Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Thursday, October 24, 2013
|Image by None via CrunchBase|
Management gave a resounding "no" to the checkbook idea and so once again, the City of Los Angeles has beaten us to the punch.
This past week the new City Controller, Ron Galperin, launched Control Panel LA https://controllerdata.lacity.org/ which posts a variety of data so taxpayers can see where their money is going.
But wait, not only is Long Beach behind Los Angeles, but also New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and other cities that have embraced the “open data” movement to make government more transparent.
So let's try it again. Taxpayers have the right to know not only what city government budgets, but what it really spends.
- Oakland City Council Approves Open Data Policy (Community Voices) (oaklandlocal.com)
- Sunlight Foundation: New Louisville Open Data Policy Insists Open By Default is the Future (sunlightfoundation.com)
- City Does Right by Public: Los Angeles Opens Financial Books to Public Via Web Site (capoliticalnews.com)
Monday, October 21, 2013
|JAG (Photo credit: On Location in Los Angeles)|
You know that I launched OpenUpLongBeach.com to help taxpayers know what is happening in the City of Long Beach.
One of the most important council items to be considered in the 7 years I have served on Council is coming on Tuesday, October 22 -- and you should know about it.
That's why I have prepared a "guide" to this agenda item -- which proposes tearing down City Hall and the Main Library and rebuilding both at a tremendous cost to taxpayers.
Your Guide To The Agenda Item to Tear Down and Rebuild City Hall and the Main Library... Because You Have the Right To Know
by Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske
Scope of agenda item
· On Tuesday, October 22, 2013, the City Council will be asked to agree to move forward on a proposal to tear down and rebuild City Hall and the Main Library and to engage in a long-term financial deal with private developers for the design, construction and operations of the buildings for 30 years. This proposal comes after the City sent out a Request for Qualifications from firms. Upon review, management reduced the list to three as “qualified.”
· The Request for Qualifications were sent out after City Council approved it being done during a council meeting at which City staff indicated that City Hall and Main Library were not seismically safe.
· The Request for Qualifications, however, sent out by the City did not solicit any firms that have experience in retrofitting buildings nor did it ask that they indicate such experience. The focus of the RFQ was solely on the tearing down and rebuilding.
· This agenda item asks for approval to expend a substantial (but unspecified) amount of funds to prepare Request for Proposals. The Council needs to be informed as to the go forward costs before it votes.
· Six of the current council members may not be in office in 2014 either because they are termed out or are seeking other offices, so this major decision with a long-term impact will be decided by elected officials that will not be in office when this project commences.
City Hall and Earthquakes and Seismic Retrofit
· The City Hall is 225,000 square feet of useable space with 14 floors occupied by 718 employees.
· Alliant Insurance Services values City Hall at $86 million and the Main Library at $47 million.
· City staff estimate retrofitting costs for City Hall at $170 million which is twice its estimated value.
· City Hall and the Main Library were built in 1976 under strong earthquake building codes enacted after the 1971 earthquake.
· Since 1976, Long Beach has experienced several major earthquakes: 1987 and 1994. Neither structure was damaged and most interestingly, the City embarked on a $224 million dollar special assessment bond to retrofit commercial and residential structures in the City. Not one dime was spent on retrofitting City Hall or the Main Library as it was not determined it was needed.
· In 2005 or 2006, City management commissioned a seismic study indicating the need for seismic retrofitting. No urgency was indicated in the study.
· In 2013, City council requested an updated review of the 2005/2006 study and has yet to receive it.
· Absent from this agenda item are the details about why management is asserting that these two buildings are seismically unsafe. Nor has information been provided as to why the two buildings cannot be retrofitted and repurposed. The City Council has not been shown the second seismic report that was requested and it will not be given to Council until the Council meeting which makes it almost impossible to have a complete discussion on the merits of this proposal before a vote is taken.
· At no time has FEMA or any other government agency determined that City Hall and the Main Library are “essential buildings” or that they cannot be appropriately retrofitted.
· The following cities with city halls much larger and much older have successfully retrofitted: Los Angeles, Pasadena, San Francisco, Oakland.
· FEMA has a source of funding to assist local government with structural retrofitting of existing buildings in order to accomplish pre-disaster mitigation efforts. The City has not applied for this funding.
Lack of Earthquake Insurance on Current Properties
· Councilwoman Schipske asked during Council whether or not City Hall and Main Library is covered with earthquake insurance. She was told “no” nor are any of the City’s buildings insured against earthquake damage.
· A follow up email was sent to Councilwoman Schipske from Risk Management explaining that insurance carriers would not write an earthquake policy because of the number of high-rise buildings in the downtown area.
Public Private Partnerships
· A Public-Private Partnership (P3) is an arrangement between a public agency (federal, state or local) and a private sector entity. Through this arrangement, the expertise and assets of each sector (public and private) are combined to deliver a service or facility for the benefit of the community.
· No California city has utilized a public-private-partnership to rebuild a City hall or library.
