Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Schipske Files Notice --Ballot Titles Violate Election Code

Contact: Gerrie Schipske (562 201-1296)  August 7, 2018
Taxpayer Advocate and Former Councilmember Schipske Files Objections to Descriptions for Charter Amendments Dealing with Merger of Utilities and Giving the Mayor and Council a Third Term in Office

Former Councilmember Gerrie Schipske today filed a notice with the City Clerk concerning the proposed ballot titles of the Charter Amendments which would merge the City’s utilities and extend the terms of office for the Mayor and the City Council. Schipske contends that pursuant to Election Code 9203, the ballot titles are misleading because they do not include enough information for the voter and actually hides the real intent and impact of the amendments.
Schipske asks that the City Attorney make the necessary changes before the Council proceeds. Election Code 9204 allows a voter to request the court to direct the City Attorney to amend a ballot title when it is found to be ballot title false, misleading, or inconsistent with the requirements of Section 9203 .
Notice to Mayor and City Council:

"Long Beach Utility Consolidation. Shall the City Charter be YES amended to consolidate the existing gas, water and sewer utilities and potentially other future City-operated utilities into a single utility department overseen by a five-member Public Utilities Commission, the members of which shall be appointed by the Mayor, subject to Council confirmation?"

The "short title" above quoted totally fails, directly or indirectly, expressly or impliedly, to indicate that the proposal is intended to make major changes in the City Charter and the structure of City government.

The short title fails to disclose that the measure merging the water and gas departments will eliminate the Charter established Water Department and the Board of Water Commissioners, which have operated in an independent manner since 1954. This proposed merger is not a ministerial action taken by City management. This is a substantive change in the City Charter and the oversight of the Water Department.

"City of Long Beach Term Limits Amendment. Shall the City YES Charter be amended to limit the Mayor and City Councilmembers to serving three terms and to prohibit individuals who have already served three terms from being elected as write-in candidates?"

The "short title" above quoted totally fails, directly or indirectly, expressly or impliedly, to indicate that the proposal is intended to extend the terms of office for the Mayor and City Council from two to three.

The short title fails to disclose that this amendment to the City Charter will eliminate the current two term limitation and replace it with a third term and further eliminate the right of voters to elect a candidate who runs as a “write-in.”

The City cannot opt to provide “all the sweet” and “exclude the bitter” in providing a short title that is defective in that it fails to disclose the substantive changes in the structure of City government and elections. As such, the titles are clearly misleading and do not substantially comply with Elections Code 9203.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Who Wants to Play Spin the City Charter?


Who Wants to Play “Spin the City Charter?”
By: Gerrie Schipske

Hey, readers. Have you heard? Apparently, voters have been beating down the doors of the Mayor and Councilmembers, begging them to change the City Charter…in a hurry.  Usually when a City embarks on changing their charter (which functions like a constitution), a “Blue Ribbon Task Force” is appointed and an expert is hired to help guide a review of the entire Charter. From that review and a series of public meetings, recommendations are forwarded to the Mayor and City Council for further public hearings.

I know I went to Hawaii for 10 days in June, so I may have missed all of that, but apparently the Mayor and Council don’t need any stinking experts, meetings or public input. Instead, it seems they played “spin the City Charter,” and selected 5…count them…5 sections of the Charter they are convinced need changing this November.

And why these specific five? Four of them are packaged as innocuous little items that hide the true agenda for the November blitz: 1) the consolidation of the Gas and Water Commission into a Public Utilities Commission; 2) the establishment of a Redistricting Commission to deal with drawing council district boundaries every ten years; 3) the establishment of an Ethics Commission to keep tabs on the behavior of our elected officials (members will be appointed by the Mayor whom they are watching); and 4) allowing the City Auditor to conduct “performance audits” (which she admits she can already do but wants the people to tell her, her job again).

The fifth change to the charter and the real reason for this kabuki theater, is that the current Mayor and City Councilmembers want another term in office. They are proposing to do away with the current limit of two terms and the provision for a write-in and adding a third term. Seems like they are concerned that the current provision of a write-in means that the Mayor and Councilmembers could be re-elected forever. Come on folks. Trying to stop elected officials from running forever? These are the same people who told you Measure M wasn't a tax (but it is) and that it would take funds from surplus utility money (and it isn't which is why you are getting a water rate increase).

