In Long Beach City Council’s Initial Budget Meeting, Few Questions Raised In Advance Of Community Discussions

Budget season is officially underway at City Hall, as members of the city staff and Mayor Robert Garcia officially presented the proposals for the 2016 fiscal year budget to the city council during a hearing Tuesday afternoon. 

The initial hearing precedes a series of individual departmental presentations, which will transpire over the next month and will more closely detail the funds set aside for all city services.

The presentation largely mirrored the one delivered in late July, where the mayor revealed his fiscal plan for 2016 to reporters. However, it also included a brief overview of the city’s capital improvement budget (CIP).

City Manager Pat West laid out the impending budget crisis on the horizon by describing budget deficits totaling over $15 million for the 2017 and 2018 budget years. He explained the need to set aside this year’s projected $600,000 surplus to help offset those short falls.

“I do want to point out that there are difficult times ahead,” West said. “I’ve said before that winter is coming and it looks like next year. Our growth and expenses are likely to outpace revenue growth for the foreseeable future, even beyond the 2018 year projection.”

In breaking down the CIP proposals, Department of Public Works Director Ara Maloyan outlined how proposed funds would be spent on street rehabilitation, parks and recreation and other public facilities. He said that at over $20 million, the budget for street improvements made up a “significant portion” of the city’s $43 million CIP budget. Dedicating over half of the CIP budget seems to be a necessity, given that earlier this year Maloyan delivered a report stating the city needed to invest some $330 million over the next decade to keep the city’s roads from falling into further disrepair.

The highlight of Maloyan’s breakdown was the detailing of how the mayor’s cornerstone livability improvements—reducing street sweeping hours citywide to alleviate parking issues in impacted neighborhoods—would be implemented.

Over 100,000 signs need to be replaced throughout the city and an entire route needs to be redesigned to make the decrease in street sweeping hours operational, but Maloyan said he’s confident the changes will be ready to be implemented by the end of this year.

“This a very complex issue because by removing one route we have to take a look at the entire city’s routing system,” Maloyan said. “My biggest challenge right now is how do I change 110,000 signs in the entire city and continue the operation of street sweeping and educating the public at the same time.”

The budget has allocated $950,000 for the signage replacements. To stay within that budget, Maloyan said the city is exploring the use of less signs, which would cost less. The rerouting will also move street sweeping from a four-day to a five-day operation to comply with the shorter two-hour time windows. He said no layoffs would occur as a result of a move toward making the program more efficient.

Fifth District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo approved of many of the investments in the CIP budget, especially the $2.7 million designated to improve the city’s storm drains. The fifth district is notorious for having its streets overwhelmed by rain water, often collecting in large pools that span entire intersections, forcing drivers to cautiously wade through the flooded areas.

“Anyone who has driven the fifth district recently knows about our storm water issues and I applaud Ara for making the investment in our storm water program,” Mungo said. “Those capital improvements are critical in maintaining the community after the rain.”

Mungo joined several other members of the council in questioning a proposal for $1 million to be set aside for a study of the city’s sidewalks, stating that it would be better spent on improvements than a study.

“If there’s a possibility to transforming study to actual repairs, how many sidewalks would that represent?” Mungo asked. “The more money you invest in the sidewalks, the less sidewalks you would need to study.”

City Attorney Charles Parkin clarified that while the study would include sidewalk repairs, the issue stems from an Americans With Disabilities Act compliance matter and was not purely a survey of affected sidewalks.

The old court house and questions regarding how the demolition would be financed were other contentious issues within the budget process, with members of the council asking how the city might be able to reduce the $3 million currently allocated, or avoid it altogether. The projected cost of tearing down the old facility is about $14.5 million, due to complications raised by asbestos and other toxins present in the facility.

However, there is a chance that a large portion, if not all of the cost, could be taken on by the State of California.

“While we’re not putting our hope into this process, we are actively lobbying the state and the Department of Finance in trying to get the state to absorb the costs because that is essentially what the state had told us they would do the first time,” Garcia said. “We are hopeful there could be good news that the demolition is part of the larger redevelopment deal that’s going through the legislature, but it is something that is being worked on.” 

Because it was a preliminary hearing, few issues were raised with the budget proposals as community meetings in each individual district have yet to be completed and department by department breakdowns are scheduled in the coming weeks. In closing, Garcia once again lauded city staff for their efforts and encouraged the community to attend budget outreach meetings to continue the process of what he said was one of the most engaging budget processes the city has ever carried out.

“There’s no question that this is the most tech budget we’ve ever done, by far,” Garcia said. “The amount of survey work, the open budget, the open data being on the website and the interactive budget program, we’ve never done this extensive community engagement when it comes to the budget, and that’s really exciting to see.” 

Support our journalism.

Hyperlocal news is an essential force in our democracy, but it costs money to keep an organization like this one alive, and we can’t rely on advertiser support alone. That’s why we’re asking readers like you to support our independent, fact-based journalism. We know you like it—that’s why you’re here. Help us keep hyperlocal news alive in Long Beach.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.