Civically Speaking is a weekly newsletter on the latest local government news from the lens of the Long Beach Post’s City Hall reporter, who sits through so many city meetings for us.

City Manager Tom Modica talks to the Civil Service Commission about a proposed ballot measure. Photo by Jason Ruiz.

The cake comes pre-baked 

There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes before a policy decision or project comes before the City Council for a vote, and a lot of that can be hidden from view. 

You have lobbyists advocating on behalf of their clients and consultants hired by the city who issue reports on given issues — many of which never see the light of day — that inform the council’s decision. 

There’s also a good amount of polling that goes on, especially in election years. 

I bring this up because city officials are currently shopping around a proposed ballot measure that would amend the city’s charter to overhaul its hiring process. The idea is to take hiring functions away from the Civil Service Department and hand them over to Human Resources. 

The move would essentially consolidate more power in the city manager’s office, but city officials say the change is needed to speed up hiring in the city to help reduce the roughly 22% vacancy rate and improve morale among overworked employees. 

While watching one of the presentations Mayor Rex Richardson and City Manager Tom Modica gave on this topic last week, Richardson let something out that I had only assumed up to this point: the city has already done polling on this charter amendment.

Richardson noted that nearly 80% of voters polled support “cutting red tape” around hiring, and who wouldn’t, really? Some of the city’s most public-facing positions like police officers, building inspectors and even school crossing guards are short on help. 

Passing this proposed measure is supposed to speed up hiring and give a leg up to residents, people who have graduated from area colleges and universities, and part-time employees. Should be a slam dunk, especially if the ballot language leans into the latter part. 

But the point is that the city, for years, has relied on polling, which we sometimes find out about through a chatty consultant, to determine if the time is right to take a bold step. Think of it like when a powerhouse college football team schedules Appalachian State. They do it because they know there’s a high likelihood of victory.

Please do not send this to any Michigan Wolverine fans. 

But when people believe the political cake is already baked it can lead to anger. 

And this was visible when Richardson and city officials started their tour-de-charter-change at the Civil Service Commission, the body that has been tasked with safeguarding the city’s hiring process from nepotism, favoritism and other “isms” for decades. 

The meetings with commissioners have been pitched as an opportunity for those bodies to give feedback before the issue goes before the City Council and potentially to the ballot this November. 

But the city’s timeline, which is dictated largely by the county’s election calendar, appears to have left little room for any material changes to be considered. 

Last week, the city released proposed language for the charter change, and because it’s already begun meeting with employee labor groups, any large change to that language would trigger another round of meetings. However, the city needs to wrap up this process by March to get the issue to the City Council in time to get it on the November ballot

Commissioners brought up this short schedule last week during a combative meeting with high-ranking city officials. One accused the city of being in a rush because it created a self-imposed deadline of November and didn’t start the process early enough. 

However, it does appear that the city started the process before any of us knew the process had started. That is unless you were one of the people who were polled about “cutting red tape.”


Do you remember that land swap that the City Council approved years ago that promised to restore 150 acres of wetlands in return for letting an oil company drill more wells? Well, it’s still on, but an amendment to the deal could very well mean that no new oil wells will be part of the project, and the wetlands restoration could be sped up significantly. The new timeline calls for restoration to be completed by 2028 but equally big news came out about the proposed oil wells. The developer, now known as Los Cerritos Wetlands LLC, has agreed to not drill the 70 new wells it was entitled to build on the five-acre lot it’s getting in the land swap. And the other 50 wells it planned to drill at the site better known as Pa’s Pumpkin Patch, could also be in jeopardy. The developer cited Senate Bill 1137 (the oil well buffer law) as an obstacle for those 50 potential wells. Nearly 1,300 homes have been approved for construction near the pumpkin patch site, and it’s likely most if not all would be within the 3,200-foot buffer zones.


If you live in one of the even-numbered City Council districts, please vote. Experts are predicting that voter turnout during the March 5 primary could be historically low. That’s being largely driven by an absence of a competitive Presidential primary for either major political party as well as no big ballot questions that would normally send people to the poll. But that doesn’t mean Long Beach doesn’t have important races. Nearly half of the City Council composition will be decided in this election and three of the four races will be over after March 5 because they only have two candidates. A tracking site I get updates from shows our city with just 4% of ballots returned as of this week meaning an atmospheric river of ballots will be needed to avoid the 2024 primary being the worst showing since Long Beach aligned its elections with the state. In 2020, the first year after realignment, 29.3% of voters participated in the primary. Check our elections page if you need information on the candidates. 

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.