Let’s be clear, only Beverly O’Neill succeeded in winning a third term as Mayor as a write-in. The only councilperson elected on a write-in is Dee Andrews from the 6th District. Is this what triggered the move to eliminate write-ins? Oh the horror, should Andrews do it again and win a fourth term. But wait! They have drafted language to exempt him so he can run for a 4th term. 

The truth? The current Mayor and Council “need” a third term because they have nowhere to go politically for another 6-8 years. 

Congressman Lowenthal isn’t leaving D.C. anytime soon. State Senator Lara may not win Insurance Commissioner if the GOP rolls out enough voters to kill the gas tax -- then Lara stays in the Senate. Assemblyman O’Donnell has 6 more years left in the Assembly, so his seat isn’t "available." 

What are a termed out Mayor and Council to do but ask you to extend their terms by claiming it “closes loopholes.”

If this group was truly being “ethical” by putting the third term forward, they would make sure it did not impact themselves, but only “future” mayors and city councilmembers.

So, get ready for all the “informational and campaign” mailers that are coming your way. And let's hope you all get your ballot argument pamphlet in time to read why these charter amendments should not happen. Remember, lots of voters never received the ballot arguments on Measure M.

Spoiler alert: City Auditor Laura Doud already put herself out as the spokesperson on behalf of changing Mayor and Council term limits to three, by telling the news media: “Voters in many jurisdictions including Long Beach have shown they want term limits.”  

Really, Laura?  You failed to mention that there are no term limits at all for you, the City Attorney and the City Prosecutor. Does this mean you support all of you stepping down now that two of you have served three terms and the City Attorney is serving his second term? Just trying to close the loopholes.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Public Records Request Filed on Charter Amendment to Merge City Utilities

Contact: Tom Stout (562 595-1473); Joe Weinstein (562 492-6531); Diana Lejins (562 421-8012); Gerrie Schipske (562 201-1296)

Taxpayers’ Advocates File Public Records Request on Proposed Merger of Water and Gas Departments – Concerned No Analysis Done on Impact and Merger May Pave Way to Privatize City Utilities

July 30, 2018
The four taxpayer advocates who challenged Measure M which transfers funds from both the Gas and Water departments, today issued a statement following the filing of a Public Records Request:
“We are most concerned that the Mayor and City Council are proposing a major change in the City Charter to merge the Gas and Water Departments into a Public Utilities Department without any documented analysis of the impact of such a merger.
We have reason to believe that this merger is being proposed to remove the independence of the Water Department to make certain it is no longer ‘a rogue department’ that makes actions independently of the Mayor and City Council. This merger will facilitate transfers of revenue without objection.
We also share the concern of some city staff who believe that the Mayor, City Council and major management are possibly being ‘lobbied’ to contract out or to privatize the city’s utilities which include water, gas, refuse, sewers and a city-run electricity service that is currently being considered.
All of these issues need to be brought out into the open before the proposal is placed on the November ballot so that the voters are clearly informed.”
The following is the PRA request:
Pursuant to my rights under the California Public Records Act (Government Code Section 6250 et seq.), I ask to obtain a copy of the following, which I understand to be held by your agency:
1.   Any writing containing information relating to the impact (i.e. costs, utility rates, staffing of department, control by City management, etc.) of the proposed Charter amendment to merge the Water Department into a Public Utilities Department under a newly formed Public Utilities Commission.
2.   Any writing containing information as to why the oil operations of the Gas and Oil Department will not be part of the merger.
3.   Any writing containing information as to the specifics of why the proposed Charter amendment language has been purposely left as vague as to the selection and termination of the General Manager of the proposed merged Water and Gas Departments.
4.   Any writing containing information relating to the City of Long Beach operating its own electricity utility under the proposed Public Utilities Department.
5.   Any writing containing information relating to contracting out and/or privatization of any or all of the City of Long Beach’s gas, water, refuse, sewer, SERFF utilities should the Public Utilities Commission and Department be formed.
6.   Any writing containing information relating to representatives of EPCOR Utilities Inc., and/or Sustainable Power Group, LLC contacting elected officials and/or city management concerning the City’s gas, water and future electricity utilities.
I ask for a determination on this request within 10 days of your receipt of it, and an even prompter reply if you can make that determination without having to review the record[s] in question.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

