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Council Makes Police Tax Measure Highest Priority on November Ballot : Elections: Voters also will decide term limits, mayoral powers and gambling on the Queen Mary. Two other measures were kept off the ballot.

August 06, 1992|KIRSTEN LEE SWARTZ | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LONG BEACH — Voters will be asked to consider an assortment of ballot measures in November--from one that would tax residents to pay for 100 more police officers to another legalizing gambling in the city's harbor district to help save the Queen Mary.

Voters also can choose to strengthen the mayor's powers and limit council members to two consecutive four-year terms.

Council members Tuesday rejected two other measures for the Nov. 3 election ballot, fearing that voters would be overwhelmed with so many issues and defeat their pet project, the police tax.

"As far as ballot initiatives go, (adding police officers) is the most important one," Councilman Ray Grabinski said.

The council majority has advocated rebuilding the police force, particularly in the wake of its decision last month to end the city's contract with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department in 1993.

Under the police ballot measure, property owners would be taxed to pay for the new officers. Owners of apartment complexes with more than 25 units would pay $31 a year per unit, for example, while homeowners would pay up to $60 a year.

The 100 new officers would join 49 the city expects to hire in January to replace sheriff's deputies now patrolling north and northeast Long Beach. The two additions would put the force at 822 officers, Police Chief William C. Ellis said.

"It's just a matter of a few dollars a month per family," Councilman Doug Drummond said.

Some officials, however, doubt that voters mired in a recession are likely to approve the $7.5-million proposal.

"I think the public will tell us it is the city's responsibility to provide adequate public safety," said Councilman Les Robbins, who still voted to put the measure on the ballot.

To better the chances of passing the tax, the council turned down a measure that would have asked voters to fund two new police substations and a police and fire communications center. They also rejected a measure that would have allowed council members to work on the council full time, with some members saying it would be perceived by voters as a pay raise.

Instead, the council chose to limit the number of measures to four, including one linked to saving the Queen Mary.

Five members of the council agreed with a consultant's conclusion that the ocean liner can only be profitable if the city allows a card casino on board. State law requires that a majority of voters approve a ballot measure before gambling is allowed in the city.

"It gives the voters a chance to somewhat decide their own destiny and the destiny of an old friend to the city, and that's the Queen Mary," Councilman Evan Anderson Braude said.

The third ballot measure would allow the mayor to break tie votes cast by the nine-member board and would require the council to muster six votes to override a mayoral veto. The council now needs only five votes.

A task force of city business leaders, attorneys and activists proposed last month that the council ask residents to consider strengthening the mayor's power.

"Fine-tuning of the city's government structure is needed," said Alex Bellehumeur, the group's chairman and also a harbor commissioner.

Councilman Warren Harwood opposed the measure, saying the mayor's position should not be strengthened unless the council is also strengthened by being allowed to work full time. Councilman Alan Lowenthal also opposed it, insisting that the council work first on campaign reform to make council seats more accessible to average citizens.

A fourth ballot measure would limit the terms of the mayor and council members.

The measure, spearheaded by a local activist who gathered 40,000 signatures to place the issue on the ballot, would permit a politician to serve two terms as a council member and two terms as mayor.

Vice Mayor Jeffrey A. Kellogg said he fears that voters will reject the measures that ask for more money or give the council more authority and instead vote them out of office early by limiting their terms.

"The more issues that go on the ballot will cause the most important one, public safety, to have less and less success," he said.

Argued Harwood: "I think we have to do our jobs and stop trying to outguess the public."

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