· The new Long Beach courthouse was built using a P3 structure and has been extensively criticized by the independent Legislative Analyst Office as costing much more than it would had it been constructed as a public project only.
· The City of Long Beach RFQ is only for a public-private-partnership and does not include a comparative analysis of a range of procurement options concerning city hall and the library – including design-bid-build; design-build; retrofit; and P3 in order to determine which procurement option would most effectively benefit the City.
· The City Council has not received a legal analysis from the City Attorney concerning whether or not it can approve such a substantial long-term financial commitment without having identified financial resources to meet such obligations.
· The current main library is 135,000 square feet. It houses Library Administrative services for the entire library system as well as tens of thousands of publications. It also includes two fully built out levels with offices and meeting rooms, an auditorium with approximately 263 seats and a park not in use on the roof. The lower level houses The Miller Special Collections Room which is finished in a superior manner.
· The RFQ contains language asking bidders to consider a new Main Library located at either the Civic Center or elsewhere.
· The RFQ also calls for a new Main Library at a reduced size of 50,000 – 75,000.
· When asked where the figure of 50,000 – 75,000 came from, city management responded “It was made up.”
· At no time was the public nor library design specialists consulted concerning the future of the Main Library.
· Why is this project being moved forward now at a time when 5 and possibly six council members are leaving in 2014?
· If the City Hall is so seismically unsafe why is it not shut down as was Belmont Plaza Pool?
· Have experts indicated that City Hall and the Main Library cannot be retrofitted and repurposed?
· Why have several other cities retrofitted their City Halls?
· Why didn’t the RFQ include seeking qualified firms for retrofitting and refurbishing instead of just tearing down and rebuilding?
· Why would the City consider using a public-private-partnership when no other city has done so for a City Hall or Main Library and the State Legislative Analyst Office, an independent, non partisan office, has severely criticized the State for utilizing Public-Private-Partnerships, citing higher costs for this method than others?
· Where is the cost comparison of doing this project with other than a P3?
· Where is the legal analysis from the City Attorney about the City Council binding future Councils to a major expenditure without a guarantee of revenues to cover the expenditure?
· How much money does City staff expect to expend to prepare and review a “Request for Proposals”? Where is the money coming from and why was it not disclosed in the FY 2014 budget?
· If the structures need to be retrofitted in the case of a major earthquake, why hasn’t the City so notified FEMA and applied for funding under the “Pre-disaster Mitigation Program?”
· Why did the RFQ include a project size for a new main library as being 50,000 – 70,000 square feet which is substantially smaller than the current library?
· What library design consultants were contacted about the appropriateness of this size?
· Where would the Miller Collection be located?
· If insurance carriers will not insure against loss for a major earthquake in the current location, why would the City expend millions of dollars on new structures that could be possibly destroyed?
· If a new City Hall and Main Library are destroyed in a major earthquake, who bears the burden of such loss?
· Why can’t the City Hall be re-located to the newly refurbished building acquired by the Port of Long Beach to its temporary headquarters?
· Why isn’t this issue being placed on the ballot so that taxpayers can determine whether or not the City should encumber debt of this magnitude?
The argument used by City staff is seismic safety. Well, there are so many unanswered questions surrounding this that I have also included a list of questions I intend to ask and which I recommend that you ask as well with emails.
This is your City Hall and Main Library and your tax dollars. I believe this issue should be placed on the ballot so that you can decide whether or not the City should retrofit or rebuild? Obligating the city for 30 years of payments should not be done without the consent of the taxpayers.
P.S. Check out why the State Legislative Analyst's Office thinks public-private partnerships aren't such a good deal for government. Click here.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
|English: Code for America Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
A Lesson from My Time at the White House:
Why Bringing Code for America To Long Beach Could Make Our Local Government More Transparent
By Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske
September 11, 2013 --
In late July of this year, I was honored at the White House as one of six national Champions of Change for Open Government. This honor is bestowed on individuals who have advocated in their communities for open and transparent government – something which I have done since elected to City Council in 2006. The White House acknowledged my being the first on the Council to post my appointments and meetings and my frequent outreach on city issues via my blog, Facebook and email alerts. Most significantly has been my work on “Open Up Long Beach” – to provide city documents and behind the scenes tours so that residents can learn first hand how the City of Long Beach operates.
The second part of my day at the White House was meeting and talking with “civic hackers” – those who participate in taking public data and turning it into usable applications that help citizens learn more about their government and increase their opportunities to access it more readily. The leaders of this movement come from a non-profit organization: Code for America whose mission is to connect citizens with their government by using open data to create applications.
Code for America and their “brigades” of hackers have already created a number of applications with open source code that are available for free to the City of Long Beach:
https://textizen.com/ -- which provides a way by which citizens can engage in a dialogue about city issues by mobile phone. The city sends out surveys and asks citizens to respond.
http://answers.honolulu.gov/ -- Honolulu Answers can be converted into Long Beach Answers and allows residents to go on line and type in questions and get answers specifically about such things as how to get a dog licensed in Long Beach, where to pay a parking ticket, how to get a sidewalk fixed, etc.
http://opencounter.cityofsantacruz.com/ -- this smart program was developed for the City of Santa Clara but can be used in Long Beach. It walks you through step by step on how to open a business in the City.
http://chicagocouncilmatic.org/about -- this tracks the votes of councilmembers by linking with Legistar (which Long Beach uses) and then puts not only votes but campaign contributions and other information on a website for each member of the city council so that citizens can get the information they need without having to search several websites.
