes Uranga has identified a need for a large drug store in the 7th district and Val Lerch and Laura Richardson have identified the need to a major grocery store in their districts. The Chamber has already begun efforts to identify appropriate businesses to help meet these needs within the city and will work closely with our city council members to arrange meetings and facilitate the development of new business to meet the needs of the citizens of Long Beach.
There does appear to be a need for a master plan for business within the city. The city is in the process of updating the "General Plan". It is estimated that this will take at least 18 months. The Chamber has offered to be an active participant in this effort. Meetings between Chamber representatives and the city manager have already been scheduled for September.
Education and Jobs
All of our city council members and the mayor have expressed a desire to create jobs within the city. This effort will take two focuses. Several of our city council members have indicated that dramatic need for more vocational and trade education for high school students. Not all students want to go to college and there is a real need for these skills within the city. These city council members will work closely with our education leaders to help fill this need. Apprenticeship programs within the trades should also help create a "pipeline" of students wanting to learn these skills. Perhaps the number one need in the city right now is to find a "major replacement business" for Boeing. The announcement in August that the C-17 project will be phased out over the next three years will create a void and has already started the process of layoffs.
The Bottom Line
The "bottom line" is that the Chamber needs to be more collaborative with our city council members. The Chamber has extended an invitation to each of our city council members to actively participate in the Chamber Government Affairs Committee. AND, beginning in August, we have seen wonderful representation from our city leaders. Chamber effectiveness is determined by being willing to take a "hard stand" when necessary and at the same time being a "diplomat". Expressing an opposing point of view is part of the Chamber job on certain issues. How and where we chose to express ourselves will ultimately determine our effectiveness. I welcome you thoughts and comments.
Byron Schweigert is the 2006-2007 Long Beach Chamber Chairman of the Board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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