Ian S. Patton. Courtesy photo.

People Post is a space for opinion pieces, letters to the editor and guest submissions from members of the Long Beach community. The following is an op-ed submitted by Ian S. Patton is the executive director of the Long Beach Reform Coalition, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.

Last week the Long Beach Reform Coalition introduced what we are calling The Long Beach Reform Pledge. We believe this list of nine proposals has the potential to transform how both politics and policymaking are carried out in our city for the better.  And we believe that, if embraced by candidates for, and members currently of, the City Council, these reforms have the power to return the balance of power, on our local level, to that one oft-forgotten group in town, The People.

It may seem a bit naïve, but some of us still believe in the concept of The People—that is, the 99.9% of residents who are not personal friends with the mayor, or who do not represent a corporation looking for approval for a development, who are not paid by an energy company looking for special treatment from the city or even one of the more politically muscular city employee bargaining units looking to get a better contract for their own members (versus other city workers or other potential budgetary allocations).  And somehow, despite the gusher of special-interest money that supports incumbents and well-connected political aspirants, we still believe in grassroots organizing.

We still believe that the voice of the resident taking her time to drive down to City Council to speak her mind on a controversial item before our local legislature ought to be heard as loudly, and ought to be as respected, by our representatives as the voice of the owner or CEO of a corporate interest, who perhaps has a contract or project approval at stake and who’s made sure to grease the skids with outsized political contributions.

We still believe that her own tax dollars should never be used to put out city seal-emblazoned mailers engaging in thinly veiled political advocacy that favors one side on a city ballot measure (which happens to favor incumbent city politicians).  We still believe that the quasi-campaign accounts, often called “officeholder accounts,” which incumbents between election cycles use to feed a never-ending hunger to raise and spend (and transfer to other political allies) political contributions should be limited and restored to their original community benefit purpose.

We still believe she, as an ordinary member of the public, who does not attend fancy big-ticket fundraisers, who just reads the newspaper and speaks her mind, should have the full right to participate and have her opinion considered in the crafting of local policy which will affect her life, her home, perhaps her livelihood, and certainly her family.  And we believe that means restoring her right to witness full legislative debate (rather than the final outcome of backroom deals) under the Brown Act, so that she can render a fully informed judgment.

That also means full transparency in local government whenever practical (which is almost always), not just whenever absolutely mandated by state law.  That means restoring the willingness of the city bureaucracy to comply with both the letter of and the spirit of the California Public Records Act by providing her public documents when she asks for them, rather than dragging their feet for months (or denying her outright with the bogus use of an exemption).

It means not “streamlining” her speaking time before council down to 90 seconds, or creating obstacles to speaking on particular agenda items. It means instead actually devoting more time to an item, if it’s important enough for her to sacrifice her entire evening waiting to speak. It means all elected officials committing to holding regular, unfiltered open town hall discussions with residents like her. It means an absolute commitment by City Hall always to engage in an open, transparent  and fully competitive bidding processes for any and all city contracts.

And it means—in an electoral field of play terribly warped by a tsunami of special interest money, all on the side of well-connected insiders—that we must give her and the rest of the public the clear choice to restore two-term limits and reinvigorate local campaign finance reform (last enacted in 1994 and ever since steadily eroded by succeeding City Councils).

We believe this because, should she, that anonymous, ordinary resident of Long Beach who cares deeply about local issues, choose to go from activism to actually running for City Council, she ought to have a fair shot. In American democracy, she should not have her grassroots campaign drowned under a deluge of corporate or labor big money.

That is what we at the Long Beach Reform Coalition believe, and it’s why we have offered candidates the opportunity to stake their ground on the side of reform and clean government.

We are a network, of eight Long Beach grassroots organizations, formed last year to promote the cause of civic reform. We are completely non-partisan and, as our mission statement puts it, seek to “promote and support public policies, laws, and candidates toward the goal of a transparent, accountable, and inclusive government.”

Two of our board members are currently candidates for the 2020 City Council elections, Juan Ovalle for District 8 and Robert Fox for District 2 (who we are calling the “Reform Ticket”).  They have both signed The Reform Pledge, which we have since invited all candidates in the imminent 1st District special election to sign.

Here is its full text:

If elected to the Long Beach City Council my commitment will be to:

  1. Restore Term Limits to Two Terms (by Accurately-Worded Initiative)
  2. Oppose Using Tax Dollars for Political Advocacy
  3. Reform and Limit the Use of Officeholder Accounts
  4. Restore the Right of the Public to Agendize City Council Items
  5. Support Campaign Finance Reforms, including:
  • The 6-to-1 “Super Match” for Grassroots Candidates
  • Regulation of Political Contributions by Developer Project Teams and Interests Bidding On or Negotiating City Contracts While Pending
  • Requiring that Developers Provide a Political Impact Report (PIR) Outlining Their Project Teams’ Prior Political Contributions
  1. Hold At Least Four Open Town Hall Meetings Per Year
  2. Insist on Competitive Bidding for All City Projects & Contracts
  3. Always Defend the Right of Active Public Participation in Governance
  4. Reinvigorate Full Transparency in City Government, including Compliance with the Brown Act & the California Public Records Act

Lastly, I would like to make a clarification regarding a mention in LB Post’s recent The Backroom column. There was a humorous implication that the name of our coalition and our Reform Pledge were in some way inspired by the old Reform Party which was in the news a quarter century ago. Just to be clear, we have nothing whatsoever to do with national politics or national political divides, whether in the 1990s or today, and certainly have never given a thought to that former political party (in the last nearly twenty years, who has?).

Our members and supporters come from across the spectrum. In fact one of our goals is to reinforce the non-partisan nature of local politics (as enshrined in our City Charter), which has lately been dismissed as our politicians increasingly use party politics as a tool to confuse voters about ground level local issues (which usually have no relevance to partisan affiliation).

There was also a suggestion that the concept of challenging candidates for office to sign a “pledge” is in some way questionable. We believe just the opposite, that clarity and accountability are essential in a functioning democracy. Candidates for office owe the public, The People, who will elect them, that much. We believe The Reform Pledge is a great way to get that clarity, which has often been lacking in Long Beach politics.

The complexity of local government means voters need an easy way to separate those candidates who believe in full transparency and accountability from those who do not. Of course, if any candidate agrees with part of The Reform Pledge, but not all of it, they are free to elaborate their positions in detail to the voters. It is just such an election season political dialogue which we hope to stimulate.

Full details about the Long Beach Reform Coalition and The Reform Pledge can be found here.