Thursday, January 15, 2015

Torrance City Council Meeting, January 13, 2015

City of Torrance Logo

The Torrance City Council Meeting on January 13, 2015 had its share of controversies as well as common agreements.

At the beginning of the meeting, the city council recognized retiring staff members. Police and public works deserve recognition.

Oral Communications were a different affair. Owners of a pre-school near the corner of Sepulveda and Eriel repeated their concerns with an auto repair shop which will be built on the corner of those two streets. Not just the owners of the school, but local residents and parents shared that the homeowners and residents in the region were not given any notice about the Conditional Use Permit hearing a year ago. This complaint came up in last week's Planning Commission Meeting (January 7, 2015).

One resident, Mark Stevenson, offers detailed analysis and questions regarding the city's spending choices.

He outlined concerns with spending on non-profit social services agencies and the implementation of in-school LivingWise educational programs in the middle schools. The latter programs were designed to teach kids to be responsible with water. According the city manager and his staff, the program has saved city resources and money.

I also noticed a large budget item regarding implementation of the Affordable Care Act. This law is hurting small businesses and cities. Torrance needed a comprehensive computer program to process which employees have insurance, and to gauge that individuals are properly covered, depending on their status. The City Manager informed the audience that the program, contracted with Healthcare Impact Associates, was necessary to avoid fines.

Toward the end of the meeting, I learned about the Torrance Tourism Business Improvement Distric (TTBID), a consortium of hoteliers who raised funds for promoting the city to attract more tourism. Currently, TTBID assesses a 1% levy on each bed, then diverts the funds to attract more business to the city. Stevenson argued that there were better ways to promote tourism than with a bed tax. One of the TTBID reps reminded the audience that city tax dollars are not paying for TTBID.

One of the representatives connected with the Rose Parade float (which won a major award this year) complained at the end of the meeting that the Rose Parade also promotes business and attracts visitors to Torrance. TTBID never reached out to them to cooperate on anything.

Such concerns, in my opinion, are valid. I notice that a lot of people come to the podium to showcase themselves rather than offer anything substantive. Some members of the audience want to promote their own causes and connections, rather than issues which directly affect the rest of the community. It's a free country, and oral communications exist so that individuals can share their opinions, and make themselves known.

Mike Griffiths
Mike Griffiths

At the end of the meeting, during councilmembers' oral communications, Councilmember Mike Griffiths suggested granting a waiver for parking citations during  the city-wide sweeping days. Other members considered the subject, and asked what costs the city could face if they pursed waiving one parking ticket per year per resident.

I spoke with two of the city council members, both of whom agree with fiscal prudence, but one of them reminded me that even if the city cuts the grants to local charities or ends the LivingWise program, those funds are a drop in the bucket compared the millions of dollars needed to repair Torrance streets.

Closing Remarks

I was surprised to see who much money the city council allocates in its consent calendar. I was further surprised that Tim Goodrich, normally regarded as a very liberal member of the group, voted against a consent item because he requested more information on how selected social groups were vetted before receiving city funds.

Torrance City Councilmember Tim Goodrich

Frankly, I would like to see more members of the city council questioning and even rejecting consent items in the future. Granted, cutting twenty thousand dollars here and there won't repair all the city's roads, but it would be a good start toward fiscal prudence and sound money management for the long term. If anything else, our city leaders need to discuss these issues.

If not for Stevenson's questions and comments on the Consent Calendar, I would have no idea what the city was doing with the money.

Stevenson's questions deserve more attention, but he has to work on his presentation. There is too much information flowing over that podium at one time. I would like to see if more Torrance residents would be interested in forming a local interest group to inform residents and press our city leaders to rethink the spending, budget, and appropriations of city funds for the future.

I have a feeling that elected officials would respond if more residents showed up, complained about key issues in the city, and demanded that the representatives rethink their use of tax dollars. A few people showing up once a week has some impact, but more people voicing their criticism would help.

Torrance Concerned Citizens Coalition, anyone?

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