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Private-Public Pacts, and Pitfalls

May 08, 1986

In the years following Long Beach's last world-class act, the Miss Universe beauty contest, the municipality has followed the federal lead in administering government as a social experiment. This has increasingly involved the government in "private-public partnerships," such as the new agreement between the Redevelopment Agency and a group of businessmen calling themselves the Promenade Activity Committee, whereby public money is used to kick off promotional programs to attract business, and if the thing takes, businessmen pledge a show of gratitude by adding a little of their own coin to the pot.

The sums involved can be small. The Promenade activity, so far, is limited to $51,800. But municipal funds used to guarantee profit levels for hotel chains or to purchase city blocks to lease back to developers on the cheap can add up to some pretty impressive--perhaps world-class--figures.

There is irony in this. Long Beach lost its Miss Universe contest because the government, in its local-yokel way, considered itself limited to merely protecting the public realm back in those days before the social experimentation. At the end of its five-year lease with Catalina Swimsuits, the City of Long Beach refused to permit a relabeling of the event from "Long Beach Miss Universe" to "Catalina Miss Universe" on the grounds that if public money and support went into the event the public name had to be tagged on too. Consequently, Catalina Swimsuits left town and took Miss Universe with it.

I cannot speak for the individuals of the council of that day, people who were perfectly capable of being as foolish as anyone around; but as a ruling body they would never have permitted a "Toyota Grand Prix." Private-public partnerships just didn't work that way.

The present government, however, assures us that it was frightfully boring.

--DOUGLAS A. KERMODE

Long Beach

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