BY NICK DIAMANTIDES
Opponents of Measure I– the Long Beach infrastructure improvements bond measure– made their case to the approximately 50 people who attended the Wrigley Association’s monthly meeting at Veterans Park Recreation Center Monday night. Terry Jensen, former board member of the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency, spoke first.
“The mayor says we (the City of Long Beach) are living paycheck to paycheck,” Jensen said. “Yet he advocated and the council approved handsome raises for all city employees.” He noted that while the employees might deserve those raises, approving them during a time of financial crisis was grossly inappropriate.
Jensen praised Mayor Bob Foster and City Manager Pat West for their efforts to balance the city’s budget and for bringing the city’s infrastructure problems to the forefront. “Their jobs are not easy,” he said. “But when they do bad work, we have to call them on it.”
Acknowledging that many of the city’s streets, sidewalks and sewers are in desperate need of repair, Jensen said city government officials could not be trusted with the money the bond measure would raise. “Psychologists tell us the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior,” he said, explaining that the city council’s failure to properly manage the budget and maintain the city’s infrastructure during the last 15 years is not likely to change.
Jensen said he did a lot of research and met with city staff on several occasions before concluding that Measure I was not a good way to finance the necessary infrastructure improvements. After analyzing the measure, Jensen said he found three fundamental weaknesses in it.
He told the audience that first of all, it did not specify exactly how the money would be spent. He noted that Measure I money could be spent on anything remotely related to infrastructure improvements, including: consultant, architect and attorney fees; staff time; and labor costs. He added that future city councils could determine which infrastructure projects would be undertaken, and those projects might not be the ones residents want done.
Secondly, according to Jensen, there was no provision for putting aside adequate reserves for replacing or repairing the infrastructure 10 years after the improvements were completed. He explained that the present infrastructure problems are largely due to the city’s failure to set aside money for its repair. The measure, according to Jensen, would just push the problem on to future generations.
Thirdly, Jensen stressed, the measure would do nothing to fundamentally change the way city officials manage public monies. “If it’s going to be business as usual in the management of our financial resources, I could not vote for this proposal,” he said.
Jensen noted that in the past three or four months Foster has devoted much of his time to appearing at community and business meetings all over the city in hopes of drumming up support for the measure. He asked why the mayor didn’t spend the same amount of time working with the public to develop a plan that everybody could support.
“They talk about this proposal as being a $571-million infrastructure bond,” Jensen added. “It is not. It is a $637-million proposal.” He explained the bond issue would include $62 million in debt service and $4 million in fees. “The total projected cost using the city’s own documents will be $1.5 billion over the life of this bond,” he said. “Regretfully I can’t support that.”
Jensen said he also objected to the “regressive and unfair” nature of the measure. He explained that the owners of the smallest bungalows in the city’s poorest neighborhoods would pay the same amount per year as the owners of multi-million dollar mansions– $120. “A different plan should be crafted to make it less regressive,” he said.
A “no” vote on Measure I would not stop necessary infrastructure improvements, Jensen insisted. “We (must) require that the city sit down with us and craft a plan that we embrace that is affordable, reasonable and rational,” he said. “Another thing we might want to look at is a pay-as-you-go program.” He explained that a parcel tax could fund infrastructure repairs every year for the next 10 years without having to issue bonds, which would save the taxpayers millions of dollars in interest.
“My friends, it’s time we sent a message to our councilmembers,” Jensen said. “We are not going to tolerate any more quick fixes, poorly designed plans, stealth proposals, or politicians building legacies so they can run for higher office.”
After Jensen, Kathy Ryan and Tom Stout, co-founders of the Long Beach Taxpayers Association, spoke. They echoed much of what Jensen had said and added that Measure I was an attempt to circumvent State Proposition 13, which, in the 1970s, limited the way local governments could increase property taxes.
For more information on efforts to defeat Measure I, go to www.NoMeasureI.com and www.longbeachtaxpayers.org.