EDITORIAL: We Must Be Prepared To Pay For A Better Long Beach

-  Gazettes Editorial Board 


What do you do when your roof is leaking?

You fix it. The alternative is to watch your ceiling deteriorate, then your walls mold and pretty soon you’re living in a tear-down.

But you have to pay those roofers, don’t you?

What do you do when you find yourself in a legal bind?

You go to your attorney, the one who has protected your rights and well-being before. If the case is complex, he or she might have to have some additional help. But you come out of the situation whole, or your assets are protected.

You don’t expect to have the attorney take care of the costs, do you?

That’s pretty much the situation we, the city of Long Beach, finds ourselves in. Our fair city’s figurative (and literal) roofs are leaking. Our streets are deteriorating, our sidewalks are buckling and parts of our infrastructure are nearing tear-down level due to deferred maintenance.

Our police department has been holding down the fort for more than a decade now without an increase in force (and in some areas, decreases) with little decrease in safety thanks to reliance on and efficiency of new technology. Ditto for our fire department.

But the services have been stretched as far as they will go with the personnel available. And crime is on the rise, the city continues to grow, and the residents want more public safety.

We all want more from our city. The question is, are we willing to pay for it?

Next week, the City Council will debate the possibility of “finding a new revenue source.” That means looking at raising taxes.

Naysayers already are rallying the troops. You can practically feel the “no more taxes” chant in the air.

The argument, as always, will be that the government has been wasting our tax money, and should learn to do more with what they have. If they’d just stop being so inefficient…

Sorry, but the city has been cutting people, doing more with less, for nearly two decades now. Don’t throw the whole, “look at those fat pensions” complaint in the mix, either. We can debate whether mistakes were made, but those pension payments now are the city’s legal obligation. Get over it.

An added claim this time around will be that the council shouldn’t have signed the deal to build a new Civic Center. That money could have been used to add more cops or fix a few streets.

Right. That is, until the roof collapses on the Main Library, or a shaker makes City Hall unfit for habitation. Then it will be a matter of emergency repair and replacement — not exactly a strong bargaining point.

Bottom line, we want more stuff — better streets, better community centers, better parks, maybe even better alleys. We want more cops and firefighters to protect those streets.

And we should be prepared to pay for them.

We are not advocating giving the council and city administration a blank check, and we’re certainly not saying our city fathers and mothers should move ahead with impunity. Any tax increase must go to a vote of the people. That’s true of a property tax, a utility users tax (UUT), a sales tax or any other type of tax you can think of.

That means proponents will have to say what they expect to use the tax revenue for — we prefer a limited use tax over a general tax. That’s saying you can raise the UUT by 3%, but all that money has to go to street and sidewalk repair, or only for police and fire improvements.

Further, we think that there should be a limit to the life of any new tax. In legislative jargon, there should be a sunset of 10 years or so, where the tax disappears if it isn’t approved again by the city’s voters.

That sunset puts our city leaders on notice that they have to get the infrastructure work done, or find other ways to support more cops and firefighters, in a certain amount of time. The alternative would be to go through the painful election process all over again.

We believe in investing in our city, investing in our future. We think it makes sense to take advantage of an improving economy and make that investment now.

Council, give us a measure with the safeguards mentioned above. We’re ready to help move this city forward.

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