FPPC Informs Four Long Beach Taxpayer Advocates It Will Investigate Complaint

Contact: Tom Stout (562 595-1473); Joe Weinstein (562 492-6531); Diana Lejins (562 421-8012); Gerrie Schipske (562 201-1296)

FPPC Responds to Sworn Complaint on Use of Public Funds to Advocate for Measure M – Will Investigate the City of Long Beach and Councilwoman Suzie Price - Dismisses Councilmembers Andrews and Richardson and Mayor Garcia

July 24, 2018 – The four Long Beach taxpayer advocates, Tom Stout, Joe Weinstein, Diana Lejins and Gerrie Schipske, who filed a sworn complaint alleging City misuse of public funds to campaign for the passage of tax Measure M, today issued the following statement upon receiving notification from FPPC that their complaint will be investigated:

 “We are pleased to announce that today, the Chief of the Enforcement Division of the Fair Political Practices Commission informed us that an investigation will go forward on our complaint that the City of Long Beach illegally used public money to campaign for the passage of Measure M. Measure M is a tax allowing the transfer of up to 12 percent of the gross revenues of the water, sewer and gas utilities to the City general fund and further allows the City Council to raise utility rates to pay for the transfers.

We also alleged that the Mayor and several Councilmembers utilized their city-paid cellphones and computers to send out misleading messages urging constituents to vote for Measure M.

The Chief of the Enforcement Division of FPPC, Galen West, informed us that there was insufficient evidence of a violation by Mayor Garcia and Councilmembers Andrews and Richardson and that they would not be named individually in the on-going case. However, Councilwoman Suzie Price remains a subject of the investigation.

We hope that because the FPPC is moving forward, the City of Long Beach gets the message for the upcoming election, that the Political Reform Act is clear: government cannot use public resources to campaign – for a tax measure or for a charter change.”

See copy of FPPC letter below:

Friday, July 13, 2018

Four File Sworn Complaint Against City, Mayor and Several Councilmembers for Using Public Funds to Campaign for Measure M

Taxpayers’ Group Files Sworn Complaint with FPPC Over City Use of Public Funds to Campaign for Measure M

July 11, 2018. Long Beach, CA – Four taxpayer advocates today filed a sworn complaint with the State Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) alleging that the City of Long Beach violated the Political Reform Act by spending public funds to campaign for the passage of Measure M on the June ballot.
The complainants, Tom Stout, Diana Lejins, Joe Weinstein and Gerrie Schipske today issued the following statement:

“Today, we have filed a sworn complaint with the FPPC alleging that the City of Long Beach, through the Mayor and City Council, have violated the Political Reform Act by using taxpayer money (government resources) to send out several direct mail pieces that were clearly not ‘informational’ but campaign materials. We also believe that the Mayor and several Councilmembers utilized their city-paid cellphones and computers to send out misleading messages urging constituents to vote for Measure M. These messages told constituents that Measure M was “not a tax,” when in fact it is; that the transfers would be taken only from “surplus” which is false and that constituent utility rates would not be increased which is also false as they are being currently raised because of Measure M.

State law only allows the city to spend public money to provide ‘informational’ materials. Such materials must be in the ‘style, tone and timing’ that make them ‘informational’ and not advocacy.

Our complaint notes that the ‘style’ of the direct mail pieces were not the ‘regular’ way in which the City communicates information with voters. The City utilized a political consultant who targeted the mailers only to specific voters instead of all voters in the City. There are currently 259,839 registered voters or 147,579 households in Long Beach. The city-paid mail pieces were only sent to a targeted 63,741 households or 43%. If these mailers were truly ‘informational’, they would have been sent to all registered voters. These were campaign pieces.

We stressed in our complaint that the ‘tone and timing’ of these pieces also strongly underscore their campaign nature by pointing out that the direct mail pieces omitted crucial facts that Measure M is a ‘tax’ and that utility rates would be raised to pay for the transfer of funds from the utilities. The direct mail pieces also use inflammatory language threatening cuts to public safety and infrastructure if voters did not pass the measure, when in fact, no Council action had been taken to identify specific cuts related to the failure to pass Measure M.

