City Tests a $500M Bond for Street Repairs

Joe Mello

One of four possible local measures

The City of Long Beach did polling last week on four possible local measures for the November ballot including a $500 million bond. The proposed bond called the Long Beach Street Bond Measure in the polling is a property tax assessment.

The other three measures of the polling include two known Charter Amendments proposals: one for changing the Citizens Police Complaint Commission (CPCC); and the second for the proposed Long Beach Water and Gas Departments merging.

The third proposed Charter Amendment is to enshrine the current election alignment with the state elections. The polling question was framed to imply the city is currently not following the state election calendar.

Street Bond Measure

The polling for the Long Beach Street Bond Measure is really about politics because the measure will have to go before the voters. Therefore, the poll tests the political messaging for the arguments both in support and against the bond for a possible election campaign.

While perfectly legal, this is really the city paying to test the political arguments that eventually special interest political committees will use to support the city’s quest to pass the measure. The city can also use the favorable political messages in its legally required “neutral” fact sheet it will produce and distribute to Long Beach residents at taxpayer cost.

The poll arguments to support the bond included that Long Beach has 200 miles of roads in poor conditions and this would be a dedicated source to fix those roads. And of course, all ballot measures that ask for more money lead to public safety and the Police and Fire Departments.

So, the “support” arguments include that having a dedicated tax source to fix roads will lead to freeing up current dollars dedicated to roads (aka Measure A) thus making the current tax dollars available as money to “upgrade” police and fire services. The unmentioned fact is those “upgrade” monies could actually be applied to growing salaries and pension funding.

The arguments tested against the proposed $500 million bonds include that taxes in Long Beach are at an all-time high and that Long Beach has already passed “several” bond measures (like Measure A twice).

Election Charter Amendment

The proposed Charter amendment aligns the local Long Beach elections with the state election calendar, just like we are currently voting.

So why do we need a charter amendment?

Currently, the City Charter requires the primary elections to be held in April and any run-off in June. In September 2015, Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 415 the California Voter Participation Rights Act (VPRA).

The law which took effect in 2018, required cities with election low-turnout to move elections to align with the state election calendar. In July 2017 California State Attorney General Alex Padilla issued an opinion that SB 415/VPRA applied to cities like Long Beach that have their own Charter (similar to having a local constitution). The Long Beach City Charter requires the local primary election in April and the general election in June.

In October 2017 the Long Beach City Council on the advice of City Attorney Charles Parkin passed an ordinance to change Long Beach’s April primaries and June general elections to the state’s June primary and November general elections schedule. While a city ordinance cannot override a Charter provision, a state law technically can if certain criteria are met. Padilla’s 2017 opinion that SB 415/VPRA applied to Charter Cities necessitated the October 2017 Long Beach ordinance.

However, another Charter City, the City of Redondo Beach, challenged the Padilla opinion that SB 415/VPRA applied to Charter Cities.

In the case called City of Redondo Beach v. Padilla, Redondo Beach argued that California Secretary of State Alex Padilla was wrong in his ruling that SB 415/VPRA required charter cities to align with the state elections. As a Charter City, Redondo Beach maintained that applying SB 415/VPRA to Redondo Beach violated the California Constitution’s grant of home rule powers to Charter Cities over their own elections. As a Charter City, Redondo Beach wanted to keep its odd-year local elections.

Redondo Beach won its case at the trial court, appeals court and finally at the California Supreme Court in November 2020.

In a February 2021 memo to the Long Beach City Council with the subject titled Municipal Election Dates for 2022 and Beyond City Attorney Parkin related the history of both SB 415/VPRA and the legal challenges to it, as well as Long Beach’s election decisions and how Long Beach now has an election ordinance at odds with its own City Charter. Parkin recommends a Charter Amendment be placed on the November ballot to legally align the Long Beach elections.

In the memo, City Attorney Parkin wrote:

“Several Issues have made it necessary for the city to consider changing its election dates for the primary and general municipal elections in 2022 to June and November and the placement of a ballot initiative on the November 2022 ballot to change the City Charter election dates as set forth in more detail below and in the attached memo from the city’s outside counsel.”

The arguments for the Charter Amendment put forth in last week’s poll include arguing the alignment (which remember we currently have) increases voter turnout. Historically, that argument is true. However, in this year’s June primary, despite for the first time every eligible voter in the state receiving a ballot in the mail, and being aligned with the state election cycle, the primary was one of the lowest primary election turnouts in state history.

The poll arguments presented as opposed to the measure include the idea that having the elections at the same time makes local issues less important.

Politicians and political consultants are keenly aware that historically in the low turnout local non-aligned elections the voter demographics tend to be older and slightly more conservative are the most engaged voters. While the state and national elections tend to have more “low information voters”  who are easily swayed by political party endorsements, thus making the political machine politics like we have in Long Beach more successful.

‘Let the Voters Decide’

The City Council must approve ballot measures to go before the voters. When those votes come before the council the message is that the council should “let the voters decide.” In actuality, the city leaders do not put on ballot measures if the polling shows that they do not have a path to victory – no reason to let the voters vote “No.”

This is no secret. The ballot measure to merge the Long Beach Gas and Water Departments was proposed to be part of a package of local measures in 2018 (Measures AAA, BBB, CCC, DDD). The city readily admitted that polling showed that the arguments for the merger would be defeated if the council “let the voters decide.” The city decided not to put the merger on the ballot in 2018.

In last week’s poll, the city tested more ballot arguments including the merger would help. Those arguments included being better prepared for natural disasters and the merger would help climate change. Of course, the city is actually interested in the merger to save money but is looking for a more appealing message to the voters.

When it comes to a ballot measure election, the city technically legally must stay neutral. However, the local political machine has local special interests that stand to benefit from the ballot measures funding the election campaigns. Those independent campaigns of course are privy to using the arguments that the city-paid polling has confirmed voters will buy into.

As an example, the police and fire unions stand to win if money is saved in a gas and water merger with the saved money available for salaries and pensions.

The same is true of the proposed Long Beach Street Bond Measure. In 2016, Measure A was sold to the public as a 10-year increase as a way to fix infrastructure (streets) and provide added public safety (the tax was later made permanent in 2020 winning approval by 16 votes). The money went to the General Fund meaning it was available for any purpose including salaries and pensions.

The polling last week for the Long Beach Street Bond Measure included testing the idea that having a dedicated source of money for street infrastructure would lead to public safety “upgrades” with the general fund monies. Of course, having a dedicated source of money for streets and not Measure A general fund money means more money available for salaries and pensions.

It will become clear in the next few months if the city is confident that its polling arguments will “let the voters decide” the way the city wants.


Reprinted with permission from


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