My coverage of the 2017 Long Beach election continues. This time it’s John Bendo, Democratic candidate for Long Beach City Council. John’s involvement with Long Beach includes everything, plus the kitchen sink. He has a lot to say, so enjoy!
Husband. Nuclear Engineer. Veteran of the US Navy. Resident of the West End. In my spare time, I’ve something of a history of advocating for, and on behalf of, the residents of Long Beach. I’m also bald, so save on shampoo and haircuts.
President of West End Neighbors Civic Association. In that capacity, I started and continue to organize the ever-popular Movies on the Beach, successfully advocated to have the West End branch of the LB Public Library re-opened after Sandy and fought like hell against iStar’s repeated attempts to fleece residents out of more than $100 million in taxes. Looks like round 3 on that is coming up soon. I’ve regularly attended City Council meetings for years, asking pertinent questions and offering positive suggestions.
I’ve also been a volunteer committee member on several initiatives focused on issues like updating the city’s master plan and allocating $25 million in federal Sandy money to better protect the city against flooding. For the past 7 years, I’ve also been a member of an advisory committee to the US Secretary of Commerce.
Why run for city council?
Frankly, I’m tired of all the political BS. Everything that’s done in this city, regardless of which ‘side’ is in power, seems like a political calculation as opposed to simply doing what’s right for the residents of Long Beach. I’m running because I think it’s time for people, not politics, to be the driving motivation behind all decision made by the City Council. We cannot afford another iStar or Haberman debacle and we need to pay close attention to the HALB/Yeshiva development issue. These are serious quality of life and pocketbook issues.
What is your realistic vision for what you would like to see LB become over the next 5 to 10 years?
Long Beach has some of the best ‘bones’ a community could ask for. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to capitalize on them and reach our full potential.
Since Sandy, we seem to be focused on attracting tourists and ‘day trippers’ as an economic development strategy. I think that’s wrong. I’d like to see the city’s focus be on resident qualify of life issues instead. I’d focus on making our downtown(s) and public spaces beautiful and inviting places to be and our streets safer for all users, whether you’re in a car, bike, wheelchair, on foot, or pushing a stroller.
At the same time, I worry that we’re on the brink of losing the soul of Long Beach, namely, that we’re largely a middle class community. We need to keep Long Beach affordable so that our kids and their kids can continue to live here. That means holding the line on taxes, finding sources of additional revenue and maintaining or enhancing the tremendous variety of housing choices that exist here.
Related to the last question, What would you say are the most important challenges that our city must address that are presently being ignored?
What’s presently flying under the radar is that we’re borrowing our way into oblivion. We’re more than $110 million in debt, which is more than double what it was 4-5 years ago. We need to get that under control. We can start by making sure bodies like the City Council and Zoning Board of Appeals make smart, ethical rulings that don’t get us into anymore multi-million dollar law suits that residents end up footing the bill for. If we’re footing the bill for avoidable lawsuits, we won’t have the money needed for infrastructure and other improvements.
The City is also pushing to update its Master Plan. As currently proposed, I’m against it. It would make more density the norm along the boardwalk and elsewhere and would decimate the North Park community. I’m all for the right kind of development and growth, but what’s being presented isn’t that. We need to go back to the drawing board, engage the community in meaningful ways and come up with a strategy that builds upon and enhances what we love about our city.
Lastly, we’re probably looking at bringing on a new City Manager in the near future. Who that person is and what they bring to the table is obviously of the utmost importance.
What are the specific criteria that you will apply in the search for our next City Manager?
We have a City Manager as opposed to a Mayor because the City’s forefathers wanted to depoliticize the position. We need someone both qualified and apolitical who can work with our diverse community. It’s something of an all-encompassing position, so candidates would need to bring multiple skills to the table. I’d put a strong emphasis on budgeting acumen, a background in economic development and/or planning, strong management experience, a demonstrable track-record of successful community engagement and politically neutral.
Our zoning laws were legislated with specific intentions with respect to overcrowding, maintaining neighborhood character, and ensuring quality of life. Yet, we have seen increasing petitions for variances, iStars being just one, that seem to negate the very purpose of the laws and are driven by big money investors with deep pockets and therefore outsized influence. What is your position on the Superblock and Yeshiva development and your specific position on when variances should be granted?
The last time our zoning regulations were updated in any comprehensive manner was the 1980’s. Those regulations were well thought out and based on a serious examination of existing conditions and what the impact of the then proposed changes would be. What’s happening now, is the City is saying let’s update the comprehensive plan and we’ll examine what the impacts will be after. I don’t think I need to tell your readers this makes no sense and is not how a city goes about planning and economic development in a responsible manner. Our zoning regulations NEED to be updated (both for more development AND more green space), but it must be done in a comprehensive, data-driven fashion with outsized influence given to the residents, as we’re the ones it will impact.
As for variances, they should only be granted when an applicant demonstrates a real (not self-inflicted) hardship. Period.
The Superblock was created, and specifically zoned for, a large-scale development that would help stabilize the residential tax base. As such, I’d be ok with a development there that was a bit taller or denser than elsewhere in Long Beach, provided it helped achieve the goal of stabilizing the tax base for the rest of us. The variance given to iStar was bogus. They claimed they needed more height and density to make the project work financially. That was their ‘hardship’. The real reason they couldn’t make it work financially is because they overpaid for the property. That’s not a “hardship” in my mind. They of course then went and applied for over $100 million in tax breaks from the Nassau Industrial Development Agency (IDA), which would negate the whole intent of stabilizing the tax base, so yeah, this whole situation has been handled poorly and is a mess.
The Yashiva/Hebrew Academy of Long Beach (HALB) property is currently zoned for 3-4 story residential townhomes. Could the site handle something a bit more than that and still fit the character of the community? Probably, but that needs to needs to be addressed in a comprehensive zoning update, not by our Zoning Board in a piecemeal fashion. It’s currently zoned for 3-4 stories, so if a developer wants to buy and build on the property, that’s what they get. They’d be going into that purchase with their eyes wide open, so I don’t see a case for a hardship exemption.
If elected, would you serve your full term?
Yes. If the residents see fit to elect me, I would honor that privilege by serving out the full term and I guarantee that you’ll never see me run for anything beyond City Council. My focus is on Long Beach and this is where I will devote my time and attention.
Any additional comments you might like to add.
I’m an independent running on the Democratic line. Regardless of which party Long Beach residents typically affiliate with, I think we all want the same basic things: lower taxes, safer streets, a vibrant downtown and, generally, a higher quality of life. That’s what I’m about, that’s what I’m running on and that will be my focus, if elected. I think my track-record of advocacy and action backs that up. Our Council needs independent voices that care about people, not politics. I hope most Long Beach residents agree and will come out and vote for me on November 7th.
P.S….Our community owes you a debt of gratitude for running this blog. It’s grown into a great source of dialogue for residents and has pushed the needle on several important issues. You were a lone voice in the wilderness at one point, so kudos to you for keeping at it and providing us all with this venue.
Thank you, John.