Sunday, December 25, 2016

Is Democracy Dead in Torrance?--My Reaction

On Clint Paulson's blog cover Torrance politics, a guest commentary was published.

Democracy is Dead in the City of Torrance – Guest Commentary

I have wanted to go over this article, with my own thoughts.

I am not as pessimistic about this matter, but civic engagement requires more than mere individualist complaints.

I have posted the comments from the commentary in bold type. My comments will follow:

I will start with a question: What is it going to take to get the people of Torrance to start paying attention to the mismanagement of their City?

Answers are pouring out of the woodwork.

Mayor Pat Furey sold himself out to McCormick Ambulance. He paid a massive fine.

Urban coyotes have attacked people and killed domestic animals in the city.

The roads are getting fixed, little by little, but attacks on private property and opportunities to build and expand one's home are facing roadblocks like never before.

People will get tired of their rights getting run over.

The few of us who attended the August 24th Torrance City Council meeting witnessed the worst political thuggery any of us have ever seen in those chambers, as the full force of city staffers, Council Members, and the Mayor ganged up on the few remaining opponents to their fabricated “optimized” street sweeping and ticketing plan.

Ugh! I have indeed heard a great deal about this ticketing scam. The city can't pay off its pension liabilities, needs to drum up necessary funds, so let's create a set of financial sanctions to generate more revenue.

City councilmembers have told me that all of this is not the case, even Mayor Pat Furey, when I still trusted him.

Councilman Mike Griffiths, the lone opponent on the council, took the brunt of the attack. His mistake – he asked a few questions about the significant revenue being generated by this falsely labeled “optimized” plan. This is a scheme that at least three separate watchdog groups in the city have proven to be nothing more than a money grab, with no real environmental impact. But transparency in the City of Torrance has a different set of rules.

OUCH! Three different watchdog groups have raised alarm about the program? Indeed!

Torrance has an uncanny way of packaging its most unpopular decisions so that the fewest number of people can oppose them. Citizen investigators of the City’s secret refinery additive deal are getting the latest version of this duplicity and misdirection, something the rest of us have experienced with increasing distaste for years now. Change the schedule; combine the staff notes, public discussion, and vote in the same session; make up and hide data — that is what “The Torrance Way” looks like in 2016.

Cities should not have any kind of "way" labeled against them. Too much insider and background talk is wittling down the proper governance of any city.

Mr. Griffiths accurately pointed out that this ticketing program in full force will generate over a million dollars a year in revenue. In case anyone has forgotten, this is the same program that has been consistently described as “revenue neutral” by City officials. We won’t even try to explain the fuzzy math that one staffer used to describe a 237% increase in tickets as a decrease.

LOL! I laugh even now reading over this travesty.

To his credit, Mr. Griffiths did manage to trap the City Attorney in an embarrassing admission that their dire warnings of street pollution fines were based on a spill in their own City yard. A few of us spoke, but the chamber was essentially empty, and that is where the real problem lies. Is no one else paying attention to the actions of the bureaustocracy that has taken over this city?

 At this time, I must admit that I am not. What should I start paying attention to?

This shameful display highlighted a simple fact – the City of Torrance ceased being a democratic institution a long time ago, and is managed as a self-enrichment program by a clique of insiders, elected and unelected. Just check the lopsided 6-1 votes on the council, every time city employee fortunes are at stake.

I agree with the "self-enrichment program" statement. Too many people work for the city, and as a result they are working over the taxpayers to get more money. The labor union representing the municipal workers got a big retroactive pay raise, just for being there!

When's the last time that you or I got a raise just for being there? Just for serving two, three, or ten years on the job?

Still not convinced? Did you know that Torrance’s Police Chief and Fire Chief are paid more than the Director of the FBI, the Director of Homeland Security, the head of Cal Fire, and similar chiefs in New York City and many other major U.S. cities?  To put that in perspective, the NYPD has 34,500 personnel, Cal Fire has 4,500, Torrance PD has 347 and Torrance FD has 163. Does it bother anyone that our City Attorney’s base pay is greater than the salary of a Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court? Those are pretty lofty numbers for a city that doesn’t even rank in the top 30 largest cities in its own state.

