Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Study Sessions . . .

If you are lucky as I am, than your job allows you to sit through Long Beach City Council Study Sessions!

So, today I sat in the Long Beach City Council Chambers as the City Council met for an information session – no actions would be taken . . . not that this is wholly different from other times the City Council meets. So, what are they studying, you ask?

Today’s Study Session is entitled: Possible Ballot Measures for the City of Long Beach. For those of you who don’t know, next year is a city-wide election in Long Beach. But, before we look at the potential ballot items, I think what’s more interesting, would be a look at how the City of Long Beach arrived at this point.

The City of Long Beach used tax payer dollars to conduct a public opinion poll to determine if there would be public support for a tax increase to pay for needed services. The information gleaned from the poll will guide Council Members as to whether or not tax payer’s dollars should be used to place any initiatives on 2006 ballots. I hope to never hear any of these Council Members say they don’t govern based on polls.

I know! Next time, the City Council should poll taxpayers to see if they think a poll is a good use of money! But, for shits and giggles, let’s just play along and pretend that we think it was a good idea to use tax payer’s dollars to conduct such a poll.

Now, I know at least one person who was polled, and he was not asked about the lack of affordable housing, one the biggest problems facing the city. So, not all the options were on the table in terms of what Long Beach residents might want to see tax payer’s dollars spent on, or what their biggest concerns are. This was more of cops versus books poll.

But, again, for shits and giggles, let’s just overlook that little flaw as well.

So, what does the poll tell us:

  1. Long Beach residents think that the most important issue facing Long Beach is the need to improve its ability to respond quickly and effectively to a terrorist attack.
  2. Funding the Municipal Band concert series is not very important to Long Beach residents. I bet some Council Members wish they had seen this poll earlier in the year when they had to decide this very issue – for the record they represented the minority opinion on this one, and we still have concerts in the park.
  3. 66% of the public would have to vote in favor of any of these initiatives in order for them to be approved. None of the proposals to use tax payer dollars to pay for increased police services received a 66% approval rating in the poll.
  4. Only the ‘Library Parcel Tax’ received support from more than 66% of those polled. The Library Parcel Tax received support from 73% of those polled.
  5. When it came to importance, public safety issues outweighed issues related to the library. However, the public clearly preferred the funding mechanism for increased library services over the funding mechanisms for increased cops. This is a subtle finding in the poll that the consultants tried to point out to Council Members, but it I think it largely seemed to fall on deaf ears.
  6. My experience with ballot initiatives is that they only go down in approval rating, not up. Just ask Governor Schwarzenegger.

Some serious PR work would have to be done to get any of these initiatives passed. The City Council may be willing to place some of these measures on the ballot, but I would presume most of them will stay silent during the election (if they can). If these measures are going to pass, a Council Member or two is going to have to champion the cause. Today their biggest concern had to with going to the well twice. If voters are asked to support a library tax in April, will they be less inclined to support a cop tax in November?

Now, some Council Members clearly preferred cops to books. Some even hinted at not placing the library tax on the ballot because it would hurt the chances of the cop tax passing. I say, don’t take this out of the hands of the public.

What else do I think? First, if this City Council hadn’t dug us a $100 million dollar hole, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Instead we’d probably be reading at the library, feeling safe because we’re surrounded by cops patrolling the city.

Second, if raising the utility tax 1% will save the lives of Long Beach kids, than let’s do it. If raising taxes will keep our libraries open, and give our kids increased access to learning institutions, than let’s do it.

I don’t need a poll to tell me what’s in the best interest of Long Beach residents. I don’t need a poll to tell me what my morals and values are. Hopefully, the City Council will give Long Beach residents get a chance to decide if we want to invest in our community’s future.

Kosher Ham

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