Most egregious is the ‘timing’ of these materials to coincide with mailings from the Mayor’s Committee to Support the Utility Transfer: The City’s mailers omitted the fact that Measure M is a “tax” while the Mayor’s mailers stated: ‘Measure M is NOT a tax increase.’ The message to the voters was orchestrated to urge passage of Measure M.”

A copy of the complaint # COM-07112018-01244 is below.

  • The City of Long Beach violated the Political Reform Act by producing and mailing tens of thousands of copies of direct mail at government expense, titled “Common Questions and Answers on Measure M”:
1.       The direct mail pieces specifically were not “informational” in tone or contents as required, but in fact campaign pieces paid with government resources.
2.       The information provided and the manner in which they were disseminated were inconsistent with any established practice used by the City to circulate information.
3.       There are currently 259,839 registered voters or 147,579 households in Long Beach. The mail pieces were prepared by a direct mail consultant and mailed to only targeted (63,741 households) voters shortly before the upcoming election, which unquestionably constitutes campaign activity. If the pieces were truly “informational” they would have been sent to each and every voter in the City.
4.       The pieces contained inflammatory language to present the City’s position of support for passage.
5.       When considering the style, tenor, and timing of these communications, these mail pieces can be reasonably characterized as campaign material and not a fair presentation of facts serving only an informational purpose.
  • More specifically, the direct mail pieces (attached) were not a fair representation of facts in as much the mail pieces:
1.       Used inflammatory language by threatening to cut public safety, street maintenance, storm drains, parks, senior services, libraries and homelessness if the measure did not pass. The City council had taken no action to make these cuts nor produced any analysis indicating that these or any cuts would be made to services;
2.       Misled voters by failing to disclose that the measure was a “tax” as defined by Proposition 26. The seriousness of the omission of this material fact is compounded by the mailing at the same time of pieces by “Mayor Robert Garcia Committee to Support Utility Transfer Measure M Committee” stating that the measure was “not a tax increase” (see attached);
3.       Misled voters that the transfer would be “of surplus City utility revenues” when in fact the measure would allow a transfer based upon a percentage of the “utility’s annual gross revenues”; and
4.       Failed to further disclose that the measure allows the City Council and Water Commission “to approve water, sewer and gas rates in an amount sufficient to recover the costs of operating each utility, including Council/Board-approved utility revenue transfers to the General Fund.” That fact alone contradicts the direct mail piece which begins on side two with a statement that the measure would “explicitly authorize and affirm the transfer of surplus City utility revenues.”  Within less than a month after passage, the Water Commission sent a “Notice of Hearing” that water utility rates were being raised 7.2% as a result of “Long Beach voters approved Measure M authorizing continuing utility revenue transfer to the General Funds.” (see attached)
  • Mayor Robert Garcia and Councilmembers Suzie Price, Rex Richardson and Dee Andrews violated the Political Reform Act by:
    1. Sending emails, texts and tweets to voters on computers and cellphones paid for at government expense, with messages advocating for passage of the measure and specifically misleading voters with statements that the measure “is not a tax,”  that the transfers would only be on “surplus funds, ”  and that the measure “would not raise your utility rates.”(see attached).
    2. Complainant sent a letter to the Long Beach City Attorney requesting that these individuals be directed to stop and was informed that a privileged letter was issued by the City Attorney on the matter (see attached).  However, those messages were forwarded to others by voters using social media.

The “style, tenor and timing” of these communications did not serve only “an informational purpose.” The City clearly orchestrated these mail pieces with the mail pieces sent by the Mayor’s Committee, to overwhelm voters and to bring about passage of the measure using government resources.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Things They Need to Tell Us Before They Lease Community Hospital

By: Gerrie Schipske, Author of “Historical Hospitals of Long Beach”

Before everyone gets too excited over the announced possibilities of a new operator of Community Hospital, taxpayers need to be aware that the City of Long Beach owns the deed to the property on which Long Beach Community Hospital sits. 

