While Robert Garcia sailed into an easy victory for his bid to remain Long Beach’s mayor last week, he still has his work cut out for him and one more election to see through.
On June 5, voters will again return to the polling stations, and Garcia will try to convince voters to approve Measure M, which will essentially amend the city charter and address a couple of legal headaches for the City.
As the Signal Tribune reported earlier this year, Long Beach individual residents sued the City in two separate cases, challenging the City’s practice of transferring payments from the funds covering gas, water and sewage to the municipal general fund. One of the cases had been dismissed by one court, but it is being appealed. In the matter of the other case, however, the City settled the suit concerning the water and sewage fees. According to city staff, the impact of that settlement on the general fund had been estimated to total $8.3 million in January.
The new ballot measure is poised to fix this legal problem, if Long Beach leaders are correct. City Manager Patrick West explained that, if passed, the measure would change the City’s charter.
“A charter amendment can mitigate the impact of the lawsuits and prevent service reductions to the community and its residents as a result of the lawsuits,” West said in a January council meeting. “This can be accomplished without any change to the costs that residents were previously paying.”
Garcia already started a special campaign fund in favor of Measure M and won serious support from two major unions: the political-action committees for the Long Beach Police Officers Association and the Long Beach Firefighters Local 372. These unions each contributed $50,000 to Garcia’s efforts to promote Measure M, and now the mayor’s fund, specifically for this measure, has a little over $101,000.
Garcia was not available this week for an interview with the Signal Tribune to discuss the charter. The mayor does have political opponents who do object to his leadership, and one major group has not yet decided whether to support the charter amendment, even though it doesn’t like a lot of what Garcia has done so far for the city.
Wendell Phillips serves as the general counsel and chief spokesman for the union called the Association of Long Beach Employees, also known as ALBE. That particular labor organization represents approximately 700 city employees in Long Beach who work in a vast number of areas. Phillips told the Signal Tribune last week that his union has not yet made up its mind about whether to support the charter-amendment.
Last year, ALBE’s political-action committee launched an aggressive opposition campaign against Garcia’s bid for reelection. Phillips acknowledged that the City failed to negotiate a new contract with his union around that same time. He said in a phone interview with the Signal Tribune last week that the organization had launched that campaign against Garcia hoping to attract a viable candidate to run against the incumbent mayor. On the day prior to last week’s election, Phillips acknowledged that Garcia was set to win, since no candidate for mayor launched a competitive campaign.
Phillips told the Signal Tribune that the fight against Garcia is not really over.
“Years ago,” Phillips said, “one of my mentors told me that the next election begins when the polls close on the last one, and […] that’s exactly the way we look at politics in Long Beach. We didn’t think we would fix it overnight. We hope to get a good strong challenge to Garcia.”
Phillips highlighted other concerns for the future of Long Beach, including the plans for the new city hall building.
In a previous interview with the Signal Tribune last week, Garcia had acknowledged the fight with ALBE.
“I think,” Garcia said, “that the City’s position has been to treat all of our employees equally and make sure that they all have raises and that they are all supported for the work that they do.”