I was very fortunate to meet and talk with Christopher Whitaker, who is the Brigade Captain for the City of Chicago. Christopher teaches a weekly class on civic hacking at Chicago's Open Gov Hack Nights. When not at Hack Night or reporting on the state of civic hacking in Chicago, Christopher works at Smart Chicago Collaborative on projects like the Chicago User Testing Group, which ensures that the apps being developed by civic hackers are useful to the everyday Chicagoan. People like Christopher are right here in Long Beach and are ready to step up and use their skills to develop programs for free that residents can use and that will enhance engagement with City Hall.
The City Manager has applied to bring three Code for America fellows (at a cost of $180,000) for a year. It wasn’t quite clear from the Council agenda what these hackers will be used for. Without spending a dime, we could start right now and use some of the programs already developed for other cities and move forward on making Long Beach more open and transparent.
- Editorial | Code for America: volunteer opportunities (thereforeigeek.com)
- Civic hacker honored by White House, other news (miamiherald.com)
- Code for Tulsa goes to Washington (codefortulsa.org)
- Code For America: 'The Peace Corps For Geeks' (developers.slashdot.org)
- Captains of Change (codeforamerica.org)
- Tylor Louis: Why I'm Coding for America (codeforamerica.org)
Posted by Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske at 9/11/2013
Friday, August 9, 2013
This year the City of Long Beach has $45 million in surplus as a result of high oil prices (the City owns wells) and the dissolution of redevelopment.
There are a number of ways you can participate in the budget process:
- You can read the budget documents that are online and can be accessed by clicking here.
- You can attend a community budget meeting in the 9 council district. The 5th Council District meeting will be held August 14th at 6 pm at the Water Treatment Plant located on Spring Street at Redondo.
- You can attend a City Council budget meeting in City Hall over the next several Tuesdays.
Last year, at my urging, the City had an online interactive budget software that gave residents a chance to provide input on the cuts to City services. I have asked the City Manager to put the same interactive budget software on line so that you all can give input on how to spend the surplus.
You can also give your input on ways to save the City money and improve services and how the surplus should be spent by completing a suggestion form. Click here and complete the suggestion form. I will also make suggestion forms available at Bach and El Dorado branch libraries.
Take some time to review the budget, come to a community meeting, speak at Council on your ideas and send in your suggestions online. It is important that the City Council hear from you. After all, these are your tax dollars.
Friday, July 26, 2013
|Long Beach, California Fire Department fire engine, Code 3 (Photo credit: Konabish ~ Greg Bishop)|
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
The Currency of Democracy
Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske is being honored for her dedication to making local government open, transparent and accountable.
I am a passionate believer in the words of Thomas Jefferson that “information is the currency of democracy.” That is why I have championed making government information available in a way that helps the public understand how decisions are made and how government operates in my city. To do this I have employed a number of tools that are readily accessible to all elected officials.
When I took office in 2006, I launched a blog on which I post information given to me by city management on issues, so that together, the public and I can discuss options and I can communicate reasons behind my decision making. I expanded my outreach with an email newsletter that reaches over 5,000 and postings on Facebook and Twitter. Documents are uploaded on Scribd so they are readily available to readers. Periodic surveys to solicit public input are often sent before council meetings. Numerous community meetings are held to continue the conversation and engagement. My calendar is also posted at the end of each month so that the public knows what I do when I am not at a council meeting.
This layered approach to communicating has resulted in a constant dialogue between me and my constituents (and constituents of other council districts who are eager for information) and has given them a tool to hold their local government accountable.
With the support of my council colleagues, Long Beach adopted my suggestion to utilize on line participatory budgeting which gave the public an opportunity for the first time to weigh in on what reductions should be made in city services.
However, asking the public to weigh in on which city services should be funded and which should be cut assumes that the public understands how these services operate and how they are delivered. Without giving them that information or the chance to actually see the services in action, we can make it difficult for the public to fully participate.
In January 2012, I took my efforts for public education and transparency one step further with “Open Up Long Beach,” an initiative and website that provide the public increased access to the city’s every day affairs and documents, and includes on site opportunities for residents to go behind the scenes at city operations to see city services in action. My effort won both notice in California Forward’s report: The State of Transparency in California: 2013 and a growing amount of informed and engaged residents.
Using these new communication tools to make government more open brings a new set of legal responsibilities: our texts, tweets and postings should be treated as public records. That is my next battle.
It is such an honor to be considered a Champion of Change for Open Government but it needs to be shared with the thousands of Long Beach residents who have worked with me to make our local government open, transparent and accountable. And for them, I am grateful.
Posted by Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske at 7/24/2013