The actual deed has a restrictive covenant that only allows the property to be used for a “public hospital.” This is because the taxpayers paid for the land and then raised millions of dollars through bonds to pay for the construction and expansion on several occasions. Also, the City even gave money directly to keep the hospital operating. The City holds title to the property.

Historically, the hospital has been operated by the Long Beach Community Hospital Association and then Healthwest, UniHealth, Catholic HealthCare, the Community Hospital Foundation and most recently Memorial Medical.

Memorial is ending its lease because it cannot (or will not) retrofit the hospital to meet state earthquake standards. Unless the property is appropriately retrofitted, it cannot be used for surgical and acute care services such as an Emergency Room. The property can be used for other medical services such as rehabilitation, assisted living, mental health care.

In order to keep the facility open in some capacity, the City, will have to lease to another operator. According to the June 19th Council agenda, the City has apparently selected a newly formed Limited Liability Corporation – a privately held for-profit entity. The entity has already proposed that the property can be used as a “geriatric center.” At best, without a substantial and costly retrofit, the eastside will most likely get an “urgent care” and a very large senior healthcare facility.

The City should hold a public hearing before the lease is signed, as is required of “general law” cities, so that the public can understand the full truth about the changes that are being contemplated to Community Hospital.

These changes might be the best for the property with its location being on an earthquake fault, but taxpayers need the City to protect its interests as well:

  • ·         The title to the property clearly states that the property is to be used for a “public hospital.” Any other use that does not allow all the public (such as those not considered “geriatric” age) to access the property may violate the deed.
  • ·         The property is owned by the City and taxpayers and it cannot be leased to this for-profit group for the proposed $1 dollar a year, as doing so would be “a gift of public funds.”
  • ·         The City must negotiate a “fair market rate” for use of the property by a for-profit corporation. To do so, the City must obtain a “fair market appraisal” of the property from a neutral party.
  • ·         The new lease to a for-profit will give rise to a “possessory interest tax,” which is a property tax on the tenant’s leasehold that is billed directly to the tenant. It should be expressly stated in the lease itself that possessory interest taxes apply so that the city does not become liable for such taxes under the possessory interest tax laws.
  • ·         The approval of a lease by the City is a “project” and requires compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). This is particularly true because the City is the local entitlement permit-issuing authority and should comply with CEQA for any improvements outlined in the lease before approving the lease itself so that a CEQA claim cannot be based on the city committing to a project (by signing the lease) before completing the CEQA process for the contemplated improvements.
  • ·         The City must ensure that the lease would not be hypothecated in any way to fund the costs of construction or to secure any construction loan, nor would there be any enforceable lien on the property resulting from the proposed lease agreement or the proposed construction or any future improvements on the property.
  • ·         California Labor Code Section 1720(b)(3), requires the payment of prevailing wages for any construction contemplated by the lease because rent that is less than fair market rent can be considered payment of public funds and triggers prevailing wages. The City needs to include this in the lease so that it does not become liable for such payments.
  • ·         The City failed to require the former operator, Memorial, to retrofit the facility to maintain acute care services like an E.R. It must insist that the new operator do so by 2020.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Has Anyone Yet Received Their Long Beach Voter Information Guide?

Many voters, including this writer, did not receive a Long Beach Voter Information Guide with sample ballot for the April primary election. The City Clerk contends that it was sent on time and to all registered voters.

Sources from the US Postal Service deny receiving the materials before the April election and infact, we ordered to deliver many two weeks after the primary.

So now we await to receive the June 5th voter guide which must include an analysis and arguments pro and con on the Measure M which proposes to take up to 12% of the gross revenues of our city utilities. And if the utilities don't have enough to pay the transfer, they can raise utility bills to cover the taken money.

This writer and three others authored arguments why Measure M should fail. Those materials should be sent to every voter by the City. I will get into those arguments in a later post. Right now I am asking readers to contact the City Clerk and demand to know where your voting materials are.

She can be reached at: monique.delagarza@longbeach.gov

Schipske Files Notice --Ballot Titles Violate Election Code

Contact: Gerrie Schipske (562 201-1296)   August 7, 2018 Taxpayer Advocate and Former Councilmember Schipske Files Objections to D...