Pick Your Flavor
Don’t you hate it when you are craving ice cream, but all that’s offered is strawberry or vanilla.
Well the city of Laguna Beach is about to offer you a selection of flavors. It’s called the 2016 Community Survey and $35,000 in public funds will be spent on consultants identifying projects and topics that are a priority for the “community.”
By community, I’m assuming the city means the taxpaying residents of Laguna Beach. Los Angeles based FM3, the latest consultant hired by the city, is tasked with acquiring “statistically valid and reliable data” of public opinion about topics and projects and how our city spends our money, including a possible bond measure. That’s going to be some big money.
Some preferred flavors (some would say “pet projects”) have already been slated for possible consideration in the survey, including additional lanes on Laguna Canyon Road, a community pool, permanent lifeguard towers, and the latest albatross, a cultural arts center. Other projects may include funding the new village entrance “Sendero” plan, formulated by yet another paid consultant, which primarily consists of a prettier parking lot, a pedestrian path, some trees and a parking structure. The earlier list of potential survey topics can be found in the March 22 city council agenda, item No. 2, and a subcommittee’s new list of recommended community survey topics can be found on the May 10 city council agenda, item No. 16.
What’s missing from the project topics list? What about completing the goals set in the 2030 Vision Plan or the 10-year capital improvement plan? Consultants were paid lots of dollars to formulate those plans, too.
How about the resident benefit of improvements like more sidewalks in the neighborhoods, bike paths, and storm drain construction? These are just a few capital improvements not included in the city’s 10-year plan.
How about paying down the city’s unfunded pension obligations? What projects would be in the best interests of the residents, as opposed to the tourists, or the city businesses? Where should the city prioritize its spending? Who benefits, and does it match who pays?
Should the survey ask whether the community even wants bond financing, and if so which projects should be paid for with bond money? Or should these projects be paid for by the general budget, spending within our means?
Property taxes are the single biggest revenue source for Laguna Beach, contributing to its $80 million a year budget, and 89% of those property taxes are paid for by homeowners. The city’s first priority should be the health, general welfare and safety of its residents, making sure the basics are covered before money is spent on “wish list” items. This includes pro-active improvements in our aging infrastructure – streets, utilities, sewers, etc.
How do we know there is big money spending and bond initiatives on the horizon? City consultant FM3 does not just conduct surveys. One of its specialties is helping local governments win voter approval for funding measures, including bonds and tax increases, and then crafting the communications for winning the necessary approval from voters for ballot measures. In fact, another $15,000 to FM3 has already been approved by the city for consulting services related to a ballot measure. It’s not if, it’s when.
Why is this important to you? The Community Survey is the precursor to the city’s gearing up to ask us for big money. As residents we all should have a voice in deciding what projects and topics are going to be in that survey, or to put it another way, to decide the flavors that are going to be sold. The consultant FM3 presented its findings on what topics and projects should be placed on the survey at this past week’s council meeting, item 15.
Let council members know your favorite flavor.
Jennifer Welsh Zeiter is a 30-year business, tax and estate planning attorney and president of Laguna Beach Taxpayers’ Association.