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Long Beach mayor urges Measure I

The city needs the infrastructure bond to repair roadways, fire stations and storm drains, he says.

October 27, 2008|Mark Medina | Medina is a Times staff writer.

If Long Beach voters reject a $571-million bond measure devoted to infrastructure projects, Mayor Bob Foster warns, the state's fifth-largest city could face some serious long-term consequences.

"The streets are still going to be in bad shape," Foster told 17 members of the El Dorado Park West Neighborhood Assn. this month at Keller Elementary School. "The water quality will still be in bad shape. Our fire stations won't be fully functional."

Foster has tried bolstering support this fall for Measure I, a 35-year $120 parcel tax for all residential and business properties. Stacey Ann Fong Toda, Foster's deputy chief of staff, said the mayor he has visited 18 neighborhood association groups since Labor Day to outline the measure's details.

City officials say the parcel tax would begin in 2009 and bring in $1.3 billion through 2044 if the measure attracts a two-thirds vote Nov. 4. Nonprofit organizations, seniors and the disabled would be exempt from the measure.

The City Council has endorsed the measure, as have groups representing city police, firefighters and many businesses.

But some residents are skeptical about the tax, which would increase annually with the Consumer Price Index at an estimated 3%.

Kathy Ryan and Tom Stout, co-founders of the Long Beach Taxpayers Assn., say they distrust the proposal because they feel it lacked community input. They noted that Foster declined an invitation from the Long Beach Press Club to debate Terry Jensen, a former Long Beach Redevelopment Agency board member and critic of Measure I.

Ryan and Stout have proposed an alternative, outlined online at abetterplanforlong-beach.com, that would cost $344 million and limit work to streets, sidewalks, alleys and coastal water-quality upgrades.

Measure I proponents, meanwhile, say that in addition to the $1.3 billion raised locally, the initiative would bring in $265 million in state matching funds.

The city estimates the measure would help repair 400 miles of streets, 163 miles of sidewalks, 75 miles of alleys and 28 miles of storm drains. The measure also would allow for replacement or repair of 23 fire stations, 30 community centers and seven libraries.

While highlighting the measure, Foster has tried to allay voter concerns.

"It seems like we're just throwing money at a problem," a man said during Foster's presentation at Keller Elementary.

Foster responded that the city budget devotes only $3 million to infrastructure projects. "You're not going to be able to fund these infrastructure programs out of the general fund," he said. "It will take some other tax source."

Moments later, Foster read a submitted question: "Why does the perception exist that there is no guarantee the tax will be used for infrastructure?"

"I wish I had the answer to that," Foster said. "But not one dollar with these funds, by state law, can go into the general fund."

For 20 minutes, Foster fielded questions, some skeptical and some supportive, before making his final pitch: "If we don't act now, I or some other mayor will be standing before you again in four or five years and we won't be talking about $571 million. We'll be talking about $900 million."

Ron Beeler, chairman of the El Dorado Park West Neighborhood Assn., noticed mixed responses from those who heard Foster's pitch.

"Some people felt it's a hard pill to take but that the city really needs to take it and keep [the infrastructure] up to par," Beeler said. "But others say now is not a good time.

"I don't see how it will pass," he said.

City Councilwoman Rae Gabelich praised the mayor for bringing the measure forth. "I will say it could've been handled differently with a more open process. But that has nothing to do with the fact we need this money."

Foster stressed that point during his neighborhood meetings.

As for the debate, he said he had highlighted Measure I in his State of the City address and held three workshops with city officials outlining the plan.

He said he has witnessed "overwhelming support" at community meetings but conceded he is uncertain whether that "extends to the general public."

He'll find out on election day.

--

mark.medina@latimes.com

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