WHAT?! It's time for the city staffers to give up their money. How about a pay cut?

And this problem isn’t going to go away. We have an astounding 258 employees making (with benefits) more than $200,000 per year, with more than half of the staff (585) exceeding $100,000 annually. Torrance’s pension obligations now top $2.0 billion (ten times the city’s annual budget) and the unfunded liability is an unknown, though we know it spiked to $392 million back in 2012, making it one of the highest per capita in the United States. These are crushing debt levels that may not lead to bankruptcy just yet, but guarantee reduced services for decades to come.

The pension issues have loomed very large for the last two election cycles. The city council claims that the liability is not a problem. Dedicated financial activists suggest otherwise. Will there be a major cut in public services because of all this?

If you wonder what the fallout from this self-enrichment program is, just take a look at our city streets and other facilities, which are in the worst condition in city history, even with the recent flurry of resurfacing and repair. And by the way, some of those improvements came from the one-time $10 million windfall when Torrance sold part of itself to the City of Rolling Hills last year.

OH ... I do submit that many of the streets are just terrible. I drove up Anza Ave south of Sepulveda, and found one pothole after another.

This is a frustrated open call to the people of Torrance from the very few of us who have taken the time to act on your behalf. When you look at the 20,000 new signs that will deface our neighborhoods or pay that ticket on your windshield, you can pretend that this was ever about the environment, if you like. But those of us who know the truth will see these signs for what they are – a stealth tax arrogantly planted in the places we live by uncaring officials who no longer represent us.

One suggestion--shaming people who are not active is usually not effective.

But the idea of any city leadership not representing anyone? That is a deep problem which needs to be fixed!

Democracy isn’t a right, it is earned through vigilance and action, and we need more of both in the City of Torrance. Join us in demanding the truth about this ticketing scam.

Citizens Against Government Waste

September 2016


Democracy is not dead, but it's not a program of governance which can function on autopilot.

We are witnessing something much like what French political scientist Etienne de la Boetie documented in his treatise "Why Obey?" or "The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude."

The French nobleman asked a basic uestion: "Why do people do what the government tells them to do?" The answer is actually more subtle than apparent.

We do not obey necessarily out of fear or threat of force. Much of the time, men and women obey and comply because of personal incentive. If I receive a gift or an emolument from the head of state, I am far more likely to do whatever he wants. The same has held true for generations. Judas Iscariot betrayed his Lord for thirty pieces of silver.

The fellow clan leaders who had joined with William Wallace abandoned him on the field of battle for more lands from the King of England. The trick in politics much of the time is finding out a man's price, and then buying him off.

A better method is creating a system of payments and rewards which keeps a person dependent. Welfarism is a canny, subversive example of this corrupting system. In Torrance, this issue is more outspoken, in large measure because so many people work for the city of Torrance. Especially if you are a public employee drawing a six figure salary, there is no incentive or reason to complain about bad governance in the city.

There is another issue ...

The homeownership situation. Many people buy a home in the South Bay because of the great weather and the home-town feel. You buy a nice home in the Riviera section, the neighborhood seems to gang up on anyone who wants to redo their home. Other sections of the city face similar setbacks. One resident told me that they had to contribute $1,000 to the Torrance Cultural Arts foundation in order to get prepared plans approved before the Planning Commission!

When I attended a school board meeting earlier this year I was impressed by the number of people attending the meeting. Then I learned that the only reason they were there was to petition against the construction of a gymnasium at Richardson Middle School, which would cast shadows onto homeowners down the hill, and drag down their property values.


What are the priorities for Torrance residents? When they are keenly felt, then people will either get angry or get out of the city. Let's hope for the former.

1 comment:

  1. Well,the logical way most municipalities change for the better is by using their voter ballot to illicit change. Otherwise we keep the same old same old's in office!