The Long Beach City Council will meet Tuesday night in the first of a series of meetings about three charter amendments that could be added to the November ballot: A consolidation of the city’s utilities, aligning election cycles permanently with the state, and changing the way the police oversight is conducted in the city.
Reforming the Citizens Police Complaint Commission is the most contentious of the proposals, a culmination of the civil unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd, with protesters demanding more accountability for police.
The existing commission has been criticized as “toothless, a “farce” and not what was intended by the original group of founders who created it in 1990.
The commission currently has 11 members who have independent investigators conducting parallel investigations of alleged policed misconduct, with the commission voting to uphold or throw out allegations. Changes under consideration include reducing it to seven members, who would have little to no role in looking into cases.
The new proposed model would instead install an inspector general position that would audit police investigations carried out by internal affairs and would have the ability to independently investigate allegations against high-ranking police officials and look into high-profile incidents.
However, they’d only be able to look into those cases at the request of the city manager. The city manager, like the existing commission model, would have final authority over the discipline of officers.
The city hired an outside consulting firm to oversee the public input process, which was negatively affected by the pandemic. Just one in-person meeting was held and a survey circulated by the consulting team received just 31 responses.
A second charter amendment would merge the city’s water and gas departments. Currently, the Long Beach Water Department oversees operations of water and sewer lines and the gas department is housed in the city’s Energy Resources department, which handles the city’s oil operations.
Water department officials have argued that merging the two departments would bring efficiencies like pipe work being synced up to lessen disruptions to public streets and could allow cross-training that could lead to savings on labor costs.
The water department’s general manager, Chris Garner, said that any reductions to the department’s workforce would come in the form of attrition, retirement or transfers, not from cuts. An analysis prepared for the department in 2020 projected that the department could see a savings of about $6.5 million by the fifth year of the merger if it’s approved.
The final charter amendment would permanently align the city’s election schedule with the state’s. Primaries would be held in June and runoffs in November if voters approve the amendment.
The proposal is a carryover from last year when the City Council was trying to determine its course of action after the California Supreme Court ruled that a state law aimed at boosting voter turnout by requiring cities to align with the state’s schedule did not apply to charter cities like Long Beach.
Long Beach primary elections had typically been held in April with runoffs in June.
While turnout was high in 2020, when the city’s primary and runoff elections were aligned with the state’s cycle that included the March and November votes for president, turnout was low once again Tuesday night.
An estimated 20% of registered voters cast ballots in Tuesday’s primary compared to over 40% of voters who voted in the March 2020 presidential primary. Turnout in the future could be buoyed by a more competitive race for governor, which is held in even years. Gov. Gavin Newsom was declared a primary victor within minutes of the polls closing Tuesday night.
Any charter amendment requires a simple majority to be adopted by voters.
Tuesday is the first of a series of meetings for the Charter Amendment Committee. It is expected to meet twice more before a potential Aug. 9 vote to place